Photo By: Noah Nickel via Apple Music

The late MF DOOM and renowned west coast producer Madlib dropped their classic collaborative record Madvillainy on Stones Throw records 18 years ago. Assuming the moniker of Madvillain, the duo have left listeners palming their foreheads for years at the mystical chemistry they captured in the one project they did together. 

MF DOOM, real name Daniel Dumile, passed away in late 2020, having left behind a three decade-long rap career and featuring a variety of different personas. However, the rapper is most known for his collaborative project with Madlib released in 2004, Madvillainy

Madlib commented on Dumile’s passing in a Pitchfork interview, characteristically being frank and saying “I still can’t believe he died. That’s weird.” While this might strike some as a little tone deaf given the topic, Madlib and DOOM’s relationship was always one that seemed to transcend words. It sounds cliché, but they literally spoke through their music. In an interview hosted by the Red Bulls Music Academy, Madlib explained what the process of making Madvillainy looked like on a day to day basis and it reads like a comic book featuring two music nerds that can communicate telepathically, 

“I’ll hand him a beat CD, I go to sleep. He’ll work on some music, he’ll go to sleep. I’ll wake up, make some more beats, listen to what he did, we might take shrooms together if we awake at the same time, and then listen to the music when it’s done.”

In fact, comic book nerdism meets hip hop aficionado comprises much of Madvillain’s forte, as seen in the music video for “All Caps,” one of the biggest hits off the record. The track featuring a sinister piano riff on the hook which Madlib loops with expert precision, while DOOM famously lays down a rule that’s become part of his villainous character’s lore ever since — that being to spell MF DOOM in all capital letters, “just remember, all caps when you spell the man’s name.” One of the best parts — or worst parts depending on what side of the equation you end up on — of being in the Dumile fandom is that in comment sections it’s a regular occurrence that fans will chastise anyone who forgets the all caps spelling.

What’s notable about Madvillainy 18 years later is that it’s a timeless sounding project. While it no doubt captures lots of the abstract energy floating around the underground hip hop scene in the early 2000s, as the internet made slightly odder artists more prominent like EL-P, Aesop Rock, Del the Funky Homosapien, et al., Madvillain was just a little bit more odd, eccentric, and daring, making the duo the cream of the crop. 

It all really comes down to the hoary idea of a strong concept; two comic book villain hip hop desperados is just an irresistible premise, and who better to do it than one of the best mask-wearing lyricists in the game and a producer who can seemingly flip any sample from any period, a thief of sounds and times.

As any well-received superhero story proves, the villain has to be just as compelling, if not more, than the hero for a truly enjoyable story. This involves being smart, cunning, and hard to peel your eyes away from as much as you may want to. Well with lines like “The worst hated God who perpetrated odd favors / Demonstrated in the perforated Rod Lavers,” “The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd / The best emcee with no chain ya’ ever heard,” and who could forget “We rock the house like rock ‘n’ roll / Got more soul / Than a sock with a hole,” it’s hard not to say DOOM is the perfect villain in this respect. 

But what if Madvillainy resonates all these years later not because it embraces a fictitious atmosphere so openly that listeners can detach, but because it reveals Dumile’s true personhood? It caused a lot of controversy when in an interview a year before he passed Dumile said he really only raps to get money, which, in a way that seemingly anticipates fans’ disappointment in relation to the statement, is captured perfectly by a line of his off the record, “Villain get the money like curls / they just trying to get a nut like squirrels in his mad world.” 

Fans started speculating that he made the statement as part of his villain persona and to bug them, something he’s known for, but this appears to be a misreading. Rather, what if it’s the old Freudian idea that there’s more truth in what comes out with the mask on than one expects, or as MF DOOM says himself on the second track on Madvillainy: “Slip like Freudian, in your first and last step to playing yourself like accordion.”