New Year’s Eve 2020 going into 2021 is the day fans around the world heard that MF DOOM had passed away. Some fans may have met the news with skepticism, as it felt exactly like the type of prank Hip-Hop’s supervillain would pull off. He allegedly passed away on Halloween, the holiday that celebrates fear, masks and mischief, and his family waited until NYE to break the news, almost as if to ruin his fans’ celebrations. But then the news was confirmed, and after the loss sunk in, fans could be humbled knowing this would be exactly how DOOM would have wanted the news to break about his passing, giving one last villainous jeer on his way out.
MF DOOM was a legendary emcee, arguably one of the most influential ever when it comes to underground Hip-Hop. Always wearing a mask during his public appearances, he valued the art of rhyme and music more than looks, likeability and marketing. He played the ultimate supervillain persona in Hip-Hop, going as far as to send imposters wearing his mask to his concerts, and giving zero fucks about how it affected his stardom. He was all about the art, releasing projects over many different names and personas over the years, and he let the music speak for itself. To honor his legacy, we’re going to take a look back and revisit his entire discography, reviewing each album through the scope of how they have stood the test of time as of 2021. Witness one of the greatest comeback stories in Hip-Hop history.
1988-1992: KMD, Elektra Records, and Mr. Hood
Before he dawned the mask and became MF DOOM, the man born Daniel Dumile was part of the group KMD, or Kausing Much Damage, along with his brother DJ Subroc and fellow emcee Onyx The Birthstone Kid. Back then he went by the name Zev Love X, and had an upbeat, fun-loving attitude when he blessed the mic. The group formed in 1988, and Zev Love X would represent the group and make his recording debut featuring on the last verse of the 1989 single by 3rd Bass, “The Gas Face.” From there, 3rd Bass took them on tour off the strength of that one verse, and the group caught the attention of Elektra Records, where they signed to release their own debut album Mr. Hood in 1991. This is where it all began.
With the majority of the songs self-produced by the group, you could see the beginnings of where Zev Love X would eventually get his taste for quirky samples. Along with DJ Subroc, they would chop up and sample a language tutorial tape to create the character Mr. Hood, who appears throughout the album during interludes, and even sample Sesame Street a few times. As for the songs themselves, they very much have a Native Tongues-era vibe to them, with smooth samples and upbeat, positive rapping promoting Afrocentricity. While all three members of the group get to rap throughout the album, even performing solo tracks, the bulk of the vocals are handled by Zev Love X, who shines with a speedy, energetic flow to keep up with the funky, old school beats. Songs like “Peachfuzz” got them promotion at the time, appealing to the ladies as innocent young bachelors looking to date, but the album is filled with more focus on social activism and positive change.
1993: DJ Subroc’s Passing & Black Bastards
While Mr. Hood had plenty of jabs at racist America’s use of sambo figures to mock African-Americans, KMD’s second album took it a step further with its satirical title and album cover. It may have been a step too far, as the album slated for a late 1993 release was permanently shelved by Elektra Records, only to see the light of day through various re-releases by other labels throughout the 2000’s. Before he even got the news that his album’s release would be cancelled, Zev Love X had to deal with his brother DJ Subroc passing away in a car accident mid-year, and had to work on completing the album on his own. Between losing his brother, having to work on finishing the album without him, only to have the album get cancelled and the group dropped from the label, Zev Love X may have taken his final blow and was down for the count.
Controversial artwork aside, the music itself bangs. Much like Hip-Hop as a whole at the time, KMD was slightly more hardcore this go-around, with more raunchy material about sex, drugs, and alcohol (but mostly weed and drank). With most of the beats produced by DJ Subroc, plus a few contributions from Zev Love X, they still had groovy Jazz samples and that upbeat feel they were known for, but the raps were more raw and in-your-face. KMD kept your head nodding throughout this album, as Zev Love X and the two other emcees flowed perfectly in-pocket over the up-tempo production. The progression from the first to the second album is comparable to groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, and with the brothers Zev Love X & DJ Subroc sounding like they were ready to take on the world together, this had the potential to be among the golden-era classics of the 1990s’ if it had actually dropped in ’93.
