The end of 2020 came with one last stab in the heart of every hip hop afficionado, when news broke that Daniel Dumile alias MF DOOM (all caps when you spell the man name, don’t you ever forget it) had passed away on October 31. It was very clear to me that a commemorative episode of A Scene In Retrospect was in order, and here we are, four days after the 17th anniversary of his seminal Mm..Food album, celebrating the life and work of one of the most influential and prolific artists in the genre, and probably the greatest supervillain to set foot onto the scene.
Rest in peace, DOOM.
It’s really hard to pin down one element of DOOM to start with. The myth has been a staple in rap‘s upper echelon for decades, always the world class supervillain, and staying on top of the list of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper lists. My introduction was not Mm..Food, but his debut OPERATION: Doomsday. He was one of the mighty four (El-P, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, and DOOM) that introduced me to indie rap, an obsession that has stayed with me ever since the early 2000s to this day.
This album is so fucking DOOM. Who else could dedicate 48 minutes of sheer brute capability rapping about shit you’d find at a picnic, but cross reference it to a sociopolitical existence? DOOM is and always will be one of the greats, not sure how else to put it. He was one of the best to ever grab a mic, and no one has ever dared replicate his style. This album is always hotly contested in DOOM fan groups as being the top of the top of his catalog for good reason. There’s so much that’s just fucking good, and not one second is wasted on this album. Few rappers can do that, and yet DOOM always utilized his time doing the best he could. It’s also worth mentioning this came after Madvillian, by just 8 months. Not sure how else one could dominate so much of the musical landscape that year. DOOM was and is a master that cannot be contested.
One of the best parts of Mm..Food is the spotlight on DOOM’s production skills. Always weaving in samples of old TV shows, theme songs, and sound effects against some snappiest of snares on a bassless loop. When you think about indie rap from that era, it’s hard not to remember his sound, and it’s easy to point to the influence and grip he had on the zeitgeist of the time and identifying the unique approach. “Poo-Putt Platter” is such a jaunt of a beat that is so crispy, it’s hard not to think of food with how goddamn delicious it comes off.
Obviously the two main standouts are “One Beer” and “Rapp Snitch Knishes”. It’s the wildest shit to me that “One Beer” didn’t make the cut for Madvillainy. Not sure as to why; I’d be curious to understand why Madlib and DOOM decided to leave it off that classic of an album, only for it to be a shining star on this one. But we don’t question DOOM. He does whatever the fuck he wants, and we just have to deal with it. Life is on Mr. Dumile’s terms, and that’s that. Questions get fucked.
“Rapp Snitch Knishes” is still referenced to this day when rappers start telling all their business. How could something that carries such a light tone provide such an outline on how to stay dirty? Also the meta commentary on how telling this track is for DOOM’s entire existence could fill a college thesis. This myth provided so many prolific minutes of rapping his ass off, with the majority of the time spitting lines in which no one knows what the fuck he’s talking about; he stayed cryptic, even in his death. He defined a legacy of folks scrounging to connect the dots on what it could mean, even more so than any Aeshole could imagine, and I’m sure Aesop Rock himself was left scratching his head. It was endearing, and what defined his fanbase into fervent territory that keeps him safeguarded to this day, shit, probably for the rest of days. Another touch of genius from the villain.
“Deep Fried Frenz” is probably my favorite track. Sounds like a throwback to Operation: Doomsday, but still futurist in production. That sample he loops reminisces on 16-bit video games and late 80s sunshine, but is met with a sinister devotion to character development. It’s just a chef’s kiss of an example of why you gotta use all caps when you spell the man’s name. RIP DOOM.
‘He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh
A rather ugly brother with flows that’s gorgeous
Drop dead joints hit the whips like bird shit
They need it like a hole in they head or a third tit’
I’ll be honest, and with absolutely no disrespect intended to the late dude, but I wasn’t a big fan of MF DOOM as a whole. I never got into Madvillainy despite several tries. A lot of DOOM’s solo stuff and other collabs just didn’t hit like it did for others. I liked a lot of his appearances on other people’s stuff (he got a shoutout from me for his work on Sour Soul with Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD), and his production game is very interesting, if not always for me personally. I respect him a lot – he’s a hell of a rapper and enigmatic figure in hip-hop, and finding out he passed away last year months after the fact was kind of surreal since he’d always been around, dropping a verse, project, or producing something under various names. Hip-hop without him felt emptier, even from my viewpoint on the outskirts.
Despite what I said earlier about his work, there’s a few big exceptions to my general lukewarm disposition toward DOOM: his collab with producer Danger Mouse called DANGERDOOM, his work with Czarface up to and including this year’s solid-ass album Super What?, aaaaand… MM..FOOD.
It’s the first album of his I heard that I really, really liked, digging into the sample-heavy beats made almost entirely by DOOM, memorizing lyrics from the sheer amount of loops I ran the album through, etc. I didn’t actually listen to this album until a handful of years ago, maybe closer to a decade than I remember – years after its release regardless. With Madvillainy not hitting for me (yeah, I know, disciplined hip-hop head blasphemy), it was good for another renowned classic of his to vibe with me as it did others.
Still, I do have my qualms with the project now that I guess I’ll just get out of the way really quick before focusing on the much more abundant good MM..FOOD does. The first few turns of the album, I found the various lengthy dialogue samples that help set the stage for DOOM’s villainous persona fun, but now, when I just wanna hear some fucking bars and beats, I usually end up skipping them.
