This 2003 Conversation With MF DOOM Is The Interview Of His Career
In addition to phenomenal lyricism and one-of-a-kind production, one of DOOM’s charms is his mystery. Perhaps as an extension of the metal-faced mask that he has worn for nearly 20 years, the man born Daniel Dumile rarely grants interviews. While verified accounts may exist, DOOM’s one great artist of the 21st century that needs no social media to promote anything he does. When DOOM speaks, it’s almost always on wax, and it’s worth listening. If it’s not broken, why fix it?
Fifteen years ago, DOOM was still doing some interviews with members of the Hip-Hop press. In fact, I spoke with Metal Face surrounding a Nas remix project at the top of 2003. Although meaningful to me in hindsight, the framework of that interview regrettably had more to do with Nas than DOOM. That is not the case for Peter Agoston. The veteran Hip-Hop journalist, show promoter, and Female Fun record label founder created what I feel is the definitive DOOM conversation—especially as it appeared in a 2003 issue of Elemental magazine (a time and a bygone publication we both contributed).
In honor of the 100th episode of his podcast, The House List, Agoston shares the audio of the mid-’03 conversations with DOOM that yielded the mag’ feature. He reportedly did so with DOOM’s blessing. The two men have a strong rapport; Female Fun released the first Special Herbs volume, a concept that Peter and DOOM created together. Moreover, DOOM—in between taking calls and what appears to be a crying baby—gets to the root of his late ’90s transformation. In this conversation, the legendary and dynamic artist expounds on the genesis of his production style, the lean circumstances that birthed Operation Doomsday, and his direction behind the project he was promoting, MM…FOOD.
“I had the first idea for this FOOD album, it must’ve been right around when I was finishing up the Doomsday album,” DOOM admits at 22:00, while discussing the then-upcoming Rhymesayers Entertainment release. “It was after Doomsday was done, but still like not out yet that I came up with [MM…Food]; I still had residual ideas. Ideas never stop and sh*t. It was a similar concept, as far as production goes. That’s the one thing that ties all the DOOM albums together, it’s production—the Hip-Hop blend technique, with rhymes. I had a couple of those; I kept bumping into new ones. Like on the mixtape circuit, I could kill ’em with the ideas I be havin’, with the Hip-Hop instrumentals mixed with the ’80s slow songs.”
Agoston asks the history behind this technique, which started creeping into DOOM’s beats in the KMD years, including on songs like “What A Ni**a Know?” The MC/producer replies, “That sh*t came from f*ckin’ DJ’ing parties, yo. In the park, spinnin’, on some the girls wanna hear one thing and the ni**as wanna hear [another] thing. That’s when Just-Ice came out with ‘Latoya’ and all that good sh*t! [Chuckles] And they had all those slow instrumentals, like EPMD with ‘You’re A Customer.’” He also praises the music of Keith Sweat, KRS-One, Superlover Cee & Casanova Rud, and Jody Watley. “I would look for that blend to keep the party moving when I was DJ’ing. It was always be a change from the norm that would please the whole crowd. I took that style and incorporated it into making beats to achieve the same effects, with lyrics on it. I’m a DJ first.” Asked when he began DJ’ing in Freeport, Long Island, DOOM says in the summer following third grade. He describes using his babysitter’s older sons’ vintage Technics turntables and feeling the rush of playing park jams with records. He says the first records that he ever played was Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love” and Otis Redding’s “Tramp.”
DOOM’s imagery is not unlike his verses, as is his slang. He admits that his voice changed from KMD to his Doomsday era due to the “thousands of blunts” he smoked. He says that his mother was a nurse and his father was a school teacher. DOOM is specific about video games, comics, and music—the three loves that he has carried since. He describes dubbing Frankie Crocker, Awesome Two, and The World Famous Supreme Team radio shows in New York, and their profound influence on him.
At 30:00, DOOM separates his character from “the author” when he speaks about his birthplace in London, England. “I gotta make the separation between me [and] MF DOOM.” He describes living in Downtown Manhattan for a period, going to “a live school,” and even living in the same Mount Vernon that Heavy D and Pete Rock represent. DOOM mentions his late, younger brother Subroc in passing too. “The effect that it had on us, musically—we’re in the city, then we’re in the suburbs, then we’re in the city,” he describes, suggesting a diverse exposure to sounds and culture.
