MF DOOM Had One of the Best Rap Years Ever in 2004
From indie classics Madvillainy and Mm..Food to notable guest appearances, 2004 was a defining year for the underground hip-hop villain.
MF DOOM’s Madvillainy and Mm..Food are both considered to be independent rap masterpieces. The former, his collaborative album alongside producer Madlib, was critically-acclaimed and brought the pair moderate commercial success, peaking at number 179 on the U.S. Billboard 200. The latter was also well-received critically, and peaked at number 9 and 17 on Billboard’s Heatseekers and Independent charts, respectively.
In between the release of Madvillainy and Mm..Food, MF DOOM also released several other albums. He also made some notable guest appearances on songs from De La Soul and Zero 7.
Let’s look back at DOOM’s prolific 2004; here is a timeline of the most notable releases and appearances the enigmatic Metal Face had that year.
Madvillainy (March 23, 2004)
The rapper’s 2004 began with Madvillainy. As the second album released under his moniker MF DOOM, Madvillainy was the result of Madlib wanting to work with DOOM. Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, Stones Throw’s former general manager (and co-founder of Madlib’s Madlib Invazion label), got in touch with a friend who lived in Kennesaw, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb that DOOM was living in during the early 2000s. The friend and DOOM had a “passing acquaintance,” but he played an integral part in introducing the rapper to Madlib and Stones Throw (neither of which DOOM was aware of).
“I told my friend that Madlib’s been making beats and I needed to get them to DOOM to get Madlib back into rap again,” Alapatt told Pitchfork.
Alapatt sent his friend some of Madlib’s early work to share with MF DOOM, which the rapper ended up enjoying. After Stones Throw agreed to a deal requested by one of DOOM’s managers — that the label pay for plane tickets to Los Angeles and give DOOM $1,500 for three songs over Madlib beats — the rapper flew to LA to meet Madlib in 2002.
“The first thing [DOOM’s] manager did was get me in my bedroom, which was also the office, and corner me about the 1,500 bucks,” Alapatt said. “I realized that if she was in here, then DOOM was with [Madlib], and the longer I kept up this charade with her, the longer they’ll vibe and maybe it all might work out.”
While Alapatt dealt with DOOM’s manager, the rapper and Madlib’s creative partnership began to take shape. The former went through hundreds of beats made by the latter, the pair working together at Madlib’s infamous Bomb Shelter recording studio nestled in a house in Mount Washington.
“[Madlib] would give me another CD, and I’m writing…We might stop, and he’ll burn one and listen to the beat, and that’s it…We hardly spoke,” DOOM said in a 2011 interview at the Red Bull Music Academy. “It was more through telepathy. We spoke through the music.”
Unfortunately, the work that the two did for Madvillainy was upended after someone stole a near-finished demo cassette of the album Madlib had and leaked it on the internet 14 months before its official release. Disillusioned, DOOM and Madlib wouldn’t reunite to complete Madvillainy until mid-2003. Among the notable changes between the leaked and completed versions of the album was DOOM’s delivery.
“On the original version of the album, MF DOOM rapped in a really hyper, more enthusiastic voice,” Peanut Butter Wolf, the founder of Stones Throw Records, told Pitchfork. “Then he decided to rap in a more mellow, relaxed, confident, less abrasive tone. I think he did it to make it different from all the other projects he dropped those years.”
The delivery DOOM employed on the actual Madvillainy album not only added to the charm of the project but helped the rapper further build his enigmatic persona. Madlib has discussed the challenges he likes to put rappers through, the producer’s beats improvisational and lively. To be nice on a Madlib beat is a feat, and DOOM makes it look too easy. The coolness he displays throughout Madvillainy is at its best in “All Caps,” arguably the album’s most well-known song. The third to last track on Madvillainy, “All Caps” feels cinematic. The symphonic introduction gives way to looped drums and piano as DOOM boastfully cements himself as rap’s greatest villain: “Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.” Five years prior, DOOM had made himself known on his debut album, Operation Doomsday. Madvillainy was the next step, and there was DOOM’s menacing gaze as its cover art to foreshadow how it was unlike anything happening in rap at the time.
A moderate commercial success, Madvillainy has sold approximately 150,000 copies, making it Stone Throw’s best-selling rap album. At the time of its release, British record label EMI (who served as the album’s distributor) couldn’t keep Madvillainy in stock.
“Everyone was suddenly talking about it,” Alapatt told Pitchfork. “Def Jux was the indie-rap behemoth, and now we were being mentioned side-by-side. It kept the lights on at Stones Throw for years — until Donuts came out.”
Special Herbs + Spices Vol. 1 (May 11, 2004)
An extension of DOOM’s Special Herbs instrumental album series (more on that later), Special Herbs + Spices Vol. 1 found battle rapper MF Grimm rapping over DOOM beats. Grimm and DOOM already had a long history prior to this collaborative release. Operation: Doomsday, which came out in 1999, was recorded in Grimm’s basement; he was also credited as an executive producer on it, too, supplying samples for the album and financing it as well. The following year, the two released the MF EP.
Special Herbs + Spices served as the pair’s last collaborative effort together after the two had a falling out. This culminated in the song “Book of Daniel,” Grimm’s diss track directed at DOOM from 2006’s American Hunger album. The track was a response to a line DOOM rapped on “El Chupa Nibre,” from 2005’s The Mouse and the Mask.
