There have been a lot of huge losses over the past year, but I’ll admit, none have hit me harder than the loss of the elusive masked super MC MF DOOM. Perhaps, more than anything, it’s the comfort his music has given me on a personal level over the past two decades.
It’s a comfort that I enjoyed without full awareness until his October 31 death was announced on New Year’s Eve by his wife, Jasmine Dumile.
My first experience with DOOM was in the summer of 2000, a year after his debut LP Operation Doomsday was released. I had read about him and happened to stumble on a bootleg of the LP at a local urban clothing store. I was intrigued. And I remained so for the rest of his career, which I followed in real-time.
What makes him so unique in his die-hard fans’ eyes is his dedication to the development of his character. In embodying this anti-conformist, imaginative comic book villain persona, he could take his work in exciting directions — while maintaining an underground dominance that allowed him to shatter the commercial glass ceilings placed above artists that exist in the fringe.
The most interesting part, though, was his attempt to, unlike other artists, separate the man behind the man from the music. Sure, we were aware that Dumile, formerly known as Zev Love X of the trio KMD, was DOOM — but that didn’t matter. We were here to hear and see the character he fabricated.
The separation of Daniel Dumile from the metal fisted supervillain (as a character he became on record) went from artist statement to actual practice in his later career. He unleashed DOOM imposters at live shows, causing chaotic inconvenience that has gone on to be some of the most memorable concert experiences some have ever had (myself included).
Even with this kind of douchebaggery, there was (for some) a view that things were — in a way — playing out like one of his iconic, stitched together skits. A move becoming of the supervillain he’d become synonymous with within his career.
DOOM fans are pretty direct — as are his detractors, which is, frankly, understandable. His music doesn’t feel created for mass consumption from the mainstream, especially in his early years. Legendary DJ Stretch Armstrong recalled him in those days, as the rapper/producer would create music in his home.
“Every time I’d come home, there he was, digging through my shelves,” the DJ tweeted on New Year’s Eve. “Sampling, looping, layering, and rhyming quietly … creating a whole world in my home studio.”
My second professional piece as a writer was an email interview with rapper Kurious Jorge. He was on the Columbia Records roster alongside Nas in the Illmatic era — and an early DOOM collaborator (in his newly post-KMD period). In conversation about the MC, he described his creative process as “sloppy perfection.”
I think about that often — and it’s accuracy in describing the infatuation we had with his music and (maybe more than that) the idea he represented in its purest form. It took odd-ball schticks like personality hopping Kool Keith and perfected it while seemingly reverting to (at first) an almost DIY quality aesthetic rich in oddity and inexplicable essence.
The ultimate irony is that he became a hero by fostering a supervillain’s role — inspiring countless artists to create without boundary. While it is sad that we’ll never some of those projects we’ve always yearned for (i.e., a Ghostface duet album), he left us with a lot of music to treasure. He’s a voice I’ve turned to a lot in my headphones for the better part of the adult life, and his perspective on Hip Hop will be sorely missed.
Signed, a DOOM fan.