1997-2001: Operation: Doomsday
With the demise of KMD, Zev Love X was no more. He had gone off the grid for years, making various open-mic appearances around New York with his face covered, and created whispers of a new artist named MF DOOM by releasing a few singles on vinyl through Bobbito Garcia’s boutique indie label, Fondle ‘Em Records. The 1997-’98 vinyl releases were dusty rough cuts, but eventually polished versions of the songs appeared on a full-length album entitled Operation: Doomsday in 1999, and MF DOOM was born. The album would get a reissue by Sub Verse Records in 2001, and would go on to become an underground classic. With his new persona loosely based on Dr. Doom from Marvel Comics, Hip-Hop had a new supervillain to contend with.
With the MF in his name standing for Metal Face when on the mic or Metal Fingers when producing, MF DOOM’s debut album was entirely crafted on his own, as he wrote and produced all the songs by himself (save for a few guest features who wrote their own rhymes and did their own cuts). From the artwork and the concept of the mask, to his new style of rapping and production, all the way down to the persona, MF DOOM’s character was fully formed by the time he released Operation: Doomsday, and it was unlike anything he had done prior. He came in sampling 1960’s Fantastic Four cartoons and rapping about destroying emcees with his superior rhymes and dominating the Hip-Hop universe. “The super motherfucking villain grip the mic with an iron hand / Throwing emcees to the fire from out the frying pan.” Even the way he wrote his raps was untouchable, with rhyme patterns that were equally as quirky as the samples he used in his beats, and he flowed purposefully off-kilter to make the rhymes stand out.
“Who wanna battle? On the real / Choose your weapon: microphone, beats, or the wheels-of-steel.” MF DOOM was now established as a triple-threat with this album, and his production was an underrated part of his repertoire. The samples DOOM used to craft his beats ranged from classic Hip-Hop by Kool G Rap to Scooby Doo cartoons. The most brilliant use of sampling might be the way he made an entire song out of the last 30 seconds of The Beatles’ “Glass Onion,” the MF Grimm-featuring “Tick, Tick…” being an exercise of matching flow to an ever spiraling tempo. MF DOOM also laid the groundwork for future branches of his artistry on this album, featuring emcees who would form the group Monsta Island Czars (M.I.C.) on “Who You Think I Am?,” and also featuring himself as yet another persona that he would use as part of that group, King Geedorah.
2002: A Secret Operation Is Underway
Off the strength of Operation: Doomsday, MF DOOM was gaining a lot of attention in the underground. A certain producer signed to Stones Throw Records would seek him out, and together they would start crafting the ultimate album to destroy the Hip-Hop universe. It was still supposed to be a secret at this time though, so we’ll revisit this later upon the album’s completion…
2003(A): Monsta Island Czars, King Geedorah, and Take Me To Your Leader
Monsta Island Czars was a group of emcees each named after a character in the Godzilla universe, including Megalon, Rodan, Kamackeris, Kong, King Caesar, and notably MF Grimm as Jet Jaguar and MF DOOM as King Geedorah. The group’s founder, MF Grimm, would be incarcerated and absent from their only album as a group, 2003’s Escape From Monsta Island!, and DOOM would only provide about a third of the production with minimal rapping. The minimal input from DOOM would be quantified by his heavy output as a solo artist, as later in 2003, he would explore the King Geedorah character in more detail, releasing another solo album under that name entitled Take Me To Your Leader. As with M.I.C., the King Geedorah album would be a one-off, and it may stand as one of the weirdest, most experimental albums in MF DOOM’s discography.
DOOM’s King Geedorah persona was based on the three-headed monster by the same name who would often be the villain in old-school Godzilla films. His production throughout the album brings themes of destruction and catastrophe that you would expect from such a character, while still remaining Hip-Hop. While King Geedorah also raps throughout the album, much of the vocal duties are shared by his fellow Monsta Island Czar groupmates, as they help bring the fictional universe together. Some songs feature other rappers besides King Geedorah entirely, and others are interludes that feature King Geedorah chopping up dialogue samples to create a narrative, similar to how DJ Subroc used to do with KMD on Mr. Hood and what he himself did throughout Operation: Doomsday. A ruler in his own universe, King Geedorah produced and rapped the way he wanted to on this album and gave this character a cinematic feel, with seemingly no connection to the outside world.
“Hear ye, hear ye! How dare ye / Go up against the King who do his thing tri-yearly?”
