MF Doom Influenced Scores of Musicians. Hear 11 of Them.


Daniel Dumile, the reclusive musician who performed as the masked villain MF Doom, died on Oct. 31 at 49, though the news wasn’t revealed until New Year’s Eve. Dumile spent more than two decades as one of the most recognizable and beloved artists in underground hip-hop, a rapper known for his unexpected word choices and intricate stacks of rhymes.

However, Dumile’s impact went far beyond his formidable microphone skills. Hiding his face behind a metal mask in public appearances — if showing up for them at all — he separated his words from his person, rare in a genre steeped in self-aggrandizement and diaristic writing. His loyalty to independent labels like Stones Throw, Rhymesayers, Lex, Nature Sounds and Epitaph cut a path across the music industry’s established machinery. His beatmaking was idiosyncratic, sampling ’80s quiet storm records instead of ’70s hard funk, and he played the MPC sampler in a way that revealed the seams. “Madvillainy,” his breakthrough 2004 collaboration with the producer Madlib as Madvillain, eschewed traditional songcraft for a psychedelic, dreamlike swirl of ideas.

His influence is apparent in the output of musicians working contemporaneously over the past two decades — rappers, singers and producers both inside the hip-hop world and beyond it. Here are 11 examples of how Doom’s aesthetic choices seeped into the artistic impulses of multiple generations.

With three 12-inch singles released on the radio personality Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle ’Em Records in the late ’90s, MF Doom was part of an early wave of “underground hip-hop” musicians, beats-and-rhymes-centered purists recording on independent labels between 1997 and 2004. At the time, Dumile was already a major-label casualty. Performing as Zev Love X in the early ’90s group KMD, he was dropped from Elektra amid a controversy over the trio’s incendiary album art. Reinventing himself as MF Doom, his early songs helped show there was a sustainable path outside of the system. The rapper Aesop Rock was raised on KMD and his music similarly navigates labyrinthine patterns, pop-culture detritus and SAT vocabulary words. He became one of the signature acts on two labels that were standard-bearers of mid-00s underground rap, El-P’s Definitive Jux and Atmosphere’s Rhymesayers. In a verse on a recent MF Doom tribute, Aesop claims to have sold his 1999 demo outside of a Doom show at the shuttered East Village club Brownie’s.

Back when the lines between underground and mainstream hip-hop were drawn much thicker, it was unheard-of for a platinum Def Jam artist like the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah to grab from the lo-fi, gritty, subterranean noise of beatmakers like MF Doom and J Dilla. Plucking some beats from Doom’s 10-volume “Special Herbs” series for his fifth album, “Fishscale,” Ghostface not only amplified Doom’s off-balance rhythmic genius, but earned himself a critical re-appreciation in the process. “He’s a great artist,” Ghostface told Mass Appeal in 2005. “He’s like me in a way, very creative.”

The chart-topping, Super Bowl halftime-headlining superstar the Weeknd is an avowed MF Doom fan, posting about him on Instagram and recently paying tribute with a few songs on his Apple Music radio show. Though the Weeknd makes more hedonistic, retro-flavored R&B, it’s hard not to imagine that the artist born Abel Tesfaye didn’t take some lessons about building mystique from the metal-faced rapper. Tesfaye originally broke through after posting songs like “Loft Music” in 2010 with complete anonymity. He has recently taken to performing with his face covered in bandages and prosthetics.

Contemporary underground rap is exploding with rhymers that work in the same model as Doom circa “Madvillainy”: rattling off highly technical bars, often delivered with an effortless cool. Two of his late-’90s peers — Roc Marciano and Ka — rebooted themselves about a decade ago, and there’s been no shortage of ice-cold precisionists in their wake. Most popular at the moment is Buffalo’s Griselda collective, which includes Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn, who collaborated with Doom on a two-song 12-inch in 2017. On “George Bondo,” Benny the Butcher raps, “Think it’s a game until I Patrick Kane somebody homie/That’s slidin’ through with a stick, shootin’ one by the goalie.”



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