The video stream for this lecture can be watched here.
The multi-monickered man mainly known as DOOM rarely does interviews, let alone video ones. So having him and his mask on the Academy couch is almost as exciting a prospect as the new Madvillain album. In this career-long examination of his art and life, he talks about triumph and tragedy with KMD, rebirth as the masked avenger, the differences between his band of many men, working with Madlib and why he draws inspiration from real life rather than rap music.
RBMA: Alright everybody, thanks for hanging out. We’re joined today by, in my opinion, one of the most creative artists hip hop’s ever generated and we’re very excited to have him here. So please, won’t you welcome MF Doom.
DOOM: Peace. Hola. How’s everybody doing? Good to see you all.
RBMA: Thank you for joining us today, sir. How you doing?
DOOM: What’s up, brother? I’m good, I'm good.
RBMA: We usually like to start by playing some music. Last week we had a gentleman by the name of Young Guru here, who does quite a bit of work with Jay-Z. He was talking about some of his favourite artists, his favourite productions and MCs, and he talked quite a bit about you. He mentioned an album Mm.. Food. I thought for those who may not be quite as familiar with your work as others could hear a bit of that. Is that cool with you?
DOOM: Yeah, no doubt.
RBMA: OK, let’s start with a bit of that and then we can get into some conversation.
(music: MF Doom – Beef Rap / applause)
With this as a reference, can you talk about your process when you make a song like this?
DOOM: Yeah, that’s a good example, that particular song. Haven’t heard this in a while, sounds good in here. What I usually do when I’m producing a record, I’ll come up with the beat first and the beat will inspire the lyrics. In that particular example, that’s like the main song. That song defines the record, title cut if you will. I came up with that particular song first and everything else spawned from there. Just a typical joint. I heard the loop first, caught the loop, put the drums to it, polished it up with the 808. I don’t like to overdo it too much, I like to keep it close to the original as possible, leave a little something to the imagination, but enough to get the translation across. Then just write to it. It’s that simple.
RBMA: Was that something taken from television or music?
DOOM: It came from an old VHS copy.
RBMA: And what kind of equipment are you using on something like this? Or is equipment relevant to you?
DOOM: What you use to record with I don’t think is that important, but just for reference, I used the MPC-2000 XL I believe at that time, for the sampling part. The recording was pre-Pro Tools, it was VS 1680 or 1880, I believe. The medium I record onto is really not that much of a big deal with me. It depends on the quality, there’s a way to keep the quality where you wouldn’t even be able to tell if it’s two-inch or Pro Tools. Sometimes you’ll record something onto Pro Tools coming out of something like an analogue machine, like you might have put it onto cassette first. I try to keep it as clean as possible for what I was using. The way you hear it I try to capture that same sound, no matter what.
RBMA: And how long does it take you to set up the audio collage that sets up the track? You’ve got a few different things going on at the intro of this song?
DOOM: It varies, it’s an ongoing process, sometimes months of gathering pieces. Sometimes I leave it alone for a few months, then come back to it with that one last piece that means it’s done. Then when it’s done, I’ll know it’s done, ‘cause it’ll just be full. But really, I could work on it forever. I’m still finding little samples I could add to that. But I’ll know when it’s done, it’ll feel like a complete piece.
RBMA: It doesn’t always have to follow a complete linear storyline, does it? Do you sit there and think, ‘I need to find a voice that says this type of line’? You’ll put it in the back of your head and record it later?
DOOM: Yeah, as it progresses that’s how it’s going. At first it’s like the piece is telling me, I don’t really know the story yet. I’ll have one or two things that reference a subject matter or topic, and as it goes more and more, then I’ll join the conversation towards the end of the process. And I might need that one cherry on top, that one word. When I start looking for one last word, that’s when it starts to get tricky. I don’t really know the story yet, it’s done, you know?
