Masked rapper MF DOOM passed away in late 2020FLICKR/@Kmeron

Rishi: What was your first encounter with MF DOOM?

Faiz: I saw the cover of Madvillainy on a list of Top 10 album covers, and I thought ‘this looks so sick’. The first song I put on was ‘All Caps’. I listened to the opening chords and I thought ‘this is absolutely awful, turn this off’ [Rishi laughs]. But then when I listened to the rest of the track, I was hooked. So, in typical ‘me’ fashion, I went around telling everyone ‘I love MF DOOM’, but I’d only listened to ‘All Caps’. Eventually I got my act together and I listened to the album, and then I got into the rest of his stuff.

“If I was going to tell someone how to start out with DOOM, I would say just listen to the most famous tracks — they’re the most accessible and they give you a sense of how DOOM operates”

Rishi: For me, I spent a lot of time reading about music online. MF DOOM, especially Madvillainy, has this kind of cult following on the internet — so I thought I’d give it a go. I listened to the whole thing and over time it kind of seeped into me, with individual songs keeping me coming back until I was hooked.

Faiz: If I was going to tell someone how to start out with DOOM, I would say just listen to the most famous tracks — they’re the most accessible and they give you a sense of how DOOM operates.

Rishi: Exactly. ‘Rapp Snitch Knishes’ is a good song to start out on. Some songs off of Madvillainy, like ‘Curls’, or even ‘Great Day’, are also a lot friendlier.

Faiz: It’s like that with his first album, Operation: Doomsday. It’s a lot of fun — it’s got bangers on it. But there’s a lot to analyse: it seems like it’s painted with random brushstrokes, but it’s all intentional and vivid.

Rishi: That album was the base he used to build off in the later albums. Speaking of which, what do you think made that record [Madvillainy] so great?

Faiz: For me as a fan, it’s just such an exciting listen. MF DOOM and Madlib are both in amazing form; DOOM builds up each song so well, there’s so much to take in. If you want an in-depth analysis on why Madvillainy is so amazing, I’m sure there’s a review out there that does the job far better than I can.

Rishi: Freddie Gibbs said ‘with Madlib, you’ve gotta be on your A-game to really shine on his beats, otherwise his beat’s gonna outshine you.’ That’s where this album really becomes special: they push each other.

Faiz: They’re also pushing their crafts to their limit. Madlib’s production is insane, and DOOM’s trying to make these stanzas which all rhyme together, pushing rap — and even the English language — to its absolute breaking point. It feels like a crack in the matrix.

Rishi: Exactly, especially when you think about when this album was made, in 2004. It could’ve been made now, and it would still be as fresh — it’s a timeless album. Other artists have this kind of kinship with him too.

Faiz: I remember watching a video of Mos Def talking about MF DOOM, and he said he bought the album and looked at the cover and kept saying ‘I understand you’.

Rishi: That’s what gives him the famous tagline of ‘your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper’. I watched this Vox Earworm video about rhyme, and Open Mike Eagle said ‘MF DOOM’s flow lives in my mind, it lives in my heart’.

New York born rapper MOS DEF highlights DOOM's influence in 2009Cognito FROLAB

Faiz: Yeah, exactly. His approach to rap was so infectious. Before him, there’s Eminem talking about chainsaw murderers, Nas talking about street violence. But on Take Me To Your Leader, DOOM raps about being a monster from space. It’s sick how he was so unserious and fun. After DOOM, it’s no wonder groups like Odd Future come up. He’s obviously not solely responsible for modern hip-hop, but he paved the way for these artists.

Open Mike Eagle giving his opinion on DOOM in 2016Vox

Rishi: That’s another thing to love about him. DOOM was just so unashamedly funny. On Operation: Lifesaver aka Mint Test, he’s talking to a girl at the bar, but she’s got really bad breath. It’s a weird concept but it comes together so well. On albums like MM.. FOOD, he raps almost exclusively about food — but still stays in character. He took hip-hop storytelling in a completely unique direction. He also produced a lot of MM.. FOODKon Karne is just so mellow, he had so much range as a producer.

Faiz: I feel like people don’t talk about DOOM being a producer enough. With his King Geedorah album Take Me To Your Leader, his rapping doesn’t take the front seat. But he’s completely on it in terms of production — and on the topic of Take Me To Your Leader, we also have to talk about his aliases. The main one is the villain MF DOOM, obviously, but then there’s Viktor Vaughn, who’s a fan of MF DOOM who thinks he could take over the job, and King Geedorah who’s this massive monster from space.

Rishi: DOOM reminded me in that way of David Bowie.

Faiz: Exactly. We’ve seen it with Bowie, and with Eminem being Slim Shady, but I’m not sure any artist has embodied their characters and their narratives quite like DOOM. He introduced himself on Operation: Doomsday as this villain, but then developed it so much across his discography.

“He created a universe around him. Some artists try it and it’s a gimmick. But he sewed it into the fabric of every line and every beat”

Rishi: He created a universe around him. Some artists try it and it’s a gimmick. But he sewed it into the fabric of every line and every beat. He exemplified the villain: he sent random people to do his shows for him and once said he doesn’t listen to hip-hop. I don’t know whether that’s true or he was just playing the villain. He was very private — his death was announced two months after it happened and we still don’t know much about it. He maintained this whole mystique right to the very end and there’s still so much we don’t know about MF DOOM.

Faiz: But the weird thing is, his mystique never felt pretentious. Artists like Kendrick feel like they’re emulating prophets with their mystique. With DOOM, it wasn’t like that. He just left you wanting to know more.

Rishi: So what was MF DOOM to you?

This mural in Little Haiti, Florida, is one of thousands around the world which were painted following the news of the rapper's deathPhillip Pessar


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Faiz: For me, there’s three things. Firstly, he’s the villain. That’s what he is fundamentally. I feel he plays the villain in his subject matter, but was also villainously good in style. Secondly, he was unbound by the expectations of others. And — I’ve forgotten the third point. [Faiz laughs] I want to hear your answer.

Rishi: For me, he changed my frame of reference for what hip-hop music could be. He also showed you can do things differently. MF DOOM had one flow which he refined for years to make it as flexible as possible. You don’t need to switch between twenty different flows — but at the same time, because he’s made that flow his own, you can’t just steal it.

Faiz: You reminded me of the third thing. It sounds lame, but there’s almost a moral from his discography, which is being yourself. He made albums which nobody else could’ve made because of that. As I listen to DOOM, he’s rapping like he knows he’s not here to conform. That’s the kind of integrity which I love. We need weird people, and encouraging weirdness is his legacy.