For all the talk of realness it’s easy to forget that Rap is fiction. At the end of the day, Shawn Carter changes out of his Jay-Z costume and becomes human. MF DOOM, the half drunk syllable obsessed super villain turned rapper/producer sometimes inhabited by Daniel Dumile is simply the literal interpretation of this phenomenon. You might remember Dumile from his previous role – Zev Love X, one third of the gasface giving, peachfuzzed growing early '90s New York Rap crew KMD. Shortly after their dissolution, Dumile donned the metal mask of DOOM and began to slur his way into the hearts of underground rap fans on records like Operation Doomsday and Madvillain, his collaboration with California producer Madlib.
Having just dropped the long awaited full length BORN LIKE THIS (and the “MF” suffix) Dumile, not DOOM, sat down with HipHopDX to trade science fiction and fact about imposter performances and and homophobia and parenting and séances with the dead and 400 foot tall reptilians and all that.
HipHopDX: So just to get it out of the way, can you address the recent scandal where you were allegedly sending an impostor to perform in your mask at DOOM concerts?
DOOM: [Laughs] Alright. Here's how I look at it, because the wording in there is kinda funny. "Impostor." Impostor would imply that the character. I liken it to this: I'm a director as well as a writer. I choose different characters, I choose their direction and where I want to put them. So who I choose to put as the character is up to me. The character that I hired, he got paid for it. There's no impostor.
DX: But the fans are presumably going to see you, as that character.
DOOM: That's what they're coming to see? Me? As the character? When I go to a show, I'm going to hear the music. I'm not going to see no particular person. I'm going to hear the music, if I can't see the motherfucker... I might be blind. Any cats that are coming to see me as a physical person, I can switch the [actor] any time. I'm not gonna play the part of that character every time. Like how [actors] changed through the Batman series, where it was George Clooney [and] it switched like five [other actors].
People need to think outside of the box, Hip Hop is not just what you expect it to be. This is a growing genre, it's a creative field. So when you come to a DOOM show, I'm letting all the cats know now, come to hear the show and come to hear the music. To see me? Y'all don't even know who I am! There are certain times I did shows and shit, I took a year off, and I went back to doing the character. I couldn't find nobody to do the character so last minute I said, "Fuck it, I'll do it." [I] came back, did the show, lost a little weight. You know, I'm trimming down, watching my diet. I come back, do the show, sound was excellent. But as soon as I get off the stage, they're saying it wasn't me. Alright, it's never me. I'm the writer. It's a show. That's where it's getting twisted in Hip Hop. It's all visual. People want to go see the guy with the big chain who's bragging about all these cars that he has. That's where it gets twisted. This is music. Technology makes it possible for me to still do music and not have to be any particular place. I'm using all that. I'm using every aspect at my disposal to project my creative thoughts. Either people gonna get it or they not. But I'll tell you one thing, if you're coming to a DOOM show, don't expect to see me, expect to hear me or hear the music that I present. And it's gonna be a unique experience every time. So that's all I have to say about that.
DX: About the DOOM character, I was always struck by how he started off as a very serious, sort of broken man on Operation Doomsday and has since evolved to become more jokey, more cartoony. Is that something you’ve done consciously?
DOOM: Yeah, [on] Operation: Doomsday, the way I presented it was as an introduction from the character from an outside point of view. Way outside. Okay, there's this guy that everybody is calling the super villain. You hardly know anything about him, so you're hearing things, and you gradually get introduced to him through what he puts out as propaganda, what he shows outwardly. Then gradually the [MM]...Food [click to read] record comes around and at that point you're kinda familiar with the dictatorship side of the character, more serious like, the take-over-the-game conqueror aspect of him. Then you get to the, "Oh, he's not such a bad guy, they call him the villain but, now we get to know him and he seems cool. What's so villainous about this guy?" Right? So with this record, the third installment in the trilogy, there's even a closer, more candid [look]. You already know him. He's your man now, so you don't call him MF DOOM every time, you call him DOOM now. That's the reason for [the name change]. You get into the mind of the character like that's your homeboy. It's almost like from the outside how people can be perceived as being villainous or bad or evil, you know. When you're looking at one thing from a certain perspective it could seem like anything.
DX: Are you surprised by how widely people have accepted DOOM since you created him?