RBMA: That’s been a recurring point of conversation this last week with folks here, just knowing when you’re done with something, when to walk away and leave something alone. I talked to you about five years ago and I asked you what your reference points were to come up with these kinds of ideas. Can you recall what influenced you to start doing these type of things? As far as audio collages, I think it’s a really unique part of what you do.
DOOM: The first time I heard of that must have been like ’81, maybe ’82. We used to listen to these late-night radio shows, same thing as Bobbito and all those cats used to have late-night radio shows. This was before that, this was like ’81, WHBI was a station out of New Jersey, I believe. It was the Zulu Beats Show and they used to just spin breaks but they’d have voiceovers on pieces on top of it. But then you’d have "Funky Drummer" or "Apache" rocking, and then you’d have like an old comedy joint on there, a Monty Python piece would be playing. I always found that really bugged out, because I didn’t know where it was coming from, it was like another layer of digging. Not only did you have to find out where the break was from, you got to figure out what was that voice, you know? It was all interesting to me, I always like to put a bit of that in tribute to that style.
RBMA: We were playing a bit of that before you came in, just for kicks. Let me see if I can cue up something like that. This is Zulu Beats back in the day.
(music: Zulu Beats Radio Show)
That gives you a little idea. That’s the kind of thing you were talking about, right?
DOOM: Yeah, that’s a good one. I don’t remember that particular show, you’ve got to give me a copy of that.
RBMA: I guess this is a part of your persona, not only sonically, but obviously physically, appearance-wise. Maybe there’s some folks in here who don’t really understand. Can you break that down about the different personas? There’s not only MF Doom, there’s also Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah. Can you break that down for folks?
DOOM: The idea is having different characters just to really get the storyline across. The idea of having one different character all the time, to me, makes the story boring. I get that mainly from novels, that style of writing, or movies, where there’s multiple characters who carry the storyline. It might be written by one director or writer, but there’s multiple characters. You need it. So the more, the better with me. This way I could come from one point of view, another point of view; they might even disagree on certain things. I think a lot of times, especially in hip hop, artists get pigeonholed into being “you’re the guy”. It’s kind of limiting in a way. I look it like I’m the writer, same way with the skits. Have the record tell the story, have little intervals and cut scenes. Everything flows better when I got multiple characters to portray the story.
RBMA: How would you define DOOM’s character then? What’s his perspective, what are his characteristics?
DOOM: The character DOOM particular, he’s more like the OG old-school old-time villain. He’s the typical villain you’d have in any story. A lot of people misunderstand him, but he’s always looked at as the bad guy, but really he’s got a heart of gold. He’s for the children. He’s a Robin Hood kind of character.
RBMA: So he’s a sympathetic villain?
DOOM: Yeah, loved by the people, but then the powers that be might not get along with how he gets down.
RBMA: What about Viktor Vaughn?
DOOM: Vik is similar but he’s younger. He’s more like an 18/19-year-old whippersnapper, thinks he knows it all. A lot of times he disagrees with DOOM, but still he looks up to him.
RBMA: And what about King Geedorah?
DOOM: Geedorah is an interesting character. The whole direction of Geedorah is he’s not even from earth, he’s from outer space. He channels the information to DOOM in order for DOOM to produce. So he gets the message from Geedorah. Geedorah’s not even on earth, he’s more like an ethereal being.
RBMA: What physical form would Geedorah take then? Is he human or something else?
DOOM: He’s straight reptilian, he would be like a 300-foot, three-headed golden dragon. It’s actually from the old Toho Godzilla films. Again, it’s just like the villain theme, Geedorah’s like the classic bad guy, strong, really strong, where they have to jump him at the end. But they always end up chasing him away – the whole hero thing, the hero got to win. But if you look at it, Geedorah is really stronger than all of them, sort of an oddball.
RBMA: So why is DOOM more of your dominant persona? Or maybe not dominant, but the one that is more on the forefront? Because you’ve said that DOOM is to some extent doing Geedorah’s work, he’s more like an emissary or something like that. So why is DOOM at the forefront as opposed to these other characters?
