MF DOOM is not a typical rapper. The 42-year old has never had a top-ten hit, and isn’t a name that one would hear on MTV. His lines reference various cartoons from Adult Swim, and the punchlines can be both uncomfortable for the listener, and self-deprecating from his end. Yet when people discuss the top 10 rappers on sites like rapgenius and listverse, those commenting in the forums routinely put him on their list. For the average music listener, the obvious question is why? Why is a 42 year old with no songs on the charts…ever…considered to be the greatest?
The main criteria in most lists of the greatest of all time is verbal skill: the ability to come up with clever rhymes. In that regard, DOOM holds his own. The title track from his 2000 album Doomsday is sometimes considered to be his best song. The speed and delivery of his lines calls back to early 90’s rappers like Nas. The instrumental tracks he performs over generally call back to the Jazz and R&B-based songs of the late 70’s and early 80’s. This is all at a time when many rappers were starting to get comfortable with music making programs and synthesized instruments, and while DOOM isn’t the only one who was doing this, he produced much of the material himself (The MF in his name references his producer alter ego Metal Fingers).
The list of people who are candidates for the best of all time is also full of artists who have worked with other big names in the music industry. DOOM’s list of collaborators is not something to be ignored: The rapper has performed on songs with Cee-Lo, The Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul and Talib Kweli. He has also collaborated with producer Danger Mouse (group name Dangerdoom) and Madlib (group name Madvillain).
DOOM’s onstage persona (his namesake comes from the Dr. Doom mask he wears seemingly at all times) is not without the controversy that seems to accompany “the greatest.” He has been accused of sending stand-ins to perform concerts in his place, and cancelling shows after requesting more money from the venue. However, many fans theorize that these incidents all play into his arch villain persona: after all, what self-respecting supervillain doesn’t have a plan to make money by sending his goons somewhere?
DOOM’s rap career is longer than the majority of artists on the charts today. He continues to release critically excellent material, and has performed with a who’s who of rap royalty, yet the average listener will still probably never hear his music. Regardless, MF DOOM is a prime example of the discrepancy between what hip-hop considers “great” and what plays on the radio.