Speaking about comics, the MC/producer traces the influence to his music. “I think a lot of my writing [influence] as far as the range of sh*t that I would deal with came from reading that type of stuff [in the Marvel Universe] and see how far they went with it…there’s so many different personalities and they’d show both sides of each character. When you learn that duality when you’re young it’s good. Know it. Positive and negative both need to exist; neither one is better than the other one.” Of the Dr. Doom comic, in particular, he says, “They call me ‘DOOM’ too [because of my last name Dumile]. I could always relate to that character. I liked him; he was ill. He’d always come through [after] he disappeared. It seemed like they killed him, but he always comes back.” He then moves into his career. “Only after the KMD sh*t did I really say, ‘Word, yo, if I was to come back—it just hit me one day. [My comeback] would have to be as that dude. That’s the character I would pick. I guess it was one of them days I was just there, broker than a mothaf*cka, sittin’, listening to some Jazz [radio] station [with] nothin’ to do, really, really broke. This is after the KMD sh*t, after we’d been on the road and was on a major label and all that sh*t. Going back to ground zero, I’m damn near homeless—like lucky [to even have a place to stay]. It was summertime, beautiful day out, [I decided to model my comeback after Dr. Doom]. In a lot of ways, it prevents a lot of the bullsh*t from happening. [There is] a lot of bullsh*t associated with this particular genre of music. The paparazzi or whatever you call it, the haters—the f*ckin’ bullsh*t.” Upset at critics, DOOM seems to suggest that a character shields him from cheap criticism. He adds, “I try to keep my sh*t true to life anyway, but [use a created universe too] to keep it interesting. My life [is] too boring.”
As DOOM speaks further in the interview, he shows that his life is far from dull. The MC recalls KMD seeing De La Soul as the biggest brother, as well as A Tribe Called Quest. He describes being Elektra Records label-mates with Leaders Of The New School and Brand Nubian. Later on, MF DOOM praises Dante Ross, who signed KMD. He recalls Ross and the Stimulated Dummies Lower Manhattan studio in a basement maze, where many recordings were made. DOOM describes using the Akai MPC-60, and later having to sell it.
He describes his strategy surrounding a late 1990s return to Rap. “I took it back to when I first started rhyming in school [when I was writing raps in the margins of my notes]. That’s when the sh*t was just for fun…nobody was making money off the sh*t. That’s when it was at its truest form, so I’m like, ‘I’ll take it back to that sh*t.’ I looked and said, ‘Okay, what is it that people like about what we do? It’s rhyming—the way we f*ck with the words on the beat. [None] of the sh*t in between matters at all.” Moments later he describes deciding to change his name and reinventing himself. “[I thought] let me do this DOOM thing and see how the public takes it. But that was just me in my mind. I [was] still broke. I had no way to put the record out. But I’m doing the music.”
Taking Rap back to the essence, DOOM took his tape machine, sampler, and his last crate of records and made “Dead Bent.” The early recordings took place in Northern Virginia, Freeport, and at DJ Stretch Armstrong’s home studio when DOOM was in the city. Living in the same city of Freeport in which he spent part of his youth, DOOM says he was living low in the sort of place without a shower. However, he says “at least I had a roof over my head.” The artist also liked the summer weather and some of the more peaceful surroundings that were conducive to creativity. Later, in the interview, he describes taking that first new-era song to Bobbito, who had just released material from Kool Keith’s Cenobites group. Eventually released on Fondle ‘Em Records, that would be the ignition to a game-changing transformation.
At 57:00, DOOM speaks about the concept to his solo debut. “The story picks up where everything went crazy with the Elektra [Records shelving Black Bastards]. My brother [Subroc] went back to the essence, God bless—terrible accident sh*t. I’m going through that. At the same time I just had a son. [Subroc’s] daughter was born, then my son was born. [I became a new parent at the same time my] career basically went to zero, as far as financially and sh*t. It was a lot of pressures.” Elsewhere in the interview, DOOM uses the word “homeless” to describe some of that period.
This interview is an illuminating travel back to a period when MF DOOM was still actualizing plans from that earlier period. MM…FOOD released in mid-2003 and became an important solo album in an expanding catalog. During the awareness from that as well as 2004’s Madvillainy (with Madvillain) and The Mouse & The Mask (with DangerDOOM), DOOM began stepping further away from interviews, especially conversations of this depth. This is a great opportunity to hear the MC speak, and understand the workings of his mind as well as his gripping story.
Other House List episodes of note include in-depth conversations with Count Bass D, Just-Ice, and yet another Elemental contributor/artist, Louis Logic. This year, DOOM partnered with Inspectah Deck, Esoteric, and DJ 7L for CZARFACE Meets Metal Face.