DOOM: I think it is just for writing now. It just happened to end up that, with these characters in this time frame, DOOM happened to end up at the forefront. But in the next 12 months, Geedorah might take to the stage again and DOOM might fall back for a another two years. But it varies, it’s an ongoing story.
RBMA: I guess the mask is a huge part for DOOM. For those who are new to this, can you explain a little of this: why DOOM, why the mask, why he’s only seen with the mask?
DOOM: Yeah, no doubt. There was a time in hip hop when things started going from my point of view more towards what things look like as opposed to what they sound like. Before you didn’t know what an MC looked like until you went to a party and saw them rocking. Most times you see them rock before the show.
RBMA: Before video.
DOOM: Yeah, pre-video. So you were really going off the sound of the record, straight skills. Once it became more publicised, hip hop became more of a money-making thing. You get these corporate ideas where people want to put what it looks like to sell what it sounds like. But we’re dealing with music. But what I’m doing is coming with the angle that it doesn’t matter what the artist looks like, it’s more what he sounds like. The mask really represents rebelling against trying to sell the product as a human being. It’s more of a sound. At the same time, it’s something different and it fits with the theme of the rebel, the villain. He don’t care about the fame; that shit’s of no consequence, it’s more the message of what’s being said. It helps people focus more on what’s being said. But it’s still entertaining, it still has some theatre, and still has the appeal of what could be considered entertainment, but the message is still there. The villain represents everybody, anyone can wear the mask and be a villain, male or female, any so-called race. It’s about whether you’re coming from the heart, what’s the message, what you’ve got to say. That’s mainly why I chose to bring the mask into the fold.
RBMA: You just mentioned your first encounters with hip hop. Can you talk a bit about how you got into hip hop initially?
DOOM: What, you mean about hip hop generally?
RBMA: Just in general, yeah.
DOOM: I think my first experience with hearing the sound that we now call hip hop was just listening to the radio. At the time it was WBLS, Frankie Crocker. He’d be playing joints like Grover Washington Jr., certain records that just got that feel – like Chic, "Good Times" – you hear it, even if it’s not being spun you hear it in there. At the time I was young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and I’d go down the block. A lot of people had older brothers back when there was two turntables, a lot of cats had afros. We’d look up to them, go peak at what they were doing down in the basement. But I wouldn’t be able to get on the wheels until what must have been a year after, when they’d finally invite us down to trial and get on. So that was my first experience with what we call hip hop now: "Tramp", Otis Redding, spinning, see how the record feels when you spin it back, how the fader feels when you hit it.
RBMA: Now this is in Long Beach or in Freeport?
DOOM: Freeport, Long Island, where I first started.
RBMA: And KMD started out as a graffiti crew?
DOOM: Yeah, that’s right. Back then there were crews that were just crews, that were just listening to music, be artists in general, whether it be breakdancing, anything. At the time we didn’t really categorise it like that. Anything that was fun. A crew was just guys you’d walk home from school with and that was just a crew. Everybody in the crew might add one thing or bring a different angle to it. So graffiti was something we just did, like doodling in art in general. So it turned into graffiti first, then breakdancing came into it as that became more popular. Then music, hip hop, was always there, as far as the music aspect. It just turned out the hip hop part sound-wise got more popular and became something we just practised more, became where we were making tapes and then took it from there.
RBMA: How did you meet MC Serch?
DOOM: I met Serch at a talent show. You know how we’d be having those outdoor daytime parties, not even a night party, but an outdoor theatre where people would be gathering in the community selling different items. They had a stage, singers, anyone could just go up there and do their thing. I guess there was some structure to it, but he had a performance he was doing up there. I was wandering ‘round checking out stuff, I was with my other partner – and we peeped this cat, but we heard him first before we saw him. Anytime someone was rhyming it was interesting. “Ooh, this dude here, he’s up there doing his thing by himself.” I think I met him later that day through my man, he already knew him. So that’s how we met.