Venomous Villain (August 3, 2004)
Several months after the release of Madvillainy, DOOM released Venomous Villain, his fourth studio album and his second under the moniker Viktor Vaughn (a scientist and rapper from another dimension in which hip-hop is banned). Venomous Villain is seen as one of his most disappointing projects, considering DOOM only raps for nine minutes and 30 seconds of the album’s 32 minutes and 53 seconds. (However, there are some recent Reddit threads that have been made defending the album.) Despite some standouts like “Doper Skiller” (which finds DOOM trading verses with fellow rap bizarro Kool Keith), Venomous Villain is underwhelming when compared to its predecessor, 2003’s Vaudeville Villain. Even DOOM himself wasn’t a fan; the very first words he raps on the album is, “Dub it off your man, don’t spend that ten bucks / I did it for the advance, the back end sucks.” On “Fall Back/Titty Fat” and “R.A.P. G.A.M.E.,” he also expresses his dissatisfaction with each song’s production, rapping “Can’t stand the beat, there’s no sense bitchin’,” and “Coulda flipped it longer ‘cept the beat was rather rinky-dink,” respectively.
News that DOOM was releasing Mm..Food was already known at the time of Venomous Villain‘s release. But fans had to wait three more months until the former dropped. In between the two albums, DOOM released volumes seven and eight of his instrumental album Special Herbs.
Special Herbs Vol. 7 & 8 (September 21, 2004)
Originally started in 2001, the Special Herbs series was released throughout several different independent labels including Female Fun and Nature Sounds. (One was even released through High Times magazine’s record label.) Because of this, most of the releases share tracks: the first nine tracks of Vol. 2 are from Vol. 1; the last eight tracks of Vol. 4 are from Vol. 3. To add further confusion, certain volumes were released more than once and on different labels, as was the case with Vol. 4, 5 and 6. (This is why 5 and 6 aren’t included on the timeline; it was originally released November 24, 2003, and was re-released the following year on March 23, 2004.) Vol. 7 and 8 were the only ones to not have any track overlaps.
Like its predecessors, Vol. 7 and 8 were made up of instrumentals that had already appeared on DOOM projects, or would pop up on later releases. The compilation featured several songs from 2003’s Take Me to Your Leader (where DOOM uses another one of his monikers, King Geedorah) including “Anti-Matter” and “Fazers,” which are titled “Sarsaparilla” and “Buckeyes,” respectively. The release also included a song called “Fo Ti,” which ended up being the beat for “Coming For You” from 2014’s NehruvianDOOM (a collaborative album between Bishop Nehru and DOOM).
De La Soul’s “Rock Co.Kane Flow” From The Grind Date (October 5, 2004)
DOOM had several guest appearances throughout 2004 but the most memorable was surely his feature on De La Soul’s “Rock Co.Kane Flow.” The last track on the rap trio’s The Grind Date album, “Rock Co.Kane Flow” features two verses from the Villain. It’s worth noting that two months later, De La and DOOM performed the song together on NBC’s late night TV show Last Call with Carson Daly.
Special Blends Vol. 1 & 2 (November 2004)
Initially a limited edition release, the exact date of Special Blends Vol. 1 & 2 is unknown. All that is offered on most websites is that it came out in 2004; one website claims that it came out in November 2004. For the sake of continuity, let’s go with Vol. 1 & 2 being not only released in November but dropping before Mm..Food that same month. Another extension of DOOM’s Special Herbs series, Special Blends mashed-up vocals from well-known and rap and R&B songs with MF DOOM beats from his Special Herbs series. Among the songs remixed include Erykah Badu’s “On and On,” D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar,” De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” and more. Some of these even feature beats that ended up on Mm..Food, as is the case with “On and On.” The Badu track uses an instrumental called “Lovage,” which ended up being the beat for “Guinnesses.”
Mm..Food (November 16, 2004)
MF DOOM ended his year with an album that some might argue is his best of all time — the beloved Mm..Food. Released on Rhymesayers Entertainment, the album finds MF DOOM at his most playful as he raps about food, beer, and, of course, being a villain. And although it’s understandable why “Hoe Cakes” served as the album’s one and only single, there’s no denying that Mm..Food‘s defining moment is “Rapp Snitch Knishes.”
To this day, no one knows who the hell Mr. Fantastik is. But without him, this song wouldn’t be as great as it is. Fantastik and DOOM make up one of rap music’s most enigmatic pairings, as the two trade bars about how rappers self-incriminate themselves by rapping about the crimes they commit. This is captured in all of its glory during the song’s instantly memorable hook:
Rap snitches, telling all their business
Sit in the court and be their own star witness
Do you see the perpetrator? Yeah, I’m right here
Fuck around, get the whole label sent up for years
Since its appearance on Mm..Food, “Rap Snitch Knishes” has taken on a life of its own. An instrumental of the song was used in The Boondocks episode “Thank You for Not Snitching,” where the fictitious rapper Gangstalicious (voiced by Yasiin Bey, a well-known DOOM fan) admits to attacking a record executive during a performance.
In 2018, the song was referenced by MSNBC’s Ari Melber when he spoke on Michael Flynn, Donald Trump‘s former National Security advisor who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election.
In 2019, “Rap Snitch Knishes” resurfaced amid Tekashi 6ix9ine’s testimony against the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods in federal court. The former rapper and social media star spoke about his involvement with the gang, as well as disclosed other information ranging from Trippie Redd allegedly being a part of a gang called the Five Nine Brims and Jim Jones being a member of Nine Trey to his kidnapping that occurred last year in Brooklyn.
Following 6ix9ine’s testimony, there were countless memes and jokes centered it, and DOOM’s classic track was referenced in many of them.
DOOM will likely never have as monumental of a year as he did in 2004, but this is what makes it so significant in the first place.
This story was originally published in 2019.