RIP MF Doom: Why the rapper purposefully tried to hide his face
Pitchfork just announced the rapper MF DOOM passed away. In a statement from his family, it was revealed the longtime rapper passed away on October 31st by his wife, Jasmine Dumile. A representative from Rhymesayers confirmed the news to Pitchfork today, although the cause of death wasn’t revealed. MF DOOM was forty-nine years old.
The underground rapper was best known for his nonstop onslaught of rhymes & wordplay in his raps and for covering his face.
Before he started covering his face & rapping, MF DOOM was born Daniel Dumile in London. He grew up in Long Island and started rapping back in the 80s – you can hear the early rap influence in his tracks, especially with the flute & trumpet ambiance reminiscent of midcentury movie soundtracks and 70s easy listening.
He got his start in the rap group KMD, which he formed with his brother DJ Subroc. MF DOOM went by Zex Luv X and showed his face under this pseudonym. KMD released two albums: 1991’s Mr. Hood and 1993’s Black Bastards. Pitchfork said the latter was “often hailed as the best rap album that you’ve never heard.” The reason you’ve never heard it? Elektra Records shelved it due to its inflammatory artwork.
Pitchfork further called Black Bastard’s release the origin story of MF DOOM and his future of hiding his face. Pitchfork explained how the controversy launched DOOM into underground fame despite, or perhaps because of, Elektra’s decision to pump the brakes on the album’s release. The decision was reportedly made due to the controversial reception of Ernie C & Ice-T’s Cop Killer album by Warner Bros. in 1992.
Then, the same year Black Bastards was canceled by Elektra, DJ Subroc was tragically killed in a car accident and KMD was no more. MF DOOM would release a KMD track in 2017, “True Lightyears”.
Inspired by Marvel character Dr. Doom, MF DOOM took his name and hid his face under a mask in the likeness of the comic book villain. He released Operation: Doomsday in 1999, another nod to Dr. Doom, and his career as MD DOOM took off from there.
MF DOOM’s 2002 album, Madvillainry, is hailed as a staple in underground rap. Pitchfork described the album’s release as “the Infinity Gauntlet of rap, a tense mainstream-meets-indie, Avant-meets-antique melee that, as the opening sample suggests, plays on a ‘seminal connection that audiences can relate their experience in life with the villains and their dastardly doings’.”
The album opens with a mock trailer track with a dadaist conglomeration reminiscent of midcentury grindhouse films, comic book shows, and a chimera of cacophonic sounds that defy time. “Accordion” sounds like a relief when it comes on. The beats & sounds behind MF DOOM’s sick, relentless rhymes still hold today. The aforementioned beats & mixes were courtesy of his collaboration with Madlib.
Why the mask?
The question remains: why did MF DOOM make the decision to hide his face? Was it the tragedy that befell him as a member of KMD?
In a 2009 interview with New Yorker Magazine, MF DOOM revealed the reason he hid his face: “I wanted to get onstage and orate, without people thinking about the normal things people think about. Like girls being like, ‘Oh, he’s sexy,’ or ‘I don’t want him, he’s ugly,’ and then other dudes sizing you up.”
He continued: “A visual always brings a first impression. But if there’s going to be a first impression I might as well use it to control the story. So why not do something like throw a mask on?”
Last August, since MF DOOM has hidden his face throughout his professional career, he sent an impostor DOOM in his place to a party and no one noticed until later. Pitchfork reported MF DOOM has a history of sending masked impostors to lip-sync in his place.
Explaining why to Rolling Stone, MF DOOM explained that everything he did was “villain style”. Like he told New Yorker, MF DOOM wanted to keep the focus on the music, not him or his face. He elaborated to Stone: “I tell you one thing: when you come to a Doom show, come expecting to hear music, don’t come expecting to see.”
MF DOOM’s legacy
MF DOOM will be remembered as a unique presence in rap & hip-hop, complete with a unique ambiance & distinct style. His fans & admirers tweeted condolences to his family and remembered the rapper as a standout performer.
The Los Angeles Times commemorated MF DOOM as a “masked and masterful rap artist”. The Rolling Stone tweeted: “‘Thank you for keeping it weird and raw always. You inspired us all and always will.’ El-P remembers MF DOOM, whose death at age 49 was announced today.”
Our sincerest condolences to MF DOOM’s family & friends tonight. He was a legend and will be missed.