RBMA: How long was it from meeting Serch to when he actually asked you to appear with him on record? ‘Cause you guys had been doing your thing among yourselves, developing your sound, working on demos for fun, right?
DOOM: Yeah, time was funny back then. It seems like it was all within the same year, from summer around to the next summer, maybe like 11 months.
DOOM: Yeah, I haven’t heard that in a while.
(music: 3rd Bass – The Gas Face / applause)
RBMA: What goes through your mind when you hear that now after all this time?
DOOM: That’s like a snapshot from back then, it was fun times back then. You can tell there’s a lot of humour and spontaneity. Nowadays things have got kind of serious with hip hop, where it needs more of that. Wouldn’t you all agree, a little bit of humor? To me, that’s how it was, it was comfortable, not so intense. People weren’t so hung up on who’s the best. It was more of a fun thing. So yeah, man, it’s like a snapshot, an old picture.
RBMA: It’s interesting because there is a lot of humor, a lot of looseness in a song like this, but you guys were actually saying some profound stuff, too, and I think that’s one of the trademarks of what you do. Especially so with all the KMD stuff, which we’ll get to in a second. Can you talk a little bit about Zev Love X? This was you before MF Doom. What’s the relationship between Zev and DOOM?
DOOM: They both really existed simultaneously, it’s not like a change from one to the other one. One came more to the forefront now, but these are shifting positions. It’s back to the whole character thing. So Zev still exists somewhere as that character, you just don’t hear him too much right now, he’s in the background out of the story. There’s a lot of similarities, but I need another way to get a different point across. The DOOM character is a little more serious than Zev is. A lot of people describe it as dark. I would say it’s a deeper hue, more reflective, he sees deeper into things.
RBMA: DOOM has gone through things that Zev hasn’t gone through yet, right? DOOM’s perspective is going to be different.
DOOM: Definitely, definitely. Art imitates life, it’s loosely based on experiences. Of course, everything is in some way based on experiences. At the same time, DOOM always existed, but when was the chance to grab that mic and make that debut?
RBMA: The other thing with Zev and the KMD era – not to stay on it too long – is that it also represented the Five Percent Nation, which was very prevalent at the time. You and Brand Nubian dubbed yourselves the God Squad. It was a very interesting time for all that stuff to be so prevalent. Any reflections on that now looking back?
DOOM: Really, a lot of the influence to put information and get different aspects into the music comes from the likes of PE and BDP. They would speak on different things you wouldn’t really hear anywhere else, unless you went to a gathering with an old uncle or something like that, where they’d be sitting round talking about back then. It was something you’d hear more through family members, passing on stories culturally and in order to keep that alive and keep these messages out there for the youth, we put it in the records. Unintentionally, kind of just to be like PE, really. “What did he say? I’ll remember that, what can I add on and drop a jewel about?” Or to be like how KRS used to come with different information that you wouldn’t necessarily hear.
RBMA: Right, but also adding this element of fun, of playfulness. I’m going to play a little bit of KMD. I’m going to play something that’s not one of the singles, maybe the intro from the album, because it just kind of sets things up. Is that OK with you?
RBMA: This is from the KMD first album, "Mr Hood", which you can kind of tell may set the stage for things which came after.
(music: KMD – Mr Hood At Piocalles Jewelry / Crackpot / applause)
DOOM: Thanks, thanks. That’s fun record.
RBMA: If anybody here has heard this album, this Mr Hood character is present through every skit. Can you talk a bit about how this is all constructed? Obviously, this is the same source, the same voice, Mr Hood. Where did you get it from, if you can talk about that, how did it come together?
