On November 16, 2004, it had been nearly eight months since Madvillainy was released. MF DOOM’s side project with revered Stones Throw Records producer extraordinaire Madlib achieved moderate commercial success on release, but universal acclaim for its sinister-yet-humorous tone. The album also became a catalyst for DOOM’s emergence as an underground favorite with a growing cult-following that tracked his various personas, from King Geedorah to Viktor Vaughn. Building on the new attention, DOOM kept up a swift release pace with MM...FOOD, an album that showed his evolution since the ‘90s and stands as a marker of an artist in his prime.
Before he became one with the mask, MF DOOM’s early career started as Zev Love X, a mentee of 3rd Bass and one-third of Long Island hip-hop trio KMD, which also included his younger brother DJ Subroc and Onyx the Birthstone Kid. After the trio emerged with 1991 debut Mr. Hood, they spiraled downhill in 1993 after Subroc was fatally struck while crossing the Long Island Expressway. A grieving Zev Love X played unfinished tracks from the group’s impending album at Subroc’s wake, recalled musician Rich Keller in a 2017 interview with The Hundreds.
With pressure revolving around KMD’s controversial album art for their sophomore effort, Black Bastards, the group was dropped by Elektra Records a week after Subroc’s death. It wasn’t until 2001 that the album was released, with modest traction. Justifiably, Zev Love X felt betrayed by the industry and after a hiatus from 1994 to 1997, he re-emerged as MF DOOM, crafting his solo debut Operation: Doomsday for release in 1999.
Operation: Doomsday reintroduced DOOM through an indie venture with Fondle ‘Em Records instead of with major label backing. Those who didn’t recognize DOOM as the former Zev Love X got reacquainted with him through these boom-bap beginnings, intermittent samplings from The New Scooby-Doo and The Fantastic Four, and his biting but laidback wordplay. Taking the underground by storm, his second album as MF DOOM, MM...FOOD was a clever anagram of the rapper’s stage name, and a diversion from 2004’s growing ringtone and Southern rap trend. The album turns 15 this year, and though DOOM modelled himself as a villain, through its unconventional soundbites and cuisine-centric legacy, MM...FOOD is also packed with prophetic, cautionary lyrical elements.
One witness to MF DOOM’s genius is Count Bass D, who went head-to-head with DOOM on the track “Potholderz,” as they both tossed post-primal rappers to the wayside. Like DOOM, Count Bass D was also signed by Pete Nice of 3rd Bass in 1993, when he first connected with DOOM as KMD reached their demise. And for the record, no, Count Bass D is not Mr. Fantastik from “Rap Snitch Knishes.”
"His approach is to present something unique regardless of time period" - count bass d
“‘Potholderz’ was a complete song of mine before I knew [DOOM] was working on MM...FOOD. I gave the song to him because he asked me for it and it belonged on MM...FOOD. We were creatively locked in sync,” Count Bass D says of their collaboration. “DOOM played 'Hoe Cakes' over the phone for me when he finished it. He was focused and it was apparent he was bringing something incredible to the table. His approach is to present something unique regardless of time period. DOOM gets a great deal of appreciation from music lovers who revere rap music, but true music lovers are an endangered species.”
“Hoe Cakes” the album’s standalone single, is noteworthy for its sample of “Supersonic” by glitzed-out '80s female rap group, J.J. Fad, even referencing them in the lyrics. [A 15 year-old Tyler, the Creator under the YouTube name bloxhead even bopped to the track in a one-minute snippet back in 2008.] “Hoe Cakes,” named after a 19th century African-American breakfast staple, was also a double entendre, MF DOOM warning listeners not to fall into a woman’s trap.
“Whether a bougie broad, nerd ho, street chick / Don't call her wifey if you met her at the Freaknik / You don't want her don't waste her time, I'll dupe her / And be a father to your child like the [super]!”
Collaborating with female artists wasn’t off the table for DOOM, however. In fact, it made for a track that belonged entirely to one of the featured artists on MM...FOOD. At Atlanta underground hip-hop nightclub MJQ in the early 2000s, rapper Stahhr freestyled at a pre-release party for The Micronauts sophomore album Obelisk Movements. Also residing in Atlanta at the time was DOOM, who was briefly introduced to Stahhr, but it wasn’t until a 2001 showcase for record label Sub Verse Music at Club Kaya that their conversation continued. After exchanging contact information, Stahhr did a feature on DOOM's King Geedorah album, Take Me to Your Leader, a week later.
