Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
It really is an origin story straight out of a comic book. Daniel Dumile started his hip-hop career in 1989 as Zev Love X, rapping the closing verse on 3rd Bass’ “The Gasface.” He had formed KMD (aka Kausin’ Much Damage) along with his brother, Dingilizwe “Subroc” Dumile, and released the underrated classic Mr. Hood album in 1991 on Elektra Records. In those early days, the Long Island resident wore his De La Soul and Brand Nubian influences on his sleeve. By late 1993, when Zev and his brother were a little older and a little rougher around the edges, they recorded and were set to release their sophomore album, Black Bastards. But tragedy struck, as Subroc was killed in a tragic accident. Soon afterwards, Black Bastards was shelved indefinitely, due to negative press about the album’s cover. Zev retreated to the shadows, forsaking the music industry altogether.
But three years later, he re-emerged, using the moniker MF DOOM. He took to the stage wearing a mask, claiming it necessary to not only hide his identity but also, like the notorious Dr. Victor Von Doom, a.k.a. the greatest comic book villain ever, to conceal the “scars” he sustained from his experiences.
Zev Love X had earned a respectable audience as a member of KMD, but MF DOOM soon became a full-blown cult figure. Whereas Zev Love X entered the game wide-eyed and young, DOOM was a battle-scarred warrior. His energetic cadence morphed into a drunken, monotone slur. DOOM has largely given up traditional song structure when recording music; it’s rare that you’ll hear DOOM record a track with three 16-bar verses and a hook. On his solo material, DOOM usually kicks one long verse, each one densely riddled with clever references to comic books, Star Trek, ’70s sitcoms, and obscure cartoons from his youth.
DOOM often handles his own production since re-surfacing, sampling a mixture of ’70s and ’80s soul and quiet storm R&B, ’80s pop music, as well as theme songs and vocal snippets from children’s programming and the aforementioned cartoons. He has also remained serious about wearing his mask, and has not been photographed in public without it. Originally he used a toy mask for the WWF wrestler Kane that was spray-painted silver. He has since moved on to an authentic prop mask used in the film Gladiator.
After releasing a few 12”s on Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle ’Em Records, DOOM dropped his classic Operation: Doomsday album in 1999. Afterwards, he began to fashion other alter egos, such as King Geedorah (due to his affiliation with the Monsta Island Czars), releasing Take Me to Your Leader under the moniker in 2003. Months later, he released Vaudeville Villain under the alias Viktor Vaughn; the album was his collaboration with producers on the Sound Ink Records roster.
Another turning point in DOOM’s solo career came in 2004, when he partnered with infamous LA producer Madlib to form Madvillain and together released Madvillainy on Stones Throw Records. The pair created a perfect alchemy between DOOM’s off-kilter lyrical stylings and Madlib’s non-traditional production techniques. Madvillainy has proved to be the best and most critically revered album of his career.
Madvillainy was also the first of DOOM’s pairings with a sole beat-smith to create an album. In conjunction with the Cartoon Network, he teamed up with acclaimed producer Danger Mouse in 2005 under the name Danger Doom. The pair recorded the Mouse And the Mask album, his dedication to the network’s Adult Swim line-up. In 2012, he collaborated with Jneiro Jarel to record Keys to the Kuffs, a more experimental album in the sonic vein of his Viktor Vaughn projects. A few years later, he produced an entire EP for Bishop Nehru, then a teenage artist from just outside of New York City. In 2014, the pair released NehruvianDOOM, which was produced entirely by DOOM. Though it’s mostly a lyrical showcase for Nehru, DOOM contributes a few verses as well. In between all these collaborative projects, DOOM released a couple of solo projects, including MM…Food (2004) and Born Like This (2009), which feature production and guest appearances from past collaborators and new faces.
DOOM has been mostly off the grid for the last few years; he travelled to Europe to tour, but was not let back into the United States due to issues with his Passport. A couple of months ago he began The Missing Notebook Rhymes series with Adult Swim, where DOOM agreed to distribute a new track each week, for 15 weeks, exclusively through the channel’s website. The songs were a mixture of guest appearances with other emcees, tracks from upcoming projects, and various other new unreleased material. However, after releasing a scattering of dope tracks, the partnership abruptly came to an end about halfway through. Neither party has given an explanation as to what caused the series to come an unceremonious end.
So here are more than 90 power-packed MF DOOM tracks on one playlist. The mix draws from albums that DOOM has released throughout his solo career, as well as some guest appearances on compilations and various other albums. Not all of his extensive catalogue can be found on Spotify (including, for example, Venomous Villain, the second Viktor Vaughn album), but there’s more than enough for you to sink your teeth into and enjoy the vast depth of his body of work. If you haven’t already, be sure to explore everything that the Metal Faced villain has to offer, when you have the chance.