Music Review – MF Doom: Artist Retrospective
By Raghav Raj (Staff Writer), Scott Reckers (Staff Writer), and Ann Vettikkal (News Editor)
On the last day of 2020, it was announced that Daniel Dumile, better known as rapper MF DOOM, had passed away two months prior on Halloween. As mercurial in death as he was in life, DOOM was one of rap’s greatest enigmas, hiding his brilliant gift with the pen behind an iconic metal mask and a web of alter-egos. While his death is mourned in the rap world and beyond, The Chronicle is taking a look at his legacy through a few songs from his most iconic alter-egos.
MF DOOM – “Rhymes Like Dimes”
In the years prior to Operation: Doomsday being released in 1999, Daniel Dumile had gone underground. His rap group, KMD, had been kicked off Elektra in ‘94, and his brother, KMD’s Subroc, had passed away the same week after being hit by a car. These losses drove Dumile to create the MF DOOM persona, one that emerged from hurt and found power in mischievous, menacing chaos. Nowhere is that clearer than in “Rhymes Like Dimes,” an immediate standout on Doomsday. It’s guided by a dreamy, light synth sample, and as is the case for a song about “rhymes,” it has a flow like no other, laced with DOOM’s effortlessly hilarious, comically villainous theatrics and some creative shout-outs. It’s surprisingly joyous, a reminder that DOOM always had a gift for finding light in the darkness.
King Geedorah – “Next Levels”
The most outlandish alter-ego MF DOOM ever utilized was King Geedorah, based on the 1964 film Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. On his 2003 album Take Me to your Leader, DOOM uses Geedorah to create a premise in which the monster delivers DOOM’s messages from outerspace. The song “Next Levels” rides this extraterrestrial theme in a touchingly philosophical manner (“The world ain’t the same no more / Take your life to next level or remain no more”). Over a smooth jazz beat, DOOM cedes the mic to jazz rap trio Scienz Of Life, and hits at the core of what it means to be human. Or, at least, he lets the monster from outer space take his best guess.
Viktor Vaughn – “Saliva”
Under the Viktor Vaughn moniker, DOOM transformed into a futuristic hoodlum, with an in-your-face attitude and youthful arrogance to spare. That bluster carries Vaughn’s 2003 outing, Vaudeville Villain, and it comes bursting out the gate on the centerpiece, “Saliva.” Produced by RDJ2, the song begins in a fanfare of horns, with DOOM dropping effortlessly esoteric references (a doctor with skincare ads on the New York subway, Silent Bob) as he glides over a shimmering string section that sounds like it was ripped out of a superhero cartoon. The song is effortlessly bold, a showstopper that’s just as fun as it is brilliant.
Madvillainy – “Rhinestone Cowboy”
In many ways, MF DOOM’s crowning work will always be his legendary 2004 collaboration with Oxnard-based beatmaster Madlib, Madvillainy. Every song on this album is absolutely seminal, from the hypnotic “Accordion” to the identity-switching “Fancy Clown” (with Viktor Vaughn!), but there’s truly no rap song like the closing victory-lap, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Over rapturous applause and a fantastic string sample from Madlib, DOOM’s rhymes are marvelous, an assertion of his lyrical genius filled with some of his sharpest cascading internal rhymes (“oh my aching hands, from raking in grands, and breaking in mic-stands”). It is a masterwork, a rap clinic in and of itself, one that serves as a prescient reminder of what made DOOM so incredible.