Few artists can claim to have developed the enduring mystique that MF Doom has. The New York rapper was a true enigma—so much so that even his death on the 31st of October 2020 wasn’t revealed to the public until three months later. This late discovery felt like a curiously apt endnote to a career defined by misdirection, red herrings and sleight of hand. It’s not uncommon for an artist to be referred to as a “wizard” of their craft—Doom took this to its logical conclusion, pursuing a dedication to trickery that transcended his own mortality.
The lengths that Doom, whose real name was Daniel Dumile, went to in order to misdirect his fans are legendary. The use of his iconic Dr. Doom mask allowed for an anonymity that few who are as famous as he was are granted. On numerous occasions he sent a double (or as fans often said, “an imposter”) to his own shows in place of himself, sometimes appearing on stage once the ruse had been discovered, though just as often not. He also sent doubles to interviews and photo shoots, including to an infamous cover shoot for the now-defunct Elemental magazine. Then there’s the enduring mystery surrounding the identity of his collaborator Mr. Fantastik, a puzzle which fans are still attempting to assemble.
Though Dumile clearly bore a highly eccentric personality—Kool Keith recalled how he “would text me from different weird numbers, like from area codes you never seen before in your life. It ain’t 213; it ain’t 323; it ain’t 305, wild area codes I never ever seen”—he was also a smart and cunning provocateur committed to intentionally confusing his fans, friends and peers. This disorientation extended to his use of additional pseudonyms and aliases (including King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn and Metal Face) which he often confusingly featured on his own tracks alongside himself.
At this point it’s necessary to briefly separate Dumile and Doom. Dumile once referred to himself as “the writer” and “the director” of MF Doom, implying he saw himself as just one of the many vessels that channeled the Doom persona. The implications of this separation collapses the boundaries of artist and artistic creation. Like Paul Auster writing himself in and out of The New York Trilogy, Dumile was clearly determined to warp our understanding of where an artist ends and his character(s) begins.
These endless layers of postmodern reality-smashing have contributed to Doom’s legacy as perhaps the ultimate cult rapper. Few heads would dare not to at least mention his name in a greatest of all time debate. Since his death last year he’s been eulogized with borderline hagiographic reverence. His legends have been set in stone and his quirks analyzed to the point that their intrigue has become almost dulled. However the identity of Mr. Fantastik is one question mark above Doom’s career that nobody’s managed to definitively answer.
On 2003’s brilliant sci-fi epic Take Me To Your Leader (released under Doom’s King Geedorah alias), the track “Anti-Matter” opens with a voice announcing “from Venus to Mars, back to Earth”, before then laying down the track’s opening verse. This was the world’s introduction to Mr. Fantastik, a character in the Doom-verse that would reappear just once—stealing the show on “Rapp Snitch Knishes” off 2004’s seminal Mm… Food. Doom also mentions him on that album’s “Deep Fried Frenz,” where he enigmatically claims he first met Mr. Fantastik at an “arms deal”.
These fleeting appearances have cast a long shadow over Doom’s career, due to the fact that Mr. Fantastik’s identity has never actually been verified. He has never done an interview, nor does he have any online or social media presence. He is a ghost whose appearance on two widely loved albums by a master of mystique has left fans wildly speculating on who he could be. Doom’s untimely death means that the answer is unlikely to ever be officially confirmed, which only adds to the tantalizing nature of the puzzle.
A common theory is that he is an alias of Rodan—a member of the Doom-affiliated Monsta Island Czars. However a listen to Rodan’s voice doesn’t reveal anything particularly revelatory. Both have a similar accent and timbre, but otherwise Rodan is more aggressive and verbose in comparison to Mr Fantastik’s more laid-back flow. There’s another theory that he’s Count Bass D., who appears elsewhere on Mm… Food. This one doesn’t hold much water, as there’s little similarities in either voice. In an Instagram livestream in 2019 Count Bass D. denied being Mr. Fantastik, and claimed he had no idea who he was.
A deep dive on various online forums will reveal some varied and wild speculation. Theories that Mr. Fantastik could really be U-God, Madlib, 50 Cent, Jay-Z or Double K from People Under The Stairs litter the internet, all backed up by little evidence. An intriguing possibility is that Mr. Fantastik is one of these aforementioned rappers, but with his voice pitch-corrected to obfuscate his true identity. This is plausible; Doom has often worked with Madlib, who pitch-corrected his own voice on his Quasimoto albums. On “Rapp Snitch Knishes” Mr. Fantastik’s voice does sound like it might have been pitch-corrected down, but this is, again, completely speculative.
Doom himself appeared to intentionally muddle and distort the origins of Mr. Fantastik. Along with his “arms deal” quote, he claimed in a 2003 interview that Mr. Fantastik was originally from New York but now lives in Atlanta, and is a “straight baller” who takes Doom out to “strip clubs.” But around this time Doom also supposedly said that Mr Fantastik “no longer exists”. Neither of these possibilities sounds especially convincing. Doom’s story about Mr. Fantastik in Atlanta sounds, at best, hyperbolic. Then the “no longer exists” quote could mean anything. Did he retire? Go to jail? Is he dead? Or was this Doom’s way of retiring the fictional character from his universe?
This is all a bit like David Hemmings’ photographer in Blow-Up, endlessly poring over the details of a photograph that he believes has captured a murder. Digging into this mystery starts to recall not just Blow-Up’s ambiguity but also the puzzle-with-too-many-pieces construction of Mulholland Drive, because there may not even be a mystery at the heart of it. In February of last year, a post on r/mfdoom has seemingly put the question to bed, and is certainly the most plausible of all the theories that have banded around over the years.
The post by u/kingkrauss claims that he has a friend who grew up with Doom and his family. He recently spoke to this friend who laughed when the Mr. Fantastik question was brought up, and claimed that he’s just a guy that they all grew up with. The MC’s moniker was Pure Mathematics, which Mr. Fantastik seems to confirm on “Anti-Matter” (“they used to call me Pure Math”), and was just a talented guy from the streets who never made it big, whose only credit is his collaboration with Doom on these two tracks.
The story and u/kingkrauss seem legit. The “some guy from the streets” theory has been bandied around for years, and feels like the kind of thing Doom would do. However a few things still don’t add up. The fact that Mr. Fantastik (or Pure Mathematics) never recorded anything else besides these two tracks is unusual. His technical command is highly impressive, enough so that it has people speculating over whether or not he could really be Doom himself, so is it so really plausible that he was just “some guy from the streets” who hopped on the mic for these brief collabs? Also, the “pure math” line might seem like the decisive clue, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a direct reference to its MC’s previous name. Plenty more nonsensical things have been said on Doom tracks.
Doom’s use of non-sequiturs and surreal allusions assisted in developing his enigmatic aura. His language is dense and slippery, as was his whole artistic persona. Whether or not the mystery of Mr. Fantastik ever gets solved, which seems unlikely unless he ever reveals himself or a Doom-affiliate goes on the record to confirm his identity, it sort of doesn’t matter, in the grander scheme. Doom’s Andy Kaufman-esque approach to keeping his fans off-balance is perfectly exemplified by the mystery, and any form of official confirmation would only dampen his legacy.
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