DOOM photo credit: Klaus Thymann
Going back to the JJ DOOM album, the press release hints at – and so does the music – an English, even London, influence.
Did that in turn impact your writing for the album? Were you purposefully writing something that reflected your time out of the US?
“Not really. I was just like ‘OK how quick can I finish this song? I need information… what’s going on?’ and I’d look for anything. ‘What’s the most recent word I heard?’, as a writer you sometimes gotta go for yours, clear your mind. So somebody walking past might be speaking in that London accent and say a word and I’d be like ‘oh shit, what’s that?’ and I’d write it down. Or watch a little bit of… when I first got here I was watching regular TV, not cable, the free TV shit, so I’m catching a lot of old cop shows and shit like that and the way they flippin’ it is funny to me. ‘What did he say? What did he do?’, sometimes there’d be some serious shit going on but in their way of saying it that was my exposure to the culture here, how people speak and how they communicate with each other. It’s almost like… I only been here for like two years, so it’s like I’m a two year old child just learning to speak really, from the things around me and that’s reflected in the rhymes and in the skits.”
So you don’t have any early memories or anything from being born here?
“Nah… maybe if they hypnotise me one day I might be like ‘the Queen!’… I don’t know.”
This album is almost like a return to your roots then to a degree. How does that feel?
“Feels excellent. It feels great. Come back to a place where you were born but you don’t remember it and it’s a fucking excellent place though? It exceeds my expectations by far. I love it. The people are friendly. I’m learning how things work here, I’ve not had any bad experiences out here.”
So you’d give London…
“I’d give it a good rep, it definitely gets a good rep. It’s like my favourite place.”
What do you miss most from NYC that you can’t get here?
“…No comment! [laughs] Nah, that I can’t get here? Let me think… New York got a certain feel to it. Harlem. Harlem had a certain feel, at that time it was different, now Harlem has changed you know? Gentrification, it’s not the same Harlem as when we used to be able to sell oil and incense and little jewellery on the streets, with a table. And we really did that. So now, you can’t do that, they made it against the law. Come on, what’s Harlem without being able to go buy a book from a brother and your favourite fragrance, real quick. There’s a certain commerce feeling and a community feeling that’s changed, you know what I mean? It’s always there in time and in memory you know, so that’s my memory of New York. Lower East Side, Downtown, you know? It just had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’… is that how I say it?”
“A certain feeling to it that was unique at that time and it’s changed but it’s still there, you know?”
You’re living in South London right?
“[awkward silence, then in a funny robotic voice] I can’t reveal it.”
Ha not to reveal it or anything but to pinpoint the area you spend time in, it’s a big city don’t worry.
“Yeah I think that’s where it is… they just kinda threw me out there. So I’m like ‘ok where is this? London?’ everything is London to me, North, South, East, whatever.”
Do you travel much around the city?
“Sometimes I’m in Camden, I don’t know if that’s South London though.”
Nah that’s North.
“So London’s kinda small…”
Compared to NYC it feels smaller I guess. The difference between what would be the equivalent of New York’s five boroughs isn’t as obvious at first as it is in NYC when you travel between them. It takes time to clock it.
“Right, right. It’s little more busy and touristy. Short cab ride I’m there, you know? I travel around for sure, it just depends where I need to go.”
You’ve got quite a lot of personas by now. How much of it is DOOM and how much of it is you playing on a repertoire of characters? I’m thinking that with this JJ DOOM album I heard hints of Vaughn, hints of what you did in Madvillain… do you have different suits you put on when you rhyme?
“Well I flip it a little bit in a style that might be similar to Vik’s style for example. But you know…”
There’s a track on the album, I can’t remember which exactly right now as I had to rush here to do this but when I heard it, it made me think of Vik Vaughn straight away.
“I might have taken a cheap shot at Vik.”
Do you find yourself doing that often?
“I try to keep it straight forward to where each character is its own distinct character. JJ DOOM is just DOOM, unless it specifies, like Vik is on this song. But their styles tend to be similar, people might say ‘damn Vik you sound like DOOM’ and Vik don’t like that so he’s like ‘fuck DOOM!’ you know? DOOM is getting more attention or whatever. But that’s something I’m also playing on, they got little rivalries going on. It’s going to come out later on a little more. I try to keep them pretty much straight forward, this way each album, each character, is its own experience.”
Do you find that all these characters allow you to be more creative in a sense? With lyrics, with flow, with the pictures you paint?
“Yeah it’s just open. Everything is open. It’s not pigeonholed where I’m this guy and I gotta be the tough guy everyday, you know? Like some of these cats are pigeonholed into characters, like they have to be that dude everyday. No matter if they’re happy that morning or they sad, or they might lose or gain weight, but they have to be that character. You might change your mind, change your view about things but you can’t do that and it so limits it. Unless they come out with a new character that allows them to express something different, or just totally change their mind and decide to rename themselves and be like ‘I’m coming like this now’, which is the same thing as changing characters, so you might as well have a variety of avenues.”
The characters allow you to not reinvent yourself all the time. You can still be DOOM but do it differently through a different character.
What about the artwork on this new album? Did you have a hand in it, or was it a case of Steve Powers doing his thing and you approving it?
“Well I was sending him music and he’ll come up with a sketch. I’d be like ‘oh that’s pretty ill, can you change that though?’ or suggest a change and he’ll do it. I let him do his thing, his art, and his perception of how the music sounded. I just OK’ed it or made a little change here and there.”
I was watching the video that went up recently about how your mask was designed, with KEO telling the story…
“Word they got a video? Interview?”
Yeah it’s a short interview where he explains how the idea for the mask came up.
“Word that’s my man. He had a lot to do with that shit. Cos I was like ‘damn I don’t know’ and he was telling me ‘no trust me, trust me yo, I gots the ill mask, watch, tomorrow’ and he went and got it. I went to his crib, I seen that shit and it was… it’s when we first got this one (grabs side of his mask and points it towards me). The idea was crazy and we hooked it up in time for the show and we came out with this shit which was legendary.”
How many copies of the mask exist?
“Yo no se.”