This may seem a little hypocritical for me if you know I’m very much an ‘album guy’ – play the whole shit all the way through, even if there’s songs you’re not too hot on. And I do that with MM..FOOD! I’m doing it now as I type this. But if I’m attentively listening and just wanna hear DOOM spit, I’m skipping “Poo-Putt Platter”, “Fillet-O-Rapper”, “Gumbo”, and “Fig Leaf Bi-Carbonate”, as they are literally nothing but those samples and clips from old shows like The Electric Company and the old Spiderman and Fantastic Four cartoons from the ‘80s where Doctor Doom, the Marvel supervillain on which DOOM bases his persona and mask, is prominently featured as a foe.
But that’s about it! Those are my only gripes, and very personal ones at that. They by no means bring down the album as a whole – it’s very clear that DOOM as a producer and artist sampled everything he did for a clear reason: to either serve the character he portrays in his music, or the album’s concept of food. Yeah, did I mention this is somewhat of a concept album? One of my favorite new Instagram accounts that I randomly found, HipHopNumbers, did a deep dive into the lyrics of MM..FOOD in celebration of its recent 17th birthday. This album is 25.6% food, mentioning 62 different types of food and drink, most of it carb-heavy food and snacks. Wild, huh? More obvious: MM..FOOD is an anagram of MF DOOM, especially if you place dots after the M and F like you would with some abbreviations or acronyms, though he never stylized his name like that.
It’s with MM..FOOD that we get the best of both DOOMs: Metal Face and Metal Fingers. His monotone cadence and amorphous flows allow for the lyrics to stand out immensely, and boy does he bring some microwave heat with it. “Deep Fried Frenz” is a fave of mine – sampling a Whodini classic and, like that song, DOOM takes time to drop some gems on how you shouldn’t get too comfortable around your people, always keeping an eye out for betrayal, backstabbing, and looking like a whole-ass mark to those that would take advantage of your kind nature. It’s less a lesson in paranoia and more of an arm’s length, antagonistic threat to those around him – like a villain would – though I guess you don’t reach the top without being a little paranoid.
‘Associates is your boys, your girls, bitches, ni**as, homies
Close, or really don’t know me
Mom, dad, comrade, peeps, brothers, sisters, duns, dunnies
Some come around when they need some money
Others make us laugh like the Sunday funnies
Fam be around whether you paid or bummy
You could either ignore this advice or take it from me
Be too nice and people take you for a dummy’
DOOM also does something cool here that I really like: he incorporates the sample into his own lyrics, playing off of what Whodini’s singing in the hook of their song. For a short transition between what I consider DOOM’s first and second verse even though it’s all rather run-on, we get ‘(How many of us have them?) A show of hands/ (Friends) is a term some people use loosely’. Later on, another meaning of friend familiar to Ice Cube fans is touched on: ‘Or else it’d be a sad note to end on, the guns we got is (Ones we can depend on – friends)’.
This happens on “Hoe Cakes” as well, where DOOM microfies JJ Fad’s “Supersonic”, using the beatboxing at the beginning of the track to provide the framework so he can use the song’s hook to play off of lyrically:
‘I got this girl and she wants me to duke her
I told her I’d come scoop her around 8, she said (super)
That sounds great, shorty girl’s a trooper
No matter what I need her to do, she be like (super)’
This is the kind of skill you can look forward to across the whole album – yes, even the skits and interludes. DOOM, as producer and wordsmith just commands all aspects of the whole work – like a villain would. Hell, even when his pals help him, he’s on his game. Madlib, who he famously teamed up with for Madvillainy, produced “One Beer”, which uses a now-classic Cortex sample of “Huit Octobre 1971” (Tyler, The Creator would rap over this sample as well, though slowed down, whereas Madlib sped it up – Tyler and Earl Sweatshirt are huge DOOM fans). DOOM likens his outlaw persona with doing live shows in a referential end to his already dense verse:
‘He plots shows like robberies
In and out – one, two, three – no bodies, please
Run the cash and you won’t get a wet sweatshirt
The mic is the shotty – nobody move, nobody get hurt
Bring heat like the boy done gone to war
He came in the door, and ‘everybody on the floor!’
A whole string of jobs like we on tour
Every night on the score, coming to your corner store’
Everything I’m saying here doesn’t do the album justice. You really just need to hear it. Bask in how the lush, classically-imbued production complements DOOM’s criminally eloquent and soft-spoken raps. Replay songs so you can catch the double entendres and internal rhymes, and remember who else sampled this or that track. Admire the sadly clairvoyant take DOOM and Mr. Fantastik have in “Rapp Snitch Knishes” about rappers having their lyrics used against them in court. MM..FOOD is a feast for the astute rap fan, perhaps a little much for casuals, but I’m not one to gatekeep – weirdo rap has a tendency to find fans where other, more hardline hip-hop misses them, and everyone has a starting place.
Damn, I’m hungry now. Let’s wrap this up like a fast food burger. Despite me not being enthralled with MF DOOM as a whole artist, it’s impossible to not love several aspects of MM..FOOD. It’s a great, fun, dense album that manages to not fall victim to its admitted silly concept. What could have been a corny ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic rejected project idea ended up being one of the most fully fleshed-out and influential albums of this millennium thanks to how prolific DOOM is as a rapper and producer. But hey, don’t just take our word for it – there’s plenty of others that have talked up and reflected on this album, and they deserve a listen as well. In the end though, just listen to it yourself and remember: ‘ALL CAPS when you spell the man name’.
Rest In Power, Daniel Dumile. Hip-hop would not have been the same without your work.