MF Doom basks in contradiction. The metal mask, originally installed as a shield from the gimmickry of contemporary Hip-Hop, has become an iconic accessory he remains unrecognizable without. His lyrics are baroque strings of pop-culture references and colorful slang, all delivered in a conversational deadpan more suited for the recitation of an impotency drug's side-effects. He's a veteran rapper that has somehow redefined himself as a hot commodity in an industry where the young devour the old and comebacks are limited to $500 guest appearances on underground rap compilations. Yes, this is an old-school street dude who has been incongruously embraced by the same trendoids who tremble with excitement at each new release from Kid Robot. But these apparent inconsistencies all wither into inconsequential dust when confronted with one simple, easy truth: MF Doom is obsessed with words. Itís not ďtrue-schoolĒ clichť; itís who he is and what he values most in his art. His single-minded devotion to arcane terminology, rhyming architecture and just plain being more ill than the next dude is what makes him a unique artist. After fawning over his releases for several years, Loosie finally had the chance to talk with the Metal Face Villain. We didnít squander the opportunity. Broken down into a three-part series, we offer one of the most comprehensive and sprawling interviews ever conducted with MF Doom. We begin by discussing his current project, the collaborative DangerDoom album he created with producer Danger Mouse.
So how does DangerDoom tie in with Adult Swim?
Those are our peoples. The way they do it creatively and the way they spin it, itís similar to how we spin it. We all laugh at the same jokes and shit. The humor side of it. One of the key points, on Aqua Team in particular, your man Karl, dude sometimes be talking about Rap or Hip-Hop and how itís corny or bubblegum music. Heís gigginí on them a little bit. So kinda I played off that a little bit, like Iím an emcee and Iím gigginí on it too like, ďYeah, the shit is corny now, they got it on TV.Ē But at the same time, Iím rhyming and itís straight Hip-Hop shit. Itís almost contradicting itself, one of those slight, funny contradictions.
What sort of input did you receive from the people who produce the show?
They let us run with it. ďWhatever you guys want to doÖblaow! See what you come up with.Ē We had kind of full creative control on it. So that was peace Ė thatís how I usually work, anyway. I knew Danger was like that; he ainít tryiní to have nobody telling him what to do. It was a mutual respect. They respect how we get down and know how professional we are. And at the same like, they doing their thing too. We met at the crossroads.
The internet has been buzzing about the album's collaboration between you and Ghostface.
Starks is my people! While I was working on this joint with him, I was finishing up this one and heís finishing up his solo joint for Def Jam. We traded back and forth like ďBa-Boom!Ē Iíd throw him a beat; it was like on of those kind of moves. It was the chemistry. Iím not gonna be working with nobody if I ainít got no regular chemistry with him. It ainít gonna be like, ďOkay, I got beats and we never meet and I just send beats online and we got an album out all of the suddenĒ. A character like Starks -- you just gotta love him when you meet him. Cool dude, real positive brother. We got to the point where we were like, ďYo, letís do this record! You was feeling this joint? Itís about the masked rapper.Ē And Iíll trade something, we trade something -- itís good.
We know that both of you have worn masks, but how did the concept for a song like that evolve?
I came up with a song about the mask before I knew I was gonna have him spit on it. But the angle I was coming on was more about the mask was its own being -- itís an entity by itself. And itís really like the mask is the star in this whole thing and Iím just an emcee trying to come up. Itís that particular accessory that makes it noticeable. Then itís up to me catch the wreck. Itís like a partnership, in a way. The mask, heís his own being; the emcee (which is Doom in the song), heís kinda of upset about the way the mask is splitting the money funny. Heís trying to have me doing all the work. Itís almost like the mask is trying to front on me, so Iím trying to get rid of the mask. Iím pointing out the reasons why. So then [Ghostface] comes with the reasons why he had to get rid of his shit and why he had it on. Itís just based on the fact of how the mask is its own entity in itself.
John Updike that said, ďCelebrity is the mask that eats into your face.Ē I thought that was an ill-ass quote. I wanted to throw it at you.
You know what? I would say thatís definitely ill and true in its own way. My mask, in particular, is a shield from that, in a way. The mask, whatever face that you gotÖit definitely works like that.
I remember seeing you back at Wetlands in like í99 or 2000. It was probably about 105 degrees in there.
It was mad hot, I remember that.
You rocked without the mask. Have you done that since?