2003(B): Viktor Vaughn & Vaudeville Villain
Before the end of the year, DOOM would release yet another album, this time under the name Viktor Vaughn, which is again loosely based on Marvel’s Dr. Doom character’s real name Victor Von Doom. This new persona was meant to reflect a younger version of DOOM, before he dawned the mask, with material that was more aggressive and reckless than the more calculated character of MF DOOM. It also saw DOOM focus more on the rapping, as the production was 100% outsourced from other producers, most of whom were signed to the label that released this album, Sound-Ink Records. After spending most of his early-20’s in exile after the demise of KMD, DOOM used his Viktor Vaughn character to reflect on his youth, combining his Sci-Fi quirkiness with some of the lifestyle he lived back then.
Listening to the album now within the context of revisiting DOOM’s whole discography feels like it’s filling in that gap of silence in the mid-’90s. It even goes further back to his teenage years, one highlight of the album being the back and forth Viktor Vaughn and Apani B have on “Let Me Watch” as they portray two teens early on in dating, and a young Viktor blows his chance with immature language. The album also has some “Open Mic Nite” interludes that give a feel of the type of scene he would have been in when developing his new persona in real life New York open mic events. Even the way Viktor attacks other emcees with his battle raps has the bluntness of a more youthful rapper, with lines like “A lot of crews like to act like a violent mob / They really just need to shut the fuck up like Silent Bob.” Of course it’s not all real-life and down to Earth, as much of the narratives on this album take place in space and alternate dimensions, with Vik telling tales throughout the album of bending space and time to commit various crimes, including drug dealing, armed robbery, and chasing down kids who stole his video games.
Almost as if to signify Viktor Vaughn’s transformation into MF DOOM, the album’s closer “Change The Beat” essentially sums up what happened to the former Zev Love X during those years of silence. It begins with an interlude saying “and so, Viktor Vaughn hid from the world…” followed by three and a half minutes of nothing but rain and thunder, until eventually Viktor/DOOM emerges to experiment with rapping over different types of beats. This is likely the type of experimentation it took for him to create his MF DOOM persona and his new style of rapping in the first place.
2004(A): Stones Throw Records, Madvillain, and Madvillainy
The collaboration between Madlib and MF DOOM had been years in the making, and when it eventually arrived in 2004, it became one of the greatest underground Hip-Hop albums of all time. Off the strength of Operation: Doomsday, MF DOOM became one of the top artists producer Madlib wanted to work with, and Stones Throw Records only needed to get the two of them in the same room for the magic to happen. The duo formed the group Madvillain, with Madlib on the beats and MF DOOM on the mic, and they got to work. Unfortunately, some of the early songs had leaked onto the internet, back when that meant your sales would be destroyed, and so they each left to record separate projects out of frustration, DOOM releasing his King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn albums during this period, before returning to restart Madvillain. When they got back to it, MF DOOM decided to change his vocal tone, being less hyper and more of a Zen, deep-toned villain in complete control, calmly reciting some of the illest rhyme patterns you’ll ever hear. The rest is history.
Musically, Madvillainy is when lightening struck for both MF DOOM and Madlib. Both artists were in the right place at the right time in their careers, as Madlib’s production was the right kind of weird that fit DOOM’s personality perfectly. MF DOOM had also stepped his pen game up, writing unfuckwithable bars where at least 90% of the syllables rhymed, and hitting the listener with double, triple, and quad-entendres. This is the level of rap excellence emcees aspire to be at, and the type that made Mos Def once say he would bet a million dollars on MF DOOM vs. Lil’ Wayne (during Weezy’s prime). The album flows smoothly from beginning to end, with perfectly placed interludes between the rapping to tie it all together, as the Madvillain duo serve up an evening of entertainment at their “Bistro Bed & Breakfast Bar & Grill Cafe/Lounge on the water.”
DOOM spends most of the album making his claim as Hip-Hop’s illest rhyming villain, as if he’s at another open mic trying to out-rap everyone, whether it be by rhyme patterns, wordplay, or clever one-liners. He’ll take common phrases we’ve all heard and spit ’em with a new twist, with lines like “Lookie here, it’s just the way the cookie tear / Prepare to be hurt and mangled like Kurt Angle rookie year.” Between the raw, stream-of-consciousness braggadocio on songs like “Meat Grinder” and “Money Folder,” Madvillain also had some more focused concept songs, including the weed smokers’ anthem “America’s Most Blunted,” and the weird “Fancy Clown,” which sees Viktor Vaughn make an appearance writing to his girlfriend who cheated on him with himself as MF DOOM. It’s a lot to unpack for first-time listeners, but those who have been listening for years know that this album has aged like fine wine, being an all-time classic and a timeless example of supreme lyricism.
