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Rapper And Producer MF DOOM Dead At 49

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The enigmatic rapper MF Doom has died. He emerged mysteriously onto the New York scene in the late 1990s and became a cult figure in the underground rap world. NPR's Andrew Limbong confirmed his death with his former business partner. He has this remembrance.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: MF Doom was as close as you could get to an actual supervillain. He was a recluse, went by an alias, and kept his face hidden behind a mask before we all had to start doing it. And the hard-to-explain mythology he created was part of the appeal. Take, for instance, the 2003 record "Vaudeville Villain."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VAUDEVILLE VILLAIN")

DANIEL DUMILE: (Rapping as Viktor Vaughn) ...Viktor the director flip a script like Rob Reiner. The way a lot of dudes rhyme, their name should be knob-shiner...

LIMBONG: The album is credited to Viktor Vaughn, who, according to the mythology, is not MF Doom but a reflection of him? Here's how he explained it to NPR in 2003.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DUMILE: Say you are - you know how you have Superman, and then you got Bizarro, supposed to be like Superman's equal in an alternate universe type of thing? So Viktor's from that alternate universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VAUDEVILLE VILLAIN")

DUMILE: (Rapping as Viktor Vaughn) ...That's no ditty, Vaughn so witty, the way he take no prisoners and show no pity...

LIMBONG: MF Doom was born Daniel Dumile in London in 1971. He was raised in New York and started rapping under the name Zev Love X and, with his brother, formed the group KMD. Even in those early years, you could hear his fascination with rhymes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACHFUZZ")

DUMILE: (Rapping) ...By the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin, gots many plus plenty. String-by-string, I think I count, like, 20...

LIMBONG: KMD was on the rise when his brother was hit by a car and died. Upset and disenchanted with the music industry, Dumile retreated from public view until he came back, this time as MF Doom, sporting a metal mask reminiscent of Dr. Doom from Marvel Comics and proudly declaring himself a villain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOOMSDAY")

DUMILE: (Rapping as MF Doom) ...Definition supervillain, a killer who love children, one who is well-skilled in destruction as well as building...

LIMBONG: He told NPR in that 2003 interview that he loved playing characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DUMILE: I'm an author. I'm writing a story. I'm going to make it interesting enough every time, even if I got to switch characters, whatever. It ain't all about me.

LIMBONG: He leaned so much into the MF Doom character offstage, he was known for sending in imposter MF Dooms, known as Doombots, to perform as him at shows. Now, all of this might seem a little gimmicky. But his talent stringing together rhyming words, pulling in assorted pop culture references while maintaining multilayered storylines was undeniable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGARO")

MADVILLAIN: (Rapping) ...Who shot you? Ooh, got you new spots to vandal? Do not stand still. Boast yo' skills. Close, but no krills. Toast for po'nils. Post no bills. Coast-to-coast, Joe Shmoe's flows ill. Go chill. Not supposed to overdose NoDoz pills...

LIMBONG: He was a rapper also beloved by other rappers. You can find videos of Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt fanboying out over meeting him, Mos Def late night in studio, relishing over his favorite MF Doom lines. And there's a 2017 episode of Hannibal Buress' podcast Handsome Rambler where the rapper Talib Kweli talks about touring with Doom and taking him aside to ask about the imposters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "HANDSOME RAMBLER")

TALIB KWELI: He said, I'm the [expletive] supervillain.

TONY TRIMM: And he never...

KWELI: I'm not your friend.

TRIMM: He never said he was. Yeah.

KWELI: You don't have to like me. I'm the villain.

LIMBONG: MF Doom might have played a villain, but he was a hero to rappers. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CURLS")

MADVILLAIN: (Rapping) ...Tryin' to sound cooler. On the microphone, known as the crown... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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