DOOM photo credit: Kristina Hill
It’s lunchtime on a surprisingly hot August Friday afternoon in central London.
I’m sitting in the lobby of Red Bull Studios, having been drafted in at the last minute to cover FACT’s interview slot with larger than life hip-hop legend DOOM, a.k.a Daniel Dumile, and formerly MF DOOM (he dropped the MF in 2009). Chalk it up to brand awareness perhaps. After all, the man is entering his third decade of activity as a producer and MC, a remarkable feat considering he never broke into the mainstream as others did, singling him out in hip-hop’s modern pantheon as uniquely as the mask that identifies him.
Despite the promise that I would be on shortly after making it to the studios, 10 minutes of sitting around with no PR or DOOM make it clear that the rapper isn’t here yet. It was never going to be a straight forward press day – this is, after all, a man who has been accused of sending masked substitutes to his own gigs. As I sit looking at a giant TV screening the Olympics I wonder if the allure of London’s 2012 sports extravaganza got the best of the masked super villain. Maybe he’s really into rowing and decided to sack it all off.
With my laptop battery dying on its (non-Mac) backside, I scramble around the net for research and ideas beyond my own nerdish desires to question him on random things I care about. DOOM’s here to promote Key To The Kuffs, his latest release on Lex Records and an album entirely produced by label mate Jneiro Jarel. It’s his second full-length of 2012 following Son of Yvonne, a collaboration with Masta Ace, released in June and on which Dumile handled production duties by digging around his cabinet of Special Herbs (again). JJ DOOM is the real 2012 attraction for this fan though, not least because Jarel’s production skills are among the best in the new school instrumental hip-hop game. Sonically, Key To The Kuffs neatly fits alongside the classic Madvillainy and Vaudeville Villain as one of DOOM’s more interesting projects, with the added bonus that it’s no longer weird or uncool to rock those sort of non-standard hip-hop productions in 2012.
Staring out the studios’ big window I see a figure walk past that seems familiar. Moving my gaze down the lobby to the door I see that same figure walk in, face down. As he looks up he plunges his hand into a bag, drags out a familiar looking mask, dons it and then turns to the bar and grabs a beer before remembering to ask the staff if it’s okay to do so. Dumile’s arrived, and has transformed into DOOM. As he walks to the interview room I try and think of a way to flip the MF into a relevant joke/pun about my waiting around. I fail miserably.
Two and something hours after arriving I’m let in to speak with the newly London-based DOOM. Originally born in the capital before moving to the US as a child, he’s a little like Slick Rick in a way: a bonafide US rap legend which the English can sort of lay claim to. If there was a rap Olympics I’m sure they would. I’d heard rumours that DOOM had been living here since a mix up at customs after his first European shows in 2010 had left him stranded, away from his life and family. The album’s lyrical content and its promotion, including this press day, confirmed that these rumours were in fact true.
As DOOM requests another beer I sit down, hoping my last minute filling in won’t lead to a boring convo. That’s when I realise that having got carried away looking at old stories for info I forgot to even check the press release for the album before my laptop died. I’m sure someone else will cover the important bits, I just want to know how many copies of the mask exist. I press record and we start, my inner rap nerd excitement increasing as the familiar tone of voice emerges out from under the mask. Dumile is an amiable character despite the multiple personas he’s cultivated over the years, his answers delivered with the same mix of excitement and nonchalant manner that characterise his best raps.
“It has to be myself. I think I’m the best [laughs].”
How did the JJ DOOM project come about? How did you guys link together?
“We both do work for the same label. It was the label putting it together. They sent me beats from Jneiro Jarel as part of just sending me beats from different people. The way it started I think is back when he had Shape of Broad Minds out [Jneiro Jarel’s project for Lex], well when he was working on that project. He requested a guest appearance from me through the label. I said ‘ok well, first of all how much…’ [laughs] nah I said ‘where’s the beat?’ and that was my first experience with JJ in terms of musically hooking up.
