I’ve done far too many condolences and tributes in the history of RapReviews, but we couldn’t escape 2020 without one more big name in hip-hop leaving their physical essence behind. This one proved to be very shocking, unexpected, and frankly CONFUSING. On December 31st we learned that Daniel Dumile (MF DOOM) passed away at the end of October via an Instagram post shared by his wife Jasmine. No one can say why she kept word of his death quiet for two whole months, then shocked us with the news right at the moment we were ready to leave an awful year behind. Unsurprisingly this is how many fans reacted to such a body blow.
I honestly didn’t know how to take it and I still don’t. I know I said “oh fuck” out loud a bunch of times, much like when Brodie Lee passed away the day after Christmas. No death is ever easy but they certainly hit much harder when it comes to people whose artistic output you thoroughly enjoy and whose personal philosophy you greatly respect. The one thing that I did say repeatedly to friends and colleagues that still makes sense even know is “As mysterious in death as he was in life.” MF DOOM certainly kept it original in hip-hop in a way almost no one else has, and reinventing himself as your favorite hip-hop Villain was born entirely of his own personal tragedy.
As a young child Daniel Dumile’s family emigrated from London, England to Long Island, New York. It was the right place, right time for a kid to grow up falling in love with hip-hop music and culture and the Dumile boys were no exception. Daniel and his younger brother Dingilizwe wound up creating a rap group of their own called K.M.D. (Kausing Much Damage), and their debut album “Mr. Hood” was (and still is) an underground hip-hop classic. Unfortunately despite spawning three singles, two of which cracked the Billboard Rap Top 20, Elektra Records dropped them before the follow up “Black Bastards” could be released. The artwork they designed for the album cover was deemed too offensive and/or controversial, which seemed to me then and now to be an awfully flimsy excuse to let them go. Either way bad went to worse for Daniel when his brother, known professionally as DJ Subroc, was hit and killed in a car accident.
In his grief and loss Daniel turned inward, rejecting the music industry as much as it had he and his brother’s sophomore album, seemingly vanishing from the New York rap scene altogether. As a young college deejay I yearned to hear this lost album and I eventually found a bootleg vinyl record of said same. It was stupidly expensive ($100) so to recoup what I spent to get it, I made a small number of copies on cassette and sold them to hip-hop heads who also needed to hear it badly. I knew it was shady then and I still know it today, but once I broke even I cut off sales and said “If Dumile ever comes back to rapping again, I’ll support him in everything that he does.”
In 1999 he gave me that opportunity by releasing “Operation: Doomsday.” Gone was the fresh faced young man who bemoaned the “Peachfuzz” facial hair that caused prospective females to not take him seriously. This was not Zev Love X any more and he would never be him ever again. Dumile took on the role inspired by the comic books of his childhood, specifically the Latverian ruler Doctor Doom, a combination scientific genius and cruel despot whose sole goal was to become “master of the world.” With a newfound penchant for drinking seemingly born of grief, the rechristened rap star was as “Dead Bent” as he was brilliant, rapping and producing his way through an album showcasing his new “super motherfucking villain” flow.
As a one off return this could have been the beginning and the end of the saga, but year after year Dumile continued to surprise with new solo or collaborative projects — sometimes as DOOM, and sometimes under other alter egos like King Geedorah or Viktor Vaughn. The most lauded of his efforts in the 2000’s though (and for many years afterward) was his union with producer Madlib to form the supergroup Madvillain. It was from their stellar album “Madvillainy” that we learned the official rule — it’s “All Caps” when you spell Dumile’s name.
His output continued throughout the next decade and a half with no predictable structure or format. There seemed to be no limit to what he’d try or what he’d come up with next. He’d unite with producer Danger Mouse to form Danger Doom, he’d join rap supergroup Czarface to create a SUPER supergroup where “Czarface Meets Metal Face,” and previously unheralded rappers like Bishop Nehru would unexpectedly be thrust into the spotlight by virtue of his co-sign. Perhaps DOOM was a Villain in name only (VINO?) because he did more good than evil wherever he went, even when he was throwing bombs to the masses.
That’s not to say Dumile was universally beloved or escaped all criticism in his new guise. In fact much of the animosity that was lobbed his way came BECAUSE of the mask he performed under, which enabled impostors (some of whom he authorized) to perform concerts in his stead. It’s certainly understandable why some fans would feel cheated when they paid to see Daniel Dumile as MF DOOM only to get a second rate clone lip syncing along with his hits. As witty comic book fans put it, you never knew when you’d get a DOOMBOT instead of the real deal.
Dumile made no apologies for it, and when people failed to understand what he was all about, he broke down the usage of a mask in a way that made perfect sense. To MF DOOM hip-hop music started out as an audio experience without a visual, when you could only judge how dope an emcee was by what you heard on record or tape. For him the mask was a way to reclaim that authentic hip-hop essence, taking your mind away from looks and appearances and allowing you to focus strictly on his skills.
“As mysterious in death as he was in life.” From the time he put on the mask until the time he was laid to rest, Daniel Dumile never ceased to amaze us with his wordplay, musical artistry, and unconventional attitude. He didn’t follow trends, he created them. He left behind a legacy of music that will be endlessly cross-examined, but he also left behind a wife that is grieving that her partner is now gone. Sadly Daniel and Jasmine also lost their son King Malachi Ezekiel Dumile in 2017, but if one is inclined to believe then perhaps they’ve reunited in the spiritual to do shows together. Either way I’m going to be heartbroken for a while. This wasn’t the way I planned to start 2021, but you know what they say about the “best laid plans” right? So I’ll follow the example and have “One Beer” for the Super Villain myself. May he Rest In Power.