2004(B): VV2: Venomous Villain
After the March release of Madvillainy, MF DOOM returned in August with another album, this time reverting back to his Viktor Vaughn persona for a sequel to Vaudeville Villain. This one often gets overlooked in DOOM’s discography, partly because of the two classics it was released between, but it’s an underrated, excellent album in its own right. The other part of this being overlooked might be the natural comparisons to the first Viktor Vaughn album, as this one was released on Insomniac Inc and had none of the Sound-Ink Records producers from the first album, giving it a different sound. Also, DOOM himself seemed to pay little attention to it, with more of his promo efforts going towards his other two albums released in 2004. Even in the first bar that he raps on the album, he says “Dub it off your man, don’t spend that ten bucks / I did it for the advance, the back end sucks.”
While the first Viktor Vaughn album filled a meaningful gap in the MF DOOM life story, VV2: Venomous Villain just doesn’t have as impactful of a narrative. What it does have though, is Viktor Vaughn showcasing the same level of rhyme mastery DOOM was on at the time, over some of the darkest beats he’s ever rapped over. “They must be still allergic to / A real raw rhymer with skills that’s surgical.” With the exception of Diplo on track 2, the beats supplied to Vik on this album were by relatively unknown, underground producers, including System D-128, DiVinci, Swamburger, Dub-L, DJ I.N.C., and The Analears. While the names may not be familiar, they did their thing and brought that edgy, villainous, Sci-Fi feel that a Viktor Vaughn album needs. Most of these producers had 2 or more songs on the album, and so the project is still tight and cohesive, although it only clocks in at just over half an hour total.
Continuing his trend of signing to different indie labels for one album at a time, MF DOOM would cap off the year with an album released by Rhymesayers Entertainment, MM..FOOD. This time it would truly be an MF DOOM solo album under the same name, his second after 1999’s Operation: Doomsday. The songs would mostly be produced by himself, with the exception of Madlib, Count Bass D, and PNS each contributing one beat, and there were minimal guest features. The concept behind this album is what makes it another underground classic; the title MM..FOOD is an anagram of MF DOOM, each song has a different food or kitchen reference in the title, and almost all the lyrics are metaphors that could be applied to both food and other various real life situations – a technique Lupe Fiasco would use years later to build up his own reputation as a lyricist.
For me personally, this was my first time hearing MF DOOM rap. You press play on the album, and you hear this obscure sample from 1980s’ Spiderman cartoons building up the tension for the arrival of DOOM, then the beat drops and you get hit with tactfully-written, calmly recited raps that are a metaphor for how rap beef (the slang for feuds/violence) and eating too much beef (the meat) are both bad for your health. This first song, “Beef Rapp,” was one hell of a first impression and a great start for a first-time MF DOOM listener to get everything that he’s about, as you get the comic book/cartoon references, the rhyme mastery, the wordplay, and the double and triple-entendres. “This one goes out to all my peoples skippin’ bail, dippin’ jail, whippin’ tail and sippin’ ale!”
As for the rest of the album, this masterpiece is filled with creativity top to bottom. You got MF DOOM incorporating vocal samples within the beat into his rhyme patterns on “Hoe Cakes,” dropping life lessons on friendship and relationships on “Deep Fried Frenz,” the ultimate satirical anti-snitch-rapper anthem with “Rapp Snitch Knitches,” and a hilarious double-entendre between snack food and porn on “Kookies.” Songs off this album have been quoted by news anchors trying to be slick and have some fun on the job. The rhyme, metaphor and sample techniques have been carried on by later generations of rappers, even if they still fail to sound as unique and original as MF DOOM does on this album. This may not be the most critically acclaimed, best, and most popular album by MF DOOM, but it is a close second or third and is a classic fan-favourite.