DOOM: [Laughs] That's crazy because that's news to me. I don't even keep track of it.
DX: Well you're up on Cartoon Network and all that. Most underground rappers don't have that level of visibility.
DOOM: Stuff like that just kinda happens by accident. I meet up with cats that, they're fans [of me] and I'm fans of them. So I don't know if that's [an accurate] gauge to say that it's widely accepted just because my mans said, "Oh snap, you should do a show!" "Word? Yeah I'll come on there, I'll wear the mask." But I guess it's being it more widely accepted. I had no idea that it'd even get to this level.
DX: I always think back to when you did those Christmas spots. Now for someone who listens to Hip Hop those makes sense, but do you worry that there's a whole different audience that is missing the context?
DOOM: Right all they [see] is a guy with a mask. That's cool. That's who the character is. He might pop up anywhere. He's not necessarily stuck in the Hip Hop genre. It's flexible like that and that's what's fun about it. I'm not stuck in that box. The character can do anything.
DX: Do you think there'll ever be a point where you retire the character?
DOOM: I thought about it. I was about to retire the nigga after this [album] but then my wife talked me out of it. She felt like I would be killing myself or something. So I think that he's gonna have to be an infinity guy. As long as Superman and Batman and all these guys have been rocking 50 years, the villain will be the same way, rocking. Timeless and ageless. He's just that super villain.
DX: It seemed like you slowed down on recording for a while. Did you think you were spreading yourself too thin?
DOOM: No, if I had more shit I would have put out more shit at the time. They come in spurts and shit. Pause, if you know the pause game. But [if I release] three albums in a year, I might have been writing those albums for three years. The three years that I'm writing them, you might not hear anything. It takes a lot of research to make sure that the story makes sense and to double check for consistency. Not to mention I'm also a father and a regular guy out here in the world.
DX: It must be nice to have that anonymity, where you can have that career and the go back to being a regular guy and not get approached you on the street.
DOOM: [Laughs] Yeah, niggas don't approach me on the street. I think I'm the last motherfucker you want to really approach, even to ask for the time. It's total freedom. It's cool, I couldn't even imagine doing it with that much attention.
DX: But you obviously saw some of that attention in the KMD days though.
DOOM: Yeah but when you're young, you're not thinking about it. I got bored with it then. It was corny. So by the time I figured out this new way to present the music I made sure that I edited that out. The mask just happened to fit. But at the same time the mask represents sound and not sight. It doesn't matter what you look like. Not to mention, I think the listening audience sympathizes better with a masked character because it could be them in his shoes. I think it's easier for them to put themselves in his shoes. It works good like that. It could be anybody behind the mask. It could be you, it could be your uncle. It gives the listener a way to sympathize with the character better.
DX: You have a Charles Bukowski theme going on with the new record. Are there other literary influences that inspire your work?
DOOM: No doubt. In the case of Operation Doomsday, at that time I was reading the Sidney Sheldon novel The Doomsday Conspiracy. Just by reading science fiction and those kind of things they get my mind in a creative mode. If I see the story took a strange direction, it gets me to thinking, "Wow, my shit I can take a twist there." I just think it kinda broadens things. I always read a book when I'm doing a record. When I get stuck it gets my stuff going. Bukowski was for this record. I'm reading the Bukowski shit and getting into that dude and his plight and his whole mission as a writer. I watched a documentary [about] that dude [called Born Into This]. He really inspired me, just from how he just did his craft without worrying about [standards]. There's no standards to what we do, we just do it. Born Like This, that's why I chose that as the title. Writers are born and we're not doing it like, "Yeah I think I'll be a writer today." We can't help it. If I had another job, if I was a gardener or a city worker, I would still be writing rhymes and doing my little thing. I'm just blessed to be able to do it for a living.
DX: Do you pay much attention to other music?
DOOM: Um. I don't really get a chance to listen to a lot of new stuff unless it's somebody I'm working with. Most of the time I'm working with people like Madlib so I'll hear what he's working on or recently, I bumped into my new friend Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio. I wasn't familiar with his music at all, but we had mutual friends and I played my record and he played me his shit and now I'm into his shit. So it's usually people that I work with. I don't really get a chance to listen to the radio or whatever they choose to present to the masses.