Nah. The mask at the time was under construction. The show came up and I had to throw the stocking on. I had a stocking cap on out there to cover the face. I ainít have the metal joint, though, definitely not. Thereís a few metal ones, different models of the same one. Ever since I had the first one, Iíve made sure Iíve had enough backups so when you see Doom, he will have the mask on.
How many masks are currently in rotation?
Thereís like four in rotation right now.
Are there differences between them?
Oh, yeah. No doubt. Different accessories, different upgrades. One may be more lighter. But I donít want to go too much into the technological side of it. I donít want no leaks of information, know what Iím saying? But thereís definitely different technological differences in each one, weight differences, some is for black-tie affairs, one is maybe for more of a Wetlands-type show where you might jump in the crowd.
One of my friends worked on a Philly show with you a while back at Fluid. He said you were a cool cat the whole time Ė until you threw the mask on and completely changed. Is that accurate?
Well, Iím like this Ė I compare it to a robbery. Thatís the best way to describe it. Right before a robbery, you might be staking out the joint. Go in there, eat a sandwich or whatever, play like you a patron. Scoping the scene out, you donít want to bring too much attention to yourself. But once you throw on the mask and you grab the heater Ė itís a stickup! Itís different; the dude sitting there isnít the guy that robbed the store. Once he takes the mask off, he goes back to normal. So in a way, itís true. It works like that.
According to Danger Mouse, DangerDoom was under construction for almost two years. But between this, MMÖFood and MadVillain, youíve been really productive. Is there some sort of work regiment you use?
Itís weird. Sometimes I look online or I might read an article and it says thereís a lot of stuff coming out. But to me it donít seem like itís that much. I could be doing more. But when the creative spurt does happen, itís like ďBaow!Ē If you know how to do something, you just do it. It clicks, automatic. I plan to increase the productivity at this point; I feel like Iím kinda slacking. Iím trying to get more into my studying -- to have more things to talk about, to broaden my range a little bit. I hope the party people out there ainít getting too tired of a nigga. I know they seen a nigga name here and there, but Iím like, ďYo, anything yíall hear definitely gonna be different.Ē The rhymes is gonna be on point. I ainít really just throwing records out there to hear myself talk. I donít even want to hear myself rhyme, really. But, when itís time for them to cop, there will be updated info and new styles and all that good shit.
Why donít really like hearing yourself rap?
Iím not the kind of cat that donít like hearing his own voice Ė I mean, I like it -- but I spit it once, I hear it, okay, fine. Iím not going to keep listening to it. I do that shit, put it to the side and go do the next one. You know how you got that cat in the circle, heís just talking and rambling on like he gotta hear his own voice? Or cats that put records out with that bullshit? You know records that be like that. Itís the same thing. For me, Iíd rather not speak; Iíd rather hear what the next cat got to say Ė [he might] drop jewels that come around to me. If it comes around to me and I got to add on, Iíll add on.
So you donít get in the Doom Mobile and thereís a bunch of Viktor Vaughn shit there?
Nah, nah. Definitely not. My wife will tell you: I get in the truck, she turns that shit off. She and the kids listen to it all day Ė I get in, that shit come out. I donít want to hear none of that, thatís work. Throw a beat on, some instrumental music, Jazz, whatever, anything else besides that.
Besides the music weíve heard, do you have Tupac-status vaults of material sitting around?
Hmmm. Thatís an interesting question. Itís weird, Iíve got a bunch of notebooks with mad shit in them that I ainít fucked with yet. So, in a way, I do have shit sitting around, but it ainít refined enough to put out like that. I still got to put it through the editing process and all the difference processes I put it through to make it to that point. So, in a way, I do got it stocked up and in a way I donít -- Ďcause lately I just been using just new shit off the top, boom. So shit is piling up. Right now Iím been giving them the spontaneous, come-off-the-top, thought-about-it-that-day, kinda rhymes. For the DangerDoom project, it was half and half. Some premeditated with the notebook, but when I hear the beat, Iíll write it right there in a few hours from scratch. As opposed to a Doom album, Iíll take more time and each song will have a topic and itíll be more structured. You can tell itís not as spontaneous as MadVillain, which was 100% ďthrow the beat onĒ Ė I didnít have nothing pre-thought of or no type of format. [DangerDoom] wasnít too tied into the cartoon theme, but itís got enough references. Did you hear the album?