2005: DANGERDOOM, Adult Swim, and The Mouse & The Mask
Following an extremely busy 2004, MF DOOM kept his foot on the gas, making several guest features on various projects by other artists. One of these features, and probably the most famous one, was on the Gorillaz’ second album Demon Days, on the song “November Has Come” (which now may have new meaning since DOOM passed on October 31st). Gorillaz are of course a fictional, cartoon band with several artists and producers behind the animation, and one of those producers was Danger Mouse, who at the time may have been best known for mashing up Jay-Z vocals from The Black Album with beats sampling The Beatles’ White Album to create The Grey Album. After the Gorillaz collaboration, Danger Mouse and MF DOOM decided to do an entire album together, and so they formed the group DANGERDOOM and got to cooking. The theme of animation and cartoons continued in their work together, as they somehow joined forces with the TV network Adult Swim to have several characters from their various TV shows, mainly Aqua Teen Hunger Force, feature throughout the album.
Not only did these Adult Swim characters appear on the album for comedic relief, but MF DOOM also based a lot of his lyrical themes around their TV shows, as well as older cartoons from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. As for the production, Danger Mouse laced DOOM with catchy, standout samples and groovier beats for him to flow smoothly over. This album also has the most prolific range of guest features of any MF DOOM album, with verses by Ghostface Killah, Talib Kweli, and a groovy hook from Cee-Lo Green about a year before he would have one of the biggest Pop hits of his career with “Crazy.” With all of these factors combined, plus the fact that it’s a clean album with minimal need for censoring, you could make the argument that The Mouse & The Mask is the most easily accessible MF DOOM album for casual listeners and first-time fans. Even for the longtime DOOM fans, this is MF DOOM having the most fun with his music, and has the brightest mood of all his albums.
2006-2008: Collaborations, Beats, and the Special Herbs Box Set
Ever since his re-emergence with Operation: Doomsday, MF DOOM had been gradually releasing new volumes of his series of instrumental albums called Special Herbs, and in 2006 released a box set of Volumes 0-9. Many of the instrumentals are the same beats we’ve heard DOOM use for his own albums over the years, but there are several rarities included in the box set that he never rapped over himself. Years into the future, plenty of emcees would take their picks from these instrumentals to rap over on their early mixtapes, including names like Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, The Creator. Even more legendary artists like Masta Ace would dig into these beats over the years, Ace doing an entire album in 2012 called MA DOOM: Son of Yvonne with the production completely sourced from this box set. Most recently, one of the tracks from the box set (used by MF DOOM on his MM..FOOD album) was included in US President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration playlist.
As for this period in the mid-late 2000’s, one of the most compelling collaborations MF DOOM had was with Ghostface Killah and the Wu-Tang Clan. Ghostface of course appeared on The Mouse & The Mask the year prior, and in 2006 him and Masta Killa would each choose some selections from the Special Herbs volumes for their own solo albums that year. Masta Killa would use an MF DOOM beat for his song “E.N.Y. House,” and Ghostface Killah would have six songs produced by DOOM between his albums Fishscale and More Fish, including one of the rare tracks to feature all ten members of the Wu-Tang Clan together, “9 Milli Bros.” These Ghostface Killah collabs had Hip-Hop heads hyped and built a buzz for an entire album between them. They had actually formed the group DOOMSTARKS and started working on an album together called Swift & Changeable, but that project would never see the light of day, at least while DOOM was still alive.
It’s also worth noting that DOOM kept his Rhymesayers Entertainment connection alive, making two guest appearances on producer Jake One’s debut album White Van Music in 2008. The tracks “Trap Door” and “Get ‘Er Done” were standouts on the album.
2009(A): Born Like This
When MF DOOM returned with a new album in 2009, he had dropped the MF in his name and was simply DOOM. Born Like This was not a traditional MF DOOM album, but it contained elements from many different pockets of his career to date. Most of the beats were produced by DOOM and he is the primary lyricist on the mic, but there were still more collaborations on this album than his previous releases. The album was released on Lex Records, but DOOM kept up his Rhymesayers connections, with Jake One returning the favor by producing three songs and Atmosphere’s Slug providing a guest verse. He also had his Stones Throw connection with Madlib producing one song, plus a couple more produced by the late Detroit legend J Dilla. DOOM also had both old and new collaborators providing guest verses, going back to his Operation: Doomsday days with a feature from Kurious, and also keeping his more recent Wu-Tang connection strong with separate features from Raekwon and Ghostface Killah.