DX: On the new record "Batty Boys" you out Batman and Robin as homosexuals. What would you say to the accusation that that's a homophobic record?
DOOM: I don't know what I would say. It's not about homos. It's about Batman and them. They just happen to be homos. It's a story about Batman and it's like I got a personal beef with Batman, or I'll say the character DOOM, has a personal beef with Batman. Like remember the beef with DMX and Ja Rule [click to read]? The character DOOM is just in the realm of cartoons and comics, so his competition is Batman and these guys. And that nigga's a homo, so he's gonna say he's a homo. They ain't saying there's nothing wrong with being a homo. I'm not homophobic, I got friends that's homo. I'd say to the homos it's no big deal, I'm just teasing. I'm a nigga, how about that? You know how much shit I get? It's good to get conversations started like that. I did that [record] intentionally so we could start talking about these kind of things.
DX: I also read it as something a commentary on masculinity in Hip Hop as of late.
DOOM: How everything is tough guy shit?
DX: Actually I was thinking the opposite. It seems like, over the last few years things have gotten kind of... soft?
DOOM: Kinda bitchy? [Laughs] I look at it like, it's just a thing that's going on but there has to be people that speak to us too. We're men, so who's speaking for the men? So say you're not supposed to be like that and it becomes a style and everybody is dressing like this now. Your sexual orientation is a style now? For the youth that's growing up and they try to find their identity that could be a big mistake. So I'm just speaking from the side of a heterosexual male. I didn't try to over-tough-guy the shit, it's just regular shit. At the same time, notice in the song "Cellz," there's shit in there like "pull your pants up man." That's not appropriate for a man to be walking around with his pants all down, plus you'll get slammed like that, how you gonna get up? I'm a father too. I'm teaching, in a way, [to] my sons and anybody else that maybe don't have a father and they look up to the character. So I'm just on that side. DOOM is a beer-drinking guy, he's a responsible guy, but sometimes he might have weird opinions. The character could be homophobic. He could be, but he's not. It just happens that the niggas who he was fucking with at the time happened to be homos. "Them homo niggas took the money. So what you gonna do? You gotta go get 'em" whether he was a homo or not. He could be like "yeah that two-headed dude, he tried to rob me. You gotta go get 'em." Include everybody.
DX: How old are your kids?
DOOM: They range from the ages of 16, the oldest, to my youngest [who] is eight months.
DX: What do they think of DOOM?
DOOM: I got a six year-old. To him it's fun. He wears the Batman mask, I had to go to Toys R' Us and actually buy the Batman mask and the wings. So he's running around the house with the Batman suit on, but then he's making fun of me because I wear a mask too. He knows there's a difference between me and the character so he kinda wants me to throw my mask on and do battle with him. "Batman is better than you." That definitely fueled ["Batty Boys"]. Like "Word? Batman’s better than me? I'm spendin $24 in the store and Batman’s better than me? Alright, I got some shit for Batman." So they think it's fun. I like to have fun with it and make music that they can enjoy and keep the content relatively not so crazy.
But on this particular record I got [Raekwon] on there and I got [Ghostface Killah] on there, so they’ll be doing what they want to do. Their writing style is incredible. On this album I put the best writers that I could get together. Slug from Atmosphere - incredible emcee, the way he writes and gives you a vision that you could just get from his rhymes. Same thing with Starks and Rae and Empress Stahhr, an emcee out of Atlanta that I'm working with. She is like... snap... she is like as nasty as I am. I'll only say that about her. Anybody else I'll be like, "Yeah, he alright, he alright, I'm still the best." But she's damn near right there with me. So I put together a few ill writers. I threw Bukowski in there just to show that we're all writers. And in his time he was underrated and a lot of people couldn't get it, but I got him on this guest appearance because we're all writers. So he gets his verse too.
DX: What's the status of the album with Ghost?
