The late great MF DOOM was the perfect foil for hip hop. In a culture oversaturated with self-promotion and visibility, DOOM was always in the shadows, to the point where you never really knew if it was him until he opened his mouth. He would send imposters to concerts, rarely make public appearances otherwise, and never without his trademark mask. His real identity of Daniel Dumile didn’t matter — it was just the villain, in his many forms.
Part of that persona came from how the music industry chewed him up and spit him out. As a part of the rap group K.M.D., Dumile made strides within the mainstream rap world with his brother and bandmate DJ Subroc. When Subroc was killed after being struck by a car, the band’s label Elektra refused to put out their final album, Black Bastards, due to its controversial cover art. Dumile spent the next few years bouncing between cities and enduring occasional homelessness, all the while crafting a villainous alter ego to channel his rage into.
When he remerged in the late ’90s, Dumile embraced the alter ego of MF DOOM in full, shrouding his face in whatever disguise he could find, including women’s tights. But when a friend spied a movie prop replica for sale, he informed Dumile that it could be perfect for his new persona. That prop was a mask from the 2000 film Gladiator which Russell Crowe donned during a battle within the Colosseum.
Dumile was impressed by the reproduction, as it bore an uncanny resemblance to the mask worn by Doctor Doom in the Marvel comics series The Fantastic Four, the character from which Dumile took inspiration for his MF DOOM persona. But the helmet part of the mask wasn’t quite what Dumile had in mind, so he removed the front part and kept it as a mask, solidifying the look that he would become famous for.
Dumile would make modifications to the mask over the years, obtaining a number of different colours and slight differences in construction, but the basic idea of the mask remained the same. It continued to shield himself and his identity, allowing him to fully embrace the villain that produced some of the best hip hop of all time.