While Born Like This may not always get mentioned among MF DOOM’s classic albums, it’s filled with a ton of highlights that have made it age gracefully. Similar to how later artists would pull selections from DOOM’s instrumentals to rap over, DOOM pulled a few from the late J Dilla’s catalogue and kicked off this album with a 118-bar verse over varying beats for the album’s second track, “Gazzillion Ear.” Then on his own production, DOOM flips a classic sample of ESG’s “UFO” and recruits Raekwon to spit a monster verse over his beat on “Yessir!.” There’s also another classic Ghostface Killah collaboration on “Angelz,” with Ghost appearing as his Tony Starks persona and the duo doing a bit of a Charlie’s Angels spinoff, creating more hype for their rumoured joint album together. Not to mention the posse cut “Supervillainz” with verses by DOOM, Slug, Kurious and Mobonix, plus De La Soul’s Posdnuos using the name P-Pain for the only time in his career to mock the overuse of autotune by artists such as T-Pain.
As for DOOM himself, he’s still on his rhyme mastery on this album. Between straight up lyrical exercises like “More Rhymin’” and writing raps for the love of writing raps on songs like “Microwave Mayo,” fans still get what they love to hear from DOOM on this album. Admittedly, there’s some homophobia and transphobia that hasn’t necessarily aged well on the song “Batty Boyz,” but then again, mocking one of America’s favourite superhero duos (Batman & Robin) in the most offensive way is something that fits the supervillain persona perfectly – a villain is supposed to offend. While this album might appear a bit more scattered than other DOOM albums due to the different styles and flavors between all the collaborations, you still get the supervillain doing what he does best throughout the album.
2009(B): Unexpected Guests
Along with Born Like This being an album of completely new music from DOOM, he also released a compilation album later that year called Unexpected Guests, which included various guest features DOOM had on other artists’ songs over the past few years, plus some bonus exclusives. While most of the songs on this album are from the 2000’s, it leaves out MF DOOM’s classic 2004 feature on De La Soul’s “Rock Co.Kane Flow” – this article wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning arguably his illest feature. Exclusions aside, this album does pack a lot of heat with a lot of dope collabs DOOM was a part of. You have the aforementioned “E.N.Y. House” by Masta Killa, plus an alternate version of the Ghostface Killah collab “Angelz” with a slightly altered verse from DOOM, and a few more J Dilla collaborations with DOOM rapping over Dilla beats.
New York Hip-Hop, more specifically Brooklyn Hip-Hop is represented well here, as the album opens with DOOM’s feature on the Talib Kweli track “Fly That Knot,” and ends with Kweli plus Hell Razah on “Project Jazz.” The album also features a legendary collab between DOOM and Sean Price on DJ Babu’s “The Unexpected,” as well as the Brooklyn pocket of Wu-Tang rapping over a DOOM-produced remix of “Street Corners.” Then there’s the exclusive, previously unreleased DOOM solo tracks on this album that showcase some more supreme lyricism. Whether it’s other emcees rapping over DOOM beats, DOOM rapping over other producers’ beats, or DOOM just killing it solo, this album showed that DOOM’s B-Sides were just as dope as his primary releases. Peep the wordplay:
2010-2013: Move to England, Lex Records, JJ DOOM, and Key To The Kuffs
While MF DOOM had lived most of his life in New York City, he was born a British citizen, and so after completing a European tour in 2010, the United States banned him from returning home. He spent the next couple years working on getting his family able to relocate to London with him, while continuing to record music for Lex Records. After releasing the European version of The Mouse & The Mask as well as Born Like This, DOOM’s next album would be his third release with the label. As he had done in the past with Madlib and Danger Mouse, DOOM would team up with producer Jneiro Jarel to form the group JJ DOOM, and together they would release the album Key To The Kuffs in 2012. An extended re-release of the album dubbed The Butter Version would be released in 2013 with additional songs added to the track list, plus bonus remixes by other producers.
As with Born Like This, Key To The Kuffs is another album that doesn’t exactly blend with DOOM’s classics of the early/mid-2000s’, but for different reasons. While Born Like This feels like a highlight reel of the different eras of DOOM’s career, Key To The Kuffs is DOOM pushing forward and trying new experimentations. Jneiro Jarel’s production doesn’t feel as sample-driven as the beats DOOM’s rapped over in the past, with more of an electronic influence and some live instrumentation. There’s also a semblance of actual hooks on some of these songs, albeit with minimalist use of features from Gorillaz/Blur’s Damon Albarn, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, and Jneiro Jarel himself. With a clear British influence on this album, DOOM embraces his new environment and expands his pen game with different slang.
