MF DOOM “Operation: Doomsday”: A 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Zev Love X of KMD ceased to exist after his brother Subroc died in a tragic accident shortly after their group was dropped from Elektra before their sophomore album could be released. He re-emerged as his alter ego MF DOOM and after years of releasing 12"’s on Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle ’Em, he released the classic LP “Operation: Doomsday”.

In the beginning, Zev Love X was originally half of the Rap duo KMD. It came as a shock when his group was dropped from Elektra Records back in 1994 because they’d been using variations of their soon to be released album’s artwork for close to a year before it was deemed too controversial by the label for wide release.

Shortly afterwards, the “Peachfuzz & “Who Me” rapper’s younger brother, production partner and right hand Subroc, was struck by a car and killed, which sent Zev spiraling into depression. He’d lost someone who for all intents and purposes he considered his right hand. His crew Constipated Monkeys survived the breakup of 3rd Bass but it would splinter and fall apart following Subroc’s death. What serves as catharsis so Daniel Dumile can cope with the loss of his other half resonates with thousands of Rap fans looking for a new voice.

For years, Zev stayed off the grid before he finally got back into performing and recording under a new alias, MF DOOM. Zev (whose government name is Daniel Dumile) identified with the iconic masked Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom. The mystique of Victor Von Doom when blended with Zev’s own back story made him the most intriguing MC since back when Ghostface Killah performed covering his face.

Longtime associate Bobbito Garcia played the new MF DOOM material on the Stretch & Bobbito Show on WKCR and it received a strong enough response that he decided to press up vinyl on his label Fondle Em Records. In 1997, vinyl singles for “Dead Bent”/“Gas Drawls”/“Hey!” and “Greenbacks”/“Go With The Flow” built a following that grew for about a year to the point MF DOOM material couldn’t stay on shelves in indie record stores.

The newly christened MF DOOM decided to do shows in public but chose to cover his face, first with stocking caps and makeshift masks. It wasn’t until later that DOOM asked his friend KEO AKA LORD SCOTCH 79 to construct him the first mask which greatly increased his aura from a promotional item for the film “Gladiator” (2000) which wasn’t released until more than 6 months after “Operation: Doomsday” first hit store shelves but right around the time KMD’s sophomore LP “Black Bastards” officially saw release. Keep in mind DOOM didn’t even yet wear the mask on the cover of the 2000 Brick split “MF” EP with MF Grimm…

As his mystique and legend grew, it bolstered his musical output as the mask completed the cipher. DOOM’s “resurrection” was made possible by him making excellent music at the beginning of the split between the mainstream and the underground Rap worlds back in 1997, creating a perfect storm during a void, thereby fostering widespread interest from underground Hip-Hop heads and indie Rap enthusiasts.

In 1998, Fondle ’Em released another MF DOOM single “The M.I.C.”/“Red & Gold” which was distributed by Fat Beats. Heads were thirsty for an album so work began on crafting a full length project throughout 1998 and 1999. When word came that MF DOOM would be releasing a proper album, anticipation from the underground Rap fandom went through the roof.

This was surprising considering that the DOOM material was even more well received than the scary good music released from KMD’s Black Bastards” album Elektra shelved back in 1994. It turned out that DOOM was allowed to keep his masters after KMD’s release so Bobbito released “Black Bastards Ruffs + Rares” and “It Sounded Like Roc”/Stop Smokin’ That Sh*t” which highlighted Subroc’s incredible production and growth as an MC. This made his loss all the more bittersweet and gave the audience invaluable insight as to what fueled DOOM’s absence.

On October 19th, 1999 MF DOOM’s long awaited album Operation: Doomsday” finally went on sale. It was sold chiefly through niche online and physical vendors that specialized in underground and independent Rap such as Sandbox Automatic, Fat Beats, Underground Hip Hop.com & HipHopSite. Nevertheless, the music made its way into the hands of MF DOOM’s rabid fans.

The album consisted of 19 tracks including five skits that tied the tracks together into a narrative using audio clips from the old 1967 Hanna Barbera Fantastic Four” cartoon series plus a spoken word outro. In addition to the previously released 7 tracks there was the smooth opener “Doomsday”, the Bobbito guested “Rhymes Like Dimes” (as DJ Cucumber Slice), “The Finest” (that flipped the SOS Band classic lovely), “Tick, Tick…” featuring MF Grimm, the Monster Island Czars posse track “Who You Think I Am?” and “?” featuring former Constipated Monkeys crew member Kurious. The album sequencing perfectly blended the previously released fan favorite Fondle ’Em 12″ tracks with the new material and the end result was a legitimate classic Hip Hop album.

MF DOOM acknowledged Nas’ “Illmatic” in an interesting way to open his album, he also used “Wild Style” but instead he played the audio over background music used in the “Fantastic Four” cartoon. By drawing on the nostalgia associated with the 1967 “Fantastic Four” cartoon which was a Gen X staple as a part of “Hanna Barbera’s World Of Super Adventure” and a key part of the Boomerang network’s lineup, DOOM further identified with his listening audience.

This album is the one that launched his now legendary solo career with a string of classic albums containing memorable bars. In addition, it paved the way for DOOM to make albums under multiple aliases including his epic 10 part “Special Herbs” instrumental album series with High Times/Nature Sounds. It’s insane to think that even though this album is a classic it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of showcasing the potential of DOOM as a lyricist, producer, artist and a creative.

The beauty of “Operation: Doomsday” was although it’s a full length album that retained the raw, gritty underground demo-ish feel of the initial recordings that fueled it although the versions that appear on the album were re-recorded and sound much more polished than their original 1997 incarnations. It established a standard that underground emcees who wanted to transition from cats with popular 12" releases into artists with full length debuts could use as a blueprint going forward.

Fondle Em‘s catalog appealed to the same audience as indie Rap labels like Rawkus, Solesides (Quannum Projects), Rhymesayers Entertainment, Fat Beats, Eastern Conference, Nature Sounds, QN5, Anticon. Molemen, Brick and Def Jux. This helped to strengthen and further bolster the growing number of underground artists making classic material away from the mainstream and bring more validity to their collective output.

DOOM’s audience grew steadily as the album built an organic following. Once it became available in record stores in following months and he began to tour as underground Rap came into its own as a force to be reckoned with.

The re-emergence and steady ascent of MF DOOM from obscurity to underground champion between 1997 and 2000 corresponded directly to the rise of the independent Rap scene following the split with the mainstream rap industry. A new crop of artists became prominent in Rap supported by a devoted fan base with new classics to advocate for and DOOM was one of the standard bearers. Here we are 20 years later, DOOM is now regarded as a Rap legend and a master of his craft but his original mission is still underway.

On October 19th, 1999, the man we now know as DOOM released his debut album which established his ascent as one of the great emcee/producers of the past 20 years. Although he was initially regarded as just an underground/indie Rap artist, his influence has extended far beyond that space and he’s widely regarded in the realm of music period. The first domino to fall in this progression was “Operation: Doomsday”.