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Enigmatic Rapper And Producer MF DOOM Dead At 49


In a year where we all started wearing masks, we lost someone best known for performing in one.


MF DOOM: (Rapping) He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh, a rather ugly brother with flows that's gorgeous.

CORNISH: Rapper MF DOOM died last October. The news only became public yesterday when his widow announced it to social media. His metal face shield was part of a persona he invented that made him an enigmatic figure in hip-hop. And for more than 20 years, he was also one of its greatest lyricists.


MF DOOM: (Rapping) Living off borrowed time, the clock tick faster. That'd be the hour they knock the slick blaster. Dick Dastardly and Muttley with sick laughter. A gun fight and they come to cut the mixmaster.

CORNISH: MF DOOM never had a mainstream hit, but he was often described as your favorite rapper's favorite rapper.


MF DOOM: (Rapping) He sold scrolls, lo and behold, know who's the illest ever like the greatest story told.

CORNISH: Born in London as Daniel Dumile, he moved to Long Island as a child. As he developed his style, he released his first records with the group KMD.


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


KMD also featured his brother, who went by the name Subroc. Shortly before their second album was supposed to come out, Subroc was hit by a car and died. Soon after, their record label declined to release the album.

CORNISH: That was in 1993. A few years later, a rapper emerged in New York sporting a mask inspired by the Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom. In 2003, MF DOOM told NPR that the mask helped him keep the focus off his image and on the lyrics.


MF DOOM: Music first, then everything else. You won't see me on the cover of a album with tattoos or a big gold chain, none of that.

CORNISH: MF DOOM was a character who he often narrated in the third person, and it wasn't his only alias. Another was the three-headed monster, King Geedorah.


KING GEEDORAH: (Rapping) King Geedorah, take me to your leader. Quick to claim that he not a snake like, me neither. They need to take a breather. He been rhyming longer than Sigmund the sea creature. Been on Saturday feature.


MF DOOM: I'm a author. I'm writing a story. I'mma (ph) make it interesting enough every time, even if I got to switch characters, whatever. It ain't all about me.

CHANG: DOOM was also known for collaborating, for instance, with the Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah and the acclaimed DJ and producer Madlib.


MF DOOM: (Rapping) Mad plays the bass like the race card. Villain on the case to break shards and leave her face scarred.

CHANG: MF DOOM always courted mystery, at one point sending imposters wearing his signature metal mask to his shows. It was all performance, whether he was the hero or the villain.


MF DOOM: (Rapping) On Doomsday, ever since the womb till I'm back where my brother went. That's what my tomb will say. Right above my government - Dumile. Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who's to say?

CORNISH: Daniel Dumile aka MF DOOM died on October 31. He was 49 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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