Highlights include DOOM revisiting his more fast-paced flow on “Banished,” an attack on the music industry on “Bite The Thong,” a critique on the use of genetically modified organisms in food over JJ’s organic style of production on “GMO,” and of course the hilarious album closer party track, “Wash Your Hands,” which remains ever so relevant during COVID times.
2014: Bishop Nehru and NehruvianDOOM
By now MF DOOM’s influence on the culture was set in stone. He was ten years removed from that dominant year he had in 2004 with multiple classic albums, and now there were DOOM babies starting to sprout and showcase their influence by him as they blew up. You had the Tyler, The Creators, the Earl Sweatshirts and the Joey Bada$$ and Pro Eras all starting to emerge, but there would be one young emcee DOOM would choose to work with directly as he sought to pass the torch: Bishop Nehru. The unlikely 18-year-old underdog from just outside of New York City had lesser clout than the underground movements Odd Future and Pro Era had behind them at the time, but he happened to open for MF DOOM at a concert in London and the two hit it off. DOOM decided to produce an entire album for Bishop Nehru, and so NehruvianDOOM dropped on Lex Records in 2014.
While much of MF DOOM’s production work for other artists simply involves them picking samples from his Special Herbs volumes, NehruvianDOOM is one of the few collaborations that features DOOM producing entirely new beats geared for the specific artist (despite a couple Special Herbs selections here too). Taking on more of a mentorship role, MF DOOM produced all the beats on this album (with Madlib co-producing just one track) and let Bishop Nehru take the spotlight on the mic, DOOM himself only providing the occasional hook or guest verse. In the wake of DOOM’s passing, some fans are saying Nehru squandered his opportunity to blow up in the underground after having the legend in his corner, but this album serves as a good, short first impression for a lot of heads that still holds up today. Putting some of the typical teenage angst and over-optimism aside, tracks like “OM,” “Coming For You,” and “Caskets” serve as some of the best beats DOOM has produced for other artists, as well as some of the best tracks in Bishop Nehru’s still young career.
2015-2017: More Collaborations, More Rhymin’, and The Missing Notebook Rhymes
While fans would never get another full-length MF DOOM album with him as the primary emcee, he still had plenty of rhymes left in him towards the end of his career. 2015 and 2016 would see a handful of dope guest features from DOOM on other artists’ projects, including a feature on Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD’s collaborative album Sour Soul, still lending out hope at the time for that DOOMSTARKS album to come out. Notable MF DOOM features from this period include a Sci-Fi influenced track on Cannibal Ox’s second album after a 15-year hiatus, on the song “Iron Rose,” a feature on the Czarface track “Ka-Bang!,” the group sharing a heavy comic book influence with DOOM, and a friendly competition between elite lyricists on the deluxe edition of Royce Da 5’9″ & DJ Premier’s PRhyme album, on the song “Highs & Lows” with Phonte. 2016 saw MF DOOM reunite with one of his day-one collaborators, linking with Busta Rhymes for the first time since his KMD days with the Return of the Dragon track “In The Streets.” He also got back with his Rhymesayers family, featuring alongside another wordy lyricist Kool Keith on the Atmosphere song “When The Lights Go Out.”
2017 had a couple notable but short projects from MF DOOM. While they’re one of the more dominant groups of today’s Hip-Hop, Griselda was a group that was just on the come-up in 2017, and one of the many projects they put out was a 2-song EP called WestSideDOOM, which featured Westside Gunn and MF DOOM rapping over beats by Daringer and The Alchemist. DOOM also reunited with Adult Swim that year for his project The Missing Notebook Rhymes, where Adult Swim would release a new MF DOOM song once a week for fifteen weeks. They sadly only got through seven songs before abruptly cutting ties with DOOM and leaving the project incomplete. Included in these Missing Notebook tracks was another collaboration with the now late Sean Price (who passed away in 2015) on “Negus,” which would also be released on Sean P’s posthumous album that year, Imperius Rex. The project also featured collaborations with Jay Electronica, Kool Keith, and a loosie Viktor Vaughn track. It was also around this time that a third KMD album would be announced, Crack In Time, but would be another project that would never see the light of day in DOOM’s lifetime.