"Back then, he could go out and be okay [without the mask]. He was living out here in Atlanta in the boonies, so nobody knew who he was" - Stahhr
“Back then, he could go out and be okay [without the mask]. He was living out here in Atlanta in the boonies, so nobody knew who he was,” Stahhr recalls of becoming acquainted with DOOM. “He came to a couple of my shows without the mask and nobody really made the connection. I think for him when Madvillainy came out, that pushed him over the top.”
Before touring with DOOM as an assistant as he opened for Talib Kweli’s Beautiful Struggle tour, Stahhr was tagged to be a highlight on MM...FOOD. With DOOM as a mastermind for conceptualizing his music, Stahhr was given free reign to write her lyrics, with DOOM providing the beat.
“I went to the studio, he gave me a beat CD and he’s like, ‘Pick the one that you like and write to it’. I wrote 'Guinesses' before he told me what the concept for the album was, he just told me that he wanted to have the balance of feminine energy on it. He goes, ‘You’re the secret weapon.’ DOOM was always putting the battery in my back, like, ‘You’re dope, you’re like a female version of me, I don’t even think you know how ill you are,'" Stahhr says.
“I wrote the song, the original name of it was actually called 'Purple Heart Love,' [Laughs] it wasn’t even 'Guinesses.' It needed to have a food title because we had gotten to where everything was going to be named after a food. I thought about what happens when you break up with somebody? You’re bitter, you’re heartbroken, you’re drinking away the pain. There’s this anger, and that’s where 'Guinesses' came from.”
Under the moniker Angelika, “Guinnesses” was a contemplation of love and loss. Often handing a song to female artists during the second half of his albums, DOOM is virtually unheard during the song, unless you count his production. The name Angelika was also one of many comic book-inspired ideas by DOOM.
“DOOM is never gonna tell you everything that he’s doing, Like, I didn’t know that I was going to be named Angelika on the song. The character is actually ‘Firestar’ [from Spiderman and his Amazing Friends]," Stahhr says. "DOOM called me one day and said, ‘Yo, I had this dream, you were flying, you had these blue lasers shooting out of your eyes. That’s your energy, really powerful, I want you to look [Firestar] up.’ I went to the comic book store, I bought all the comics about Firestar and I read them, like, ‘This is exactly me.’”
With a mysterious creative process and a protective shield over his music, DOOM collected his beat CD from Stahhr after their session. The original tracklist was different to the final version of MM...FOOD, so DOOM, Stahhr and Count Bass D are the only ones that have copies of its original format.
"History shows [that] 2004 was a creative zenith for him. The creativity sprouted from him based on the stimuli he took in." - Count Bass D
“The initial response I remember [to MM...FOOD] was excellent, as expected from his core fanbase. Months later, he was featured on Adult Swim and a Gorillaz song [“November Has Come”]. This windfall of attention shifted the definition of what response a DOOM release [would generate],” says Count Bass D. “History shows [that] 2004 was a creative zenith for him. The creativity sprouted from him based on the stimuli he took in. New generations continue to discover and celebrate the material.”
As MF DOOM explored different avenues of expression through multiple alter-egos, MM...FOOD continued his progression from being alienated post-KMD to creating an ever-growing platform on his own terms. During an era when it was nearly mandatory to have a major label deal and radio singles, DOOM defied industry standards, having full domain over his art. The year MM...FOOD came out, DOOM even hit the stage alongside De La Soul to perform “Rock Co.Kane Flow” on Last Call with Carson Daly without having a song on the radio.
Although DOOM hasn’t been nominated for a Grammy and won’t top charts, he doesn’t need mainstream attention or huge commercial success for validation. His influence can be measured in other ways; in popular culture (Adult Swim series The Boondocks used four of his songs during its first season) and in his undeniable influence on hip-hop (generations of rappers, from Mos Def to Earl Sweatshirt cite him as a source of inspiration). Your favorite artists might have even collaborated with DOOM, from Ghostface Killah (where’s DOOMSTARKS, anyway?), to Bishop Nehru (NehruvianDOOM) and even Damon Albarn and Thom Yorke.
“I think MM...FOOD was a turning point, even for the DOOM character. I love how it centered around food, because music feeds you, so that’s mental food,” concludes Stahhr. “The whole thing with DOOM is rebelling against the system, like, ‘Fuck them, I’m gonna do this my way.’”