DOOM: Now that this one is out the way, progress will be picking up. It's about 40% done. Forty-two percent done, if I had to say. But then it's hard to gauge because everything is speeding up now, so it could probably be done real fast, within two months I could have it done. Madvillain seems like it's closer to being done. I'm working on the shit now. That shit'll be done within the next two months. I don't know when they gonna put it out. Otis [Madlib] is the producer, so I don't really have to do too much. I think on this record, we're mixing it up. I'll have more production on this one. We're thinking of doing half and half on production and half and half on content. I'm also working on a record for Williams Street, that's Adult Swim's record company. I think I'm gonna do [the alias King] Ghidra on there. I'm not gonna set that in stone, but I think Ghidra might be coming out on Williams Street. So by the end of the year, all of them will be done.
DX: Now what's the difference between Ghidra and Doom?
DOOM: See Ghidra is this 300-400 foot reptilian being, right? If you can imagine him in the third dimension he'd be three headed and about that height. But really he exists in another dimension. So what he does is channel his thoughts through DOOM just so he could express [them] on this plain. I know it sounds weird, but he's channeling his thoughts through DOOM as a vessel so DOOM can speak for him. And I don't know what else to say about Ghidra. Ghidra's Ghidra. He's just a totally different being. Ghidra's records tend to be more instrumental and guest based. DOOM may guest appear there, but DOOM is the actual one who is using his skills and metal fingers to put it together. When DOOM is in tune to Ghidra his production style is Ghidra.
DX: A couple years back you had mentioned plans to bring KMD back as well. Is that still in the works?
DOOM: Well, I'm still working on the next KMD record, it's gonna be different than what everybody would expect. Traditionally, when a group gets back together it's like, "Wow, the guys are back together!" It's totally different. KMD now… of course my brother Subroc, he's on the other side now, so he can't be here physically, so his participation is from that realm. The other guy, Onyx, who played the part of the Birthstone Kid is no longer part of the group, so it's more of a musical experience that is in the direction of KMD. Like, after Black Bastards, what would the next set of music sound like? It doesn't even have to have rhymes on it even. It could be all instrumental. But it'd be that KMD texture or the KMD formulas. It's a different formula to how we do music. The DOOM formula is totally different than the KMD formula, even production-wise. And that's the thing that really sets everything apart. So the group and the title and the essence of KMD, the next record will be that. It's still in the works, it's kinda tricky trying to craft it though. I'm making sure the shit is right, but it'll happen.
DX: Is it hard for you to channel that essence with your brother being gone?
DOOM: Anytime you lose a family member there's a grieving period. But it's not really no different, it's just a different realm, just a different form of communication. We’re all gonna go to that realm eventually. As long as you know that you can still know how to communicate with them. They're not gone, you just can't see them with the naked eye. The naked eye only picks up a certain spectrum of light. What else don't we see and what side are we on? Maybe that's the right side and we're gone. Connections never break. Energy can never be created or destroyed. Anything that it changes to is just change. If you know how to tune into it, it's the same thing. So to me, any of my brothers that are on the other side, I can just still tune into them. If I'm thinking about them I'm talking to them. I can hear them, I still laugh around them. It might look weird like I'm laughing in the room by myself, but I'm laughing with Bukowski, I'm asking his permission, I'm talking to [J] Dilla, I'm talking to Sub. To me, that's how it is. I think we're all headed in that way of overstanding, but to get over the emotional hump is what's important. When people feel like they lost somebody that they love, to know that they're not gone. There's no such thing as out of existence. They're just in another realm. They can hear us and all that from that realm, we just can't see them and hear them with these tools that we have. Or we do have the tools to see them and hear them, we just have to go inside and utilize those tools. Not to get too mushy with the shit.
DX: So back to KMD, you're not in touch with Onyx at all? He's out of the picture completely?
DOOM: Well really in the same way that DOOM was a character, I needed a character to add to KMD so I hired a guy. I had another third guy but he backed out. We just got the [Elektra Records] deal and was about to really formulate the record but we wanted it to be three people because it's easier to get the message across when it's three of us. He wasn't rhyming at the time, he's just one of my homeboys that had a good personality and he was with it. So I guess he wasn't born to be an emcee. He went back to doing whatever he was meant to do in his life. So I may have to hire another guy. Maybe I can find somebody else I can hire as Onyx. If the fans really want to see a guy. Or maybe they'd like to hear the music. This is why it's funny, it's real simple. Music is something you hear. Next time I go on stage, if I chose to go on stage and be the character, I’ma tell everybody to close their eyes anyway. It's about what you hear and the energy exchange.