We remember the late MF DOOM and discuss his most underrated record, Vaudeville Villain!

By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez

This is one of many entries in a series where I will be doing weekly blurbs on New York’s music scene. From old to new records, we’ll be going over some of the most classic records from The Big Apple and its surrounding region!

The masked rapper MF DOOM was far from an underdog; with the moniker of “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” many have felt the impact of his underground influence. The late Daniel Dumile, aka MF DOOM, was a master of his pen and production, using intricate rhymes to turn his abstract raps into comic book-esque character portraits. No one else embodied the spirit of villainy, pure technical prowess and self-aware humor like DOOM…and he is considered a New York MC, so why not cover his most underrated record, Vaudeville Villain? Due to it being released under the Viktor Vaughn name, not too many DOOM fans have even listened to it. A shame, considering this album was the prelude to his dominance in the 2000s and is possibly his most tight collection of pure rap tracks.

Beside it not being Madvillainy or MM…FOOD, Vaudeville Villain’s underrated status can stem from its very nature. Many DOOM records are highly conceptual, focusing on a given theme or production partnership, but Vaudeville Villain, despite being an album, runs a lot like a mixtape. Many producers and rappers tackled this album in DOOM’s classic sound, offering various samples and verses that complemented his husky voice and iconic flow. I think this lack of consistency allowed DOOM to really let loose in his confidence and song topics. A song like “Can I Watch?” is a perfect example of this, being a quiet jazz rap duet with Apani B wherein DOOM successfully attracts a new woman only to fumble his chance to take that next step. The song is equally smooth, cinematic, and hilarious, but it’s only one of many types of songs DOOM did here. “Vaudeville Villain,” is one of DOOM’s best bangers, a roaring guitar backing a verse that is easily one of DOOM’s best period. “Never Dead” is a horrorcore rap track where DOOM and M. Sayyid team up to get back a stolen Donkey Kong game in brutal fashion. The album feels like a variety show with DOOM serving as the main character in different types escapades, ranging from crime to simple rap cyphers.

And every escapade works.

A key aspect of this album is that despite the type of topic or verses DOOM delivers, you can’t help but sense this great confidence from him. He settles into every beat perfectly, dropping a quotable or double entendre with the speed of a gatling gun. Tracks like “Raedawn” and “Popsnot” see DOOM take the gloves off and murder some weird ass ambient instrumentals, fully dipping into the villainous persona he proposed in 1999. The album balances these darker moments with some great sequencing too, adding in more palatable boom bap on the word salad “Lickupon” and the bombastic “Saliva,” the latter of which is one of DOOM’s catchiest joints. The album runs like a villain’s mixtape, a carefully curated cartridge of cuts that delivers different vibes and sounds emphasizing DOOM’s skill. Whether he’s attracting groupies or taking over the world, he can’t miss.

Now, despite the diverse palette of the album, I do want to emphasize that this tape is much more cohesive than others at the time. The record is consistently shadowy and mysterious, with beat highlights “A Dead Mouse” and “G.M.C.” sounding like a villain’s theme music as he appears from a dark alley. The use of the “Open Mic Night” songs serve a great dual purpose. The first is breaking up the record with some interesting guests and diverse rap styles. The second is my personal interpretation, but I believe that these guests can serve as archetypes for the rap game of 2003: blunted stoners, hyper conscious lyricists, gangsta rap, bling rap, etc. These styles are all present and subsequently bodied when DOOM finally appears at the end of it all. Does this show that DOOM knew he was better than everyone in the rap field? I’m not sure, but I like to think these tracks reinforce that idea. Few artists at the time were dropping as much rap and instrumental heat as him.

There’s nothing else to be said about DOOM’s legacy other than the fact he was an incredible artist with one of the best discographies in hip-hop. Vaudeville Villain is one of the best releases in said discography. It’s a villain’s carefully curated mixtape, dropped before his immediate takeover of the rap world. It shows that DOOM had honed and perfected his lyrical and performative craft, could tackle any song topic while dropping a few nuggets of genius in ever verse, and could ride any beat.

In short? Check this album out if you’re a DOOM fan. As a masked mastermind once said: “Play it in your stereo, your crew’ll go apeshit.”

Remember all caps when you spell the man’s name!

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