“After that I met him out in L.A., I was working on the Madvillain record and he was out there working on something too, so we would be bumping into each other. We lived close by, so we would kick it, talk about music. We had mutual interests, equipment, shit like that. At that time we wasn’t really doing no work together, more like ‘yo you heard this?’, ‘where you get that from?’, ‘how you make that sound?’, ‘you got an 808 I can borrow?’ shit like that, you know. And then I moved here and it was the label’s idea to do a song with JJ, do a song for this compilation which then snowballed into an album. It wasn’t expected to be an album at first, but I ended up choosing a lot of JJ’s beats and he ended up being the main producer on it, actually the only producer on it. “
I was going to say all the beats are his…
“Yeah he got a wide variety. He got a lot of styles…”
He’s one of the more slept on producers among the new school of hip-hop producers who came up in the last decade I think. He’s got a real ear for flipping stuff in new ways.
“Yeah he’s definitely pushing boundaries. Some of the beats I was listening to, I don’t even know how he did that! I’d be like ‘what?’ And then it changes, and I’m like ‘is it live?’ When a producer can’t figure out what another producer did, that’s a good sign.”
Did that help for you getting hyped about the project then?
“Yeah we had a good variety of beats and they were different. I was looking for the most different sounding, you know… something that people wouldn’t expect to hear me on.”
How did you work on the project? Over a distance or did you actually spend time in the studio together?
“Well he sent the beats, I’d choose them and record in Pro Tools and I’d mix it. Sometimes send them back. He came out here for a short period of time too and we kinda pow-wow’ed for a second, after we had recorded everything. We also did a lot over the phone, like ‘yo what do you think about this? How about one less db? OK’, so I’d turn it down, send it back to him. It’s almost like we were working together in the same space but, you know, through the phone and just knowing our equipment. So we still did it together while being totally apart.”
The way the sampling works on the album, specifically the intro, skits and the use of vocal snippets throughout, that really reminds me of you. It reminds me of the King Geedorah project for example. Was that part of the album something you looked after?
“Yeah I definitely… well you know we spoke about it like ‘it definitely needs to have skits on it’ and JJ would be like ‘yo DOOM you need to put some skits on there’ and I was like ‘yeah I got some stuff, I got some stuff’. But I had to wait until the last minute because collecting these voices is not as easy as it sounds [laughs]. I gotta watch hours and hours of old vintage footage, listen to hours and hours of lectures. I’m sleeping while playing this shit, listening, and then in the third hour of some long lecture it’ll say the right word. So then it’s like ‘oh shit there it is!’ Wake up and look at the timer, note the time when it happened and go back to sleep. When I wake up I’ll find it again and chop it and put it in. It’s a real tedious process, but as I’m writing songs I’m collecting pieces, and I’m collecting pieces that pertain to the songs, and then I condense them and make the story. I like to put an intro so people get a feel for what’s going on. It sets the tone, almost like scenery.”
I remember reading in a previous interview that you’d spent hours collecting stuff, I think you were talking about King Geedorah again. So despite having done that for years, and I’m assuming collecting a fairly sizeable library of samples, you’re still at it?
“Yup, yup. It’s entertaining, you know? I don’t watch TV but I do that all day. I be cleaning the house and playing some obscure, weird shit. And it’ll be fun stuff, I bump into some interesting things.”
Well on the subject of skits, who’s your favourite skits producer in hip hop?
“[Ponders silently] …It has to be myself. I think I’m the best [laughs].”
OK, apart from yourself then?
“OK, let me see who else be messing with the skits pretty ill? [pauses] Well Prince Paul of course, nah’m sayin…”
Yeah he took that shit out there.
“He pretty much started that whole thing, he started the whole bulk of it. People was doing it before, little things, little scenarios. Even when you think of how Dre and Snoop, when they had their little talking skits describing scenarios at a party or what’s going on, you know?”
Did that era of skits in hip-hop influence your own work with the skit format?
“Well it made me say ‘oh shit! We can do this’ but we was doing it before. Ever since young, like Saturday Night Live, I’m like 12 years old, we would pretend to be Eddy Murphy and record it, you know? Double tape deck kinda thing, so we were doing skits… let me think about it… Black Bastards, or even Mr. Hood, that shit was 1991, and we was doing it before then. It didn’t necessarily influence me but it made me say ‘Oh snap! We’re not the only ones, we can do it, sell records, let’s do this!’. It motivated me.”