DOOM: Ironically, the record is a Spanish language record. When you travel to different countries they have records – on vinyl – where they’ll repeat a phrase and say it in another language. It was Spanish, which is funny ‘round here, right? But it was an old record, recorded in maybe the early ‘60s. And I’m listening to the record, I’m noticing he’s saying some funny phrases in general. Like, why would you even want to translate that? I guess, at that time people spoke in a slightly different way. I listened to the whole record by itself, with the Spanish translation on it. I noticed you could even mix-match words, cut and paste different phrases in between it, so it started to where I could see a storyline coming out of it, something that matched what was going on in the current days, you know, what’s going on in the street. But based around this character, he’s a stiff, sounds like a corny old dude, but he’s a real thug, a hood dude. So the whole record was based on us schooling him from being a drug dealer type, just dropping little jewels, schooling him, bringing him into the crew. But by the end of the record he gets to do his gully, becomes more aware, more conscious of what’s going on.
RBMA: Even just using that Spanish instructional record it generates this vibe of inclusion, which I thought was unique to this record and the group. Skipping to the next record, even though there are songs off of this album that were hits, this album was very well regarded, spawned a few hits – "Peachfuzz", "Who Me?", things like that that are in the same spirit. The next record you guys did is entitled Black Bastards, recorded a couple of years later. This album, for those who know, was actually not released when it was supposed to be released. But it has a different vibe, which is really interesting. It has a little more aggression in it musically, even though it retains its playful vibe. And I liken it in a lot of ways – and I don’t know if anyone has said this to you – to all the groups who came out in this era – De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, groups like this – came out with very acclaimed debuts. A lot of them came back with a little bit more jaded-sounding records, but yet classic records. And I think it’s very much in the same league as those records, even though it doesn’t get talked about in the same way. I wonder what your perspective on it is.
DOOM: The second record comes through a lot of the experiences we went through after the first record. And that was our debut record, of course, Mr Hood, where we were still wet behind the ears in the game. Business-wise there was a lot of things we didn’t know and there’s a lot of growing up you do, 18, 19, when I did the first record. There’s a lot of things about society in general that you find out, come to grips with, growing into manhood. So the next record was maybe two or three years after that, so all those new things we were learning, a lot of the weirdness that came out of being in the business, went into that record. That’s where you get a lot of the edge on it, almost bitterness, I would say. It’s like a talk shit kind of record almost. A bit like: “Well, fuck y’all, we’re still going to do our thing.”
RBMA: I want to play a little bit of the intro to this album if that’s cool. "Garbage Day #3".
(music: KMD – Garbage Day #3 / applause)
DOOM: That joint, you can see it’s in the same vein with the voices, but it’s just a little more edgy. A lot of that influence came from the blaxploitation films – we got into those. My brother Subroc, God bless, he really brought those movies to me, like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a Melvin Van Peebles joint. He brought that in and that kind of set the tone for this record. So subtly, there’s the whole blaxpoitation thing and that spun into the whole record Black Bastards.
RBMA: The theme with a lot of those movies is revenge. They get done, left for dead, then they come back and seek revenge.
DOOM: In those films, the underdog who didn’t normally make it in Hollywood films ended up being the hero. So it was cool to see that type of themed films, and at the time, the texture of the sound was really memorable.
DOOM: Yeah, that’s right, the Blue Gorilla, Gylan Kain, a real interesting record.
RBMA: Now let me just play a brief part of this single because we want to get through this. This is your radio single and this is how it starts.
(music: KMD – What A Niggy Know / applause)
DOOM: Thanks, thanks.
RBMA: So that’s you and Subroc, your brother.
DOOM: Yeah, Subroc, my brother, my partner. That record was a fun record again. That’s when he started coming more into the vocal part. Sub was nice, he brought my skills up. He started doing styles like that. It’s always good when you’ve got a partner to reflect off, it brings more out of the duo, out of the group.
RBMA: So you guys are sharing production and vocal duties at this point?
DOOM: Yeah, it took a lot of the weight off me. At this point, the third member of the group, Onyx, who was on the first record, he’d kind of left the group. So the vocals was kind of on me. But he just took it: “I’m ready.”
