There are few things in life more inspiring than stories of redemption. Whenever one falls to depths of despair and somehow manages to pull themselves up by the bootstraps to reach new heights, is proof that even under the harshest circumstances with a lot of hard work and determination, victory is achievable. This is even harder to accomplish for hip hop artists of the past, for in an industry where “the newest thing” is always around the corner,hundreds of classic hip hop artists have become answers to trivia questions. One such artist is one Daniele Dumile, formerly of early 90’s hip hop group K.M.D. His journey is as intriguing as the Marvel comics villain Doctor Doom, from whom he would later borrow his persona to become MF DOOM. Dumile began with a promising career. Known as Zev Love X, he formed K.M.D. along with his brother Subroc and Onyx The Birthstone Kid (who replaced earlier member Rodan). His first introduction to hip hop came via a guest appearance on the seminal 3rd Bass track “The Gas Face”. The group released their debut album Mr. Hood two years later, achieving moderate success with the singles “Peach Fuzz” and “Who Me?” Their style was of the positive black era of the time that was popularized by artists such as Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers and others. But as they prepared to release their follow up “Black Bastards” in 1993, tragedy struck. Zev’s brother Subroc was killed after being struck by a car. The same week,their label Elektra Records dropped the group and refused to release “Black Bastards” due to the controversial nature of the album cover (a pic of the historically racist pickaninny being lynched). Dealing with both the death of his brother and a halt to his rap career, Daniel Dumile fell into a slump,living virtually homeless in the streets of Manhattan for a few years. It seemed that it was all over for this once promising M.C.
But Dumile refused to be counted out just yet. He eventually settled in Atlanta in the late 90’s. He would return to New York to rhyme at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s open mic nights, shielding his identity with a stocking cap over his face. Drawing similarities between his own life and the story of the fictional Doctor Doom, who’s face was deformed after a laboratory accident and donned a mask while seeking revenge against the world, Dumile himself began wearing a metal mask and re-titled himself MF Doom. Swearing revenge against “the industry that badly deformed him” (his own words), Doom set to work on his independently released debut album “Operation: Doomsday”. Brandishing a new style that was both sinister and comedic at the same time,the album is widely considered a classic both for Doom’s lyrical yet somewhat off-kilter flow as well as his production. Doom didn’t take himself too seriously, rhyming with a wittyness that was often absent from the hip hop scene at the time. In the era of bling, money,women and extravagance,he was a refreshing departure from his peers. Underground heads immediately embraced Doom what followed was an extensive career that would see him drift between darkness and (somewhat) lightheartedness. He also rhymed and released albums under the guise of different characters: King Geedorah, after the three headed monster that was a long time nemesis to Godzilla in the old movies and Viktor Vaughn, whom Doom states is a “grimey, stick up kid”. Under the alias “Metal Fingers” he released the instrumental “Special Herbs” series that have often been used for his own albums and others such as associate Ghostface Killah.
Doom also teams up with other artists for collaborative projects frequently. The most successful endeavor was the album “Madvillainy” which he created along with producer Madlib. The album received universal acclaim from fans and critics alike,including mainstream publications such as Spin,Rolling Stone, The New York Times and others. His project with producer Danger Mouse “The Mouse And The Mask” was a collaboration with the Cartoon Network’s popular Adult Swim. The collaboration project “DillaGhostDoom” never came to fruition due to the untimely passing of J. Dilla,leaving fans to wonder just how great that album would’ve been. Nevertheless, Doom continues to keep busy, gaining new fans along the way with his own brand of “weird and dope”.
MF Doom’s story went from tragic to empowering. His treatment by an industry that commonly tosses rappers to the side and his subsequent success is a testament to the theory that if one is willing to put in the work and never give up, the odds will be defied. This is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of M.F. Doom. Not only is he sick with the lyrics and the beats, his attitude of fighting against the mainstream establishment of hip hop that tries to dictate what the fans think is dope is the definition of what hip hop is truly about. He stood firm, sporting an iron mask and flashing the proverbial metal middle finger at the hip hop industry. And he won.