The dust has yet to settle on the indie-rap renaissance of the late '90s, with critics and fans fiercely divided on which albums constitute classics. One title they agree on is MF Doom's 1999 masterwork Operation: Doomsday.
Daniel Dumile has not been photographed in public without his metal mask for more than a decade. He launched his career as Zev Love X, one-third of the Long Island rap trio KMD, a group he shared with his brother, the DJ and producer Subroc. In 1991 KMD issued their memorable debut, Mr. Hood, and were quickly lumped in with such quirky post-D.A.I.S.Y. Age groups as Leaders of the New School and Black Sheep. However, KMD's second album, Black Bstrds, was much more hard-edged, reflecting the hip-hop world's rising interest in gangster-ism. The album's sardonic tone -- and particularly its controversial cover art, depicting a Sambo-like cartoon figure hanging from a noose-- led to Elektra dropping the group. Just before Blck Bst*rds was officially shelved in 1993, Subroc was killed in a hit-and-run accident. (The album finally got an official release in 2001.)
Afterward, Dumile retreated from the spotlight for a few years, before issuing several 12-inches on Fondle 'Em Records as Metal Face Doom, starting with 1997's "Dead Bent"; Doomsday followed in the fall of 1999. While most of the era's major acts, from Company Flow to Jurassic 5, approximated grimy boom bap, MF Doom culled from such adult-contemporary chestnuts as Atlantic Starr's "Always" and James Ingram's "One Hundred Ways." These quiet-storm ballads, bits of which he looped then sped and slowed down, contrasted with the fervent mic-trading of Doom and his crew (later known as the Monsta Island Czars). Cumulatively, they create a tone of sadness and loss.
Doomsday is nominally built around the theme of MF Doom's planned revenge on the music industry for destroying KMD's career, and incorporates several snippets from the 1967 Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Fantastic Four. In the episode "The Way It All Began," Doctor Doom tells his origin story: a scientific experiment that goes awry, making his face "hideous." But there are other major themes, too, including the 1983 B-boy movie Wild Style and the 1960s Japanese comic-horror movie serial Godzilla. The latter provides inspiration for another Dumile alias, King Ghidra. Meanwhile, the name Monsta Island Czars references Monster Island, a locale in the debut issue of the Fantastic Four comic book.
Operation: Doomsday has gone in and out of print since its 1999 release in spite of its immediate acclaim, which sparked a major career comeback for Dumile/Doom that continues to this day. This April, Stones Throw Records released a definitive two-disc edition that includes the original album plus alternate versions, instrumentals and a cappellas. The occasion warrants a deeper look.