RBMA: This record, like I said, didn’t come out when it was supposed to in ‘93/’94. There was a controversy that those who follow hip hop are probably aware of that caused that record to never come out. What do you want to say in retrospect about that, if anything?
DOOM: Well (long pause), the controversy, there were a couple of different things, some of them behind the scenes, some of them more up front. But it all culminated into the agreement we had with the label to be severed, it was kind of mutually agreed. It was a conflict of interest and creative differences, kind of thing. That’s really what led to the record being shelved, as they say. But to me it’s no big deal, it happens in the game, relationships get to the level where you split and do something else. To me, we just got too big and too outspoken for the situation.
RBMA: The original artwork – and it’s been reissued since with the original artwork – is the character, the symbol of KMD which is the quote-unquote sambo face.
DOOM: Yeah, the sambo face with the line drawn out, the no sign with the slash, meaning an ending of any stereotypes, any type of false representation of anything, end of that. That was the logo. Then we took it a step further with the Black Bastards cover, where we had the character on a hangman’s noose. Now we’ve got the character on the hangman’s noose, so we hang that character, which means the same thing – the ending, the deading of that stereotype. At the same time, it’s like the Hangman game, with the letters missing out, so it’s like a puzzle. So the whole thing is like a puzzle, but still with the message of no more stereotypes. I guess it was a little bit maybe too… I don’t know, I can’t work out the reason why they couldn’t handle something like that.
RBMA: It seemed like it was misinterpreted. Whoever decided they were offended by it, that it was too controversial, they misinterpreted the meaning.
DOOM: But at the same time you had records like "Cop Killer", that Ice T shit, on the same label. There were a lot of controversial records at that time. I think it was more: ‘Is this product marketable? Can we sell it?’ If they’d found a way to sell it, it wouldn’t have been a problem. There was some rock group, I forget their name, but the same year they had a cover with a cross on it, Jesus Christ with a goat’s head. It was real bugged out, something that people might see as offensive, blood, all kinds of crazy things. But they were selling millions of records at the time. So there were a lot of behind-the-scenes things, then they have the front story, even nowadays they do – there’s always a front story, but there’s always a backstory, the real story. It happens. It happens a lot in politics, it happens a lot in general. Any time there’s money involved it tends to be that way.
RBMA: So KMD gets dropped from Elektra, the album doesn’t come out, and something even more tragic than that – your brother passes away. How did you cope that tragic time in your life?
DOOM: Actually, what happened was we were just about done with the record when the accident happened, when Sub lost his life. Then I finished the record, there was still a bit more to do. One of us had to finish it anyway. If it had happened to me, he would’ve finished it. But that’s when they decided to sever the agreement. A lot of things were going on at that time. So the way I dealt with it, I just kept it moving. At the time it seemed like another thing, another obstacle to manoeuvre around. I had to be strong for my mother. I’m the oldest out of all of us, so I had to take the reins at that point, I couldn’t really think about it too much. Especially with the deal being different, I had to regroup and figure things out. So the way I dealt with it is how we deal with it – keep it moving.
RBMA: You resurfaced a few years later with some singles with your friend Bobbito on his label. You were trying to keep it moving, but during the interim on a day to day, what was life like during those years for you?
DOOM: (pause) It’s almost like everything was before we started getting professionally into the game; back to being a civilian where you don’t have a deal so you've got to figure out how to make ends meet. But still doing music, just like before we had a deal. So it wasn’t too unfamiliar. Now that I think back to it, just finding equipment and a place to do your thing, whether it’s your aunt’s basement or wherever I could get something plugged in, and some equipment. At that time it was the FZ1 – or the FZ-10 was the rack-module version – samplers made by Casio. We still had our equipment, so find a way to plug it in and continue on. Music was the thing that really kept us, me, going through the whole thing. By continuing to do the craft, it caught the ear of Bobbito. But he’s always been there as my partner, one of my good friend back when we first signed with Elektra. I met him through Pete and Serch, actually, he was working at Def Jam at the time. So me and Bob was still cool. He knew I was still doing music, I’d play some tapes for him, go and kick it with him here and there. He was just starting his label, or had the idea of his label he was going to start, so he asked me to put out a couple of joints. That’s what started it, what respawned the whole thing, but I think I’d still be doing it even now if I didn’t have the chance to come out professionally.