2018: Collabs w/ Bishop Nehru, DJ Muggs, and Czarface Meets Metal Face
MF DOOM would continue his string of quick, short collaborations with other artists in 2018, first reuniting with Bishop Nehru for his Elevators: Act I & II album. With no rapping from MF DOOM featured on the project, this was a solid, tightly focused concept album from Bishop that had the first half produced entirely by Kaytranada and the second half produced entirely by MF DOOM; I remember enjoying writing the single coverage for “Rooftops” on AmbrosiaForHeads at the time. DOOM laced Bishop Nehru with jazzy beats to flow smoothly over and gave the second half the the album a very New York feel to it. Later in the year, DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill would be gearing up to release his album Soul Assassins: Dia del Asesinato, and would focus the two lead singles for the album around his features from MF DOOM. Between the song “Assassination Day” with verses from DOOM & Kool G Rap, and the song “Death Wish” with DOOM & Freddie Gibbs, these two singles had fans wishing for an entire album of MF DOOM rapping over DJ Muggs’ eerie production.
Besides the production work for Bishop Nehru and the two verses for DJ Muggs, MF DOOM also linked up with the group Czarface, which consists of Boston duo DJ 7L & Esoteric plus Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck, and together they released the joint album Czarface Meets Metal Face. Little did we know that this would be MF DOOM’s last full-length project released before he would pass away. The album dropped as a surprise almost out of nowhere, and if you were a fan of MF DOOM, Wu-Tang Clan, Army of the Pharaohs, and/or The Demigodz, this was like a dream collaboration. Especially under the Czarface moniker, where Esoteric and Inspectah Deck let their comic book influences run free within their competitive battle raps and 7L laces them with cinematic, cartoony production, this was a near perfect collaboration that fit MF DOOM’s style like a glove.
During the height of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Czarface and MF DOOM crafted this album with the attention to detail, hidden Easter eggs, and fun characters that an MCU movie would have. The bar-heavy verses are all there throughout the album, but MF DOOM especially shines on the skits and interludes, with “Close Talker” reminiscent of the type of comedy he would have on KMD skits, and the subtle “…What you mean it’s never set on stun??” after Esoteric’s first verse on “Stun Gun” being an Easter-egg reference to King Geedorah’s “Fazers.” Nerdy MF DOOM fans would have a blast picking up all the references throughout the album. Other highlights include 7L’s dark, eerie production on “Badness Of Madness” that fits DOOM’s spoken-word style of flow perfectly and has Inspectah Deck & Esoteric stepping a bit out of their comfort zone, the beat-flipping collaboration with Jedi Mind Tricks’ Vinnie Paz on “Astral Traveling,” and the all-out lyrical assault on the album’s lead single “Nautical Depth.” This was my pick for Album of the Year in 2018 and it still is.
2019-2020: MF DOOM’s Demise
The final years of MF DOOM’s career would have scarce musical output from him, although it’s likely he has plenty of unreleased material in the vaults. There’s the remaining tracks from The Missing Notebook Rhymes that never got released via the Adult Swim rollout. Ghostface Killah has said in interviews that all his vocals for the DOOMSTARKS album were in DOOM’s hands and up to him to finalize for release. There were also rumours of DOOM working on a third KMD album called Crack In Time. Most recently, rumours have come out that MF DOOM had completed eleven songs for a long awaited Madvillainy sequel before he passed, and that Stones Throw Records apparently has permission to release the album if Madlib is on board. Time will tell if and how many posthumous releases MF DOOM will have.
As for the last music he did release while he was alive, MF DOOM linked up with Bishop Nehru one last time for his 2020 album Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts. Bishop Nehru’s career is now firmly in his own hands and he’s less reliant on MF DOOM to have clout. The album features production from himself as well as a beat by DJ Premier, and MF DOOM only produces and features on the lead single, “MEATHEAD.” DOOM also worked with Rockstar Games to do a song for their new game Grand Theft Auto Online: The Cayo Perico Heist, the song “The Chocolate Conquistadors” being released during that awkward period after MF DOOM had passed but before his passing was announced to the world. The collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD on the beat has DOOM rapping over a groovy, Jazz-infused track that feels like the music you cruise to during your victory lap celebration. It’s an appropriate send-off to a legendary artist who had a taste for Jazz samples when he produced beats, and lyrically kept the listener guessing as if his pen and rhymes were another Jazz instrument. MF DOOM had a legendary career, influencing both fans and artists alike, and has a legacy that will forever be unique and inimitable. Let the band play him out:
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