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.
Aesop Rock, ‘Flashflood’ (2001)
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.
Ghostface Killah featuring Wu-Tang Clan, ‘9 Milli Bros.’ (2006)
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.”
Thom Yorke, ‘Black Swan’ (2006)
“Ultimately to me it’s not rapping at all, it’s poetry,” Radiohead’s Thom Yorke told Dazed about his favorite rapper. “The way he free-forms his verses and puts it all together, I don’t think anyone else quite does it like that.” In 2007, between releasing his acclaimed, amorphous, beatwise solo debut “The Eraser” and Radiohead’s acclaimed, amorphous, beatwise seventh album, “In Rainbows,” Yorke dropped a playlist of 10 favorite songs of the moment. Two of them featured Doom’s rhymes.
Danny Brown, ‘Adderall Admiral’ (2011)
“I never knew you could make an entire album without hooks and have it sound that good,” Danny Brown told Complex about one of his favorite LPs, “Madvillainy.” “That album showed me that music has no rules. Before that I thought you needed 16 bars and hooks to make a good song.” Brown has emerged as one of the most successful underground rappers of the last 10 years thanks to his own uncompromising vision. His breakthrough, “XXX” from 2011, had fleshed-out songs and spiraling slivers like “Adderall Admiral,” a 103-second tune built on an especially noisy sample from post-punk band This Heat.
The Weeknd, ‘Loft Music’ (2012)
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.
Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Chum’ (2013)
When the then-teenage rapper Earl Sweatshirt became a viral success in 2010, his lyrics were absolutely bulging with delirious assonance and bonkers imagery: “Twisted, sicker than mad cattle, in fact I’m off six different liquors with a Prince wig plastered on.” It’s no surprise that he studied Doom, ultimately helping to build a small rap empire with the Odd Future collective. Songs like “Chum” not only spiral with Doom’s elaborate wordsmithing, but with his dazed, woozy moods as well. “I based a lot of the ways I was trying to rap off his [expletive] when I was learning how to do it,” Earl said to the guerrilla interviewer Nardwuar in 2014.
Jinsang, ‘Affection’ (2016)
A small industry of “chillhop” artists have been making downtempo, fuzzed-out atmospheric beats, best known through the internet popularity of “lofi hip-hop radio — beats to relax/study to.” Though the “lo-fi hip-hop” subgenre is mostly inspired by the Detroit sample innovator J Dilla and Japan’s jazz-flecked Nujabes, it also owes a debt to Dumile’s “Special Herbs” series of instrumentals recorded as Metal Fingers. As a producer, he often painted with nostalgic and dreamy tools, borrowing from quiet storm R&B, jazz-funk, soft rock and Sade. Though the California beatmaker Jinsang is relatively unknown, this song has more than 61 million streams on Spotify,
Open Mike Eagle, ‘No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending It Don’t Hurt)’ (2017)
The Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle adored Doom’s ability to find success doing the things he loved most about rap: “the freedom to sample and rhyme over whatever loop appeals to you,” Eagle told Vice. “To be motivated to go as crazy with the wordplay as possible.” Eagle is renowned for his tricky punch lines — he briefly had a Comedy Central show where Doom provided a rap on Episode 2. And like Doom, Eagle is not afraid to deal in big concepts or step outside of himself. On his critically acclaimed LP “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream,” he raps truths and fictions about Chicago’s notoriously mismanaged housing project Robert Taylor Homes.
Your Old Droog, ‘Grandma Hips’ (2017)
Perhaps no modern rapper embodies Doom’s penchant for bugged-out references and architectural rhyme schemes better than Brooklyn’s Your Old Droog, a man who once boasted, “While I was making sure every bar is hard/You herbs was playing Pokémon, chasing Charizard.” When his career began, Droog took Doom’s reclusiveness to heart, leading to an internet conspiracy theory that he was actually Nas in disguise. “I don’t want to be walking around all the time like I’m this rapper guy,” he told Spin about his early decision to remain anonymous. “I learned that from my favorite rapper, MF Doom — how he approached it, doing interviews. People get caught up in these characters, start believing that’s them.”
KeiyaA, ‘Way Eye’ (2020)
“DOOM was my favorite MC and producer,” the Chicago avant-R&B auteur KeiyaA posted on Twitter, adding that he “really showed me a new way to emote, how to be honest in my expressions, how to build worlds.” Her debut, “Forever, Ya Girl!,” has a bit of Doom’s home-brewed grit in its lo-fi textures and sample pileups.
Westside Gunn featuring Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher, ‘George Bondo’ (2020)
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.”