RBMA: Did you come up on your own, reemerging as MF Doom, or was it something you discussed with anybody? Because you were Zev Love X as KMD before these singles with Bobbito circa 1997 for his independent label, Fondle ‘Em.
DOOM: Right after we finished the album Black Bastards, me and Sub were both going to do solo albums irrespectively. So I was going to do the Doom album, he was going to come out with his joint as another character. Really, I just continued the idea I had in my head, developed the Doom character, the songs, more of the concept around the character until it culminated enough that when Bob heard it he got it. I came with a different lyrical style. I tried to make it distinctly different from the Zev Love X character, like how you would have the characters in a book different, a different strategy. A lot of the experiences in KMD, when everyone was doing videos, we got a taste of that and how it could backfire on you. It made me go back to the lab and regroup and that’s where I really developed a lot of the Doom character.
RBMA: As we’ve seen, this stuff is really related to the early KMD stuff to what you were doing earlier. Let’s hear a little bit from the stuff with Fondle ‘Em.
(music: MF DOOM – Dead Bent / applause)
DOOM: Thank you, I appreciate it.
RBMA: So these singles and Operation Doomsday, considered one of the essential albums from this independent hip hop movement of the mid-to late ‘90s. The thing I always observed from some of your singles from this period, this is a period when hip hop got really divided in terms of loyalty, at least from a listeners perspective. If you were snapping your fingers in a club and listening to Bad Boy Records, you were in one corner. And if you had a backpack on and were nodding your head like this (nods head) and were in a cipher, you represented something different. And yet, the thing that gets me is when you’re putting these singles together, you’re actually using some of the same reference points, you’re just flipping it in a different way. Some of your songs were referencing Atlantic Starr or James Ingram or Steely Dan, things that wouldn’t be out of place being used in this other music that’s more popular, but using it in another way. I just wonder what your opinion is of me putting that idea out there.
DOOM: I think the one thing that’s different is recording techniques or recording styles, that’s where the line is. They grew up probably listening to the same things we grew up listening to, except their production methods, the direction they wanted to go in, was more of a polished sound, aiming for a certain goal sonically. And selling records, too, to make it a more pretty product. We might be using the same sources, the same references, but I’m keeping it to where it’s vinyl, that shit might have dust on it, crackle. I can’t get the CDs but I’m still going to make the beat so I’m going to use the one I first made. The first set of vocals, I had a plug-in mic that wasn’t maybe the best mic, but that’s how it was made, I’m keeping it rugged. We still use the same methods to this day – however you do it, that’s how you do it, it’s done, pow! It’s an attitude to it that became part of the formula, the methodical way we did joints. It still exists.
RBMA: This also set off a period for you being super-prolific after disappearing for a while. Maybe not right after Operation Doomsday, but after that, there was a period when there was a Doom record a week coming out on ten different labels. Was that part of your approach? What was your mentality going into that whole era of things?
DOOM: I remember that time. It was more out of necessity, out of popularity. We learned a lot from the first run, going through the game and having too many hands in the pot on the business side, not having as much freedom as you could have. But once you learn it, that’s when we make the updates. Making sure you have control over the entities, control over the business, not making it so you’re signed to one company and only they can put records out. There was an independent movement going on so you can make a deal, like how I did with Bobbito. He’s a man who’ll make a deal to do a one-off record, but he’s not confining, where your next record has got to be with him, it’s not corporate like that. It was better for both of us like that, we weren’t tied down unnecessarily or confined. It made it possible to solicit work to other people. So as much work as you could do, you now have the freedom to put it out. With the success of the Fondle ‘Em stuff, other cats want me to do a verse here, maybe do a record for them. Many people would come to me, so I’m like: “Yeah, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” I had to get back up and make some bread. I had a family at the time, a son, so I had to make sure he was fed and everything was straight. This is when hip hop started being like a business where I could sustain and take care of my family. Any business that would come to us, we would do it. From the outside it seemed like we were doing a lot of records on purpose, just to have a lot of records out, which really wasn’t the goal. It was more like, as many people as needed a record, I would do the record whether they’d put it out or not. But I guess on the outside it looked like I was doing a lot of records. Which is cool, though. It worked both ways – good.
RBMA: Were you ever concerned about quality control during this time? Did you feel overextended doing all this stuff?
DOOM: Nah, not at all. I’d be doing the records anyway, so whether I just did them and kept them on my shelf and nobody heard them, or somebody came and wanted to put them out. See, I got the formula from Bob – Bobbito, we call him wooden-tooth Bob…
RBMA: I heard you and MF Grimm once sent him a sympathy card. Can you tell them what the sympathy card was? This is a diversion, sorry.
DOOM: I can’t remember exactly what it was. It was more Grimm’s idea, I just signed it. It was retarded. It had something to do with the wooden tooth joke, though.
RBMA: Bob said there was a sympathy card he got in the mail and he was like, “Nobody died recently. What is this?” He opened it up and it said, “We are sorry for your loss, your hairline loss.”
DOOM: (laughs) Oh yeah, it was Grimm’s idea. It was just real funny.
RBMA: I’m sorry, let’s go ahead. You got the idea from Bob.
DOOM: I got the idea from Bob. “Yo, let’s put the record out, no picture cover, nothing.” DJs would buy a white label record and play it. They either don’t like it or they do. If they do like it then they’ve got to go and see what the label is. They’d go looking for the record as opposed to force-feeding the record. “Yo, we got this new record out.” It’s almost like we did it the opposite way, where it’s up to the people what they like. That way people come to you looking for something they’re really feeling. You don’t get the bullshit records like that, you get quality records. So if I’m doing a bunch of records, people know where to come to get the quality that they’re looking for. “Have you got anything else?” So this is why I started putting all these records out. It’s not an overextended thing, it’s more of a niche thing. Certain people like certain things. It might be thrift store clothes, they’ll go to the thrift store to get those instead of going to Macy’s for the high-end shit. It’s a certain quality people look for, where you provide that same quality.
RBMA: How did you and Madlib decided to work together?
DOOM: I got a call one day from Peanut Butter Wolf, up there in Stones Throw, a good friend of mine. Big up, Wolf. He mentioned this cat Madlib, I wasn’t familiar with his work at the time. I guess he heard some of my stuff and he was reaching out to me, wanted to do a record together so he could give me some beats and whatnot. So at the same time I was doing records with a lot of different companies. They flew me out to LA, so I flew out there, met these cats, cats was cool from day one. I got along with these dudes, good-spirited, good-hearted people. Real record diggers, beatmakers, we had the same kind of vision about how we did records. The way we did records was similar, but he was still unique though, had his unique style. That’s how it started. He reached out and ever since then he’s been my man.
RBMA: They were all living in the same house at the time, is that right? With the studio, the Bomb Shelter, in the basement.
DOOM: Yeah, they had a mini-mansion up on the hill. It was a pretty big crib though, up on the hill, overlooking the hills. It was a good place to work at.
RBMA: So what was a typical day like, you and Madlib trying to put this album together?
DOOM: A typical day…
RBMA: Or were there typical days?
DOOM: Yeah, I can put it in a nutshell. I’m trying to finish this record so I can get back home. I’m staying in LA and trying to get back to my children. I’m working as fast I can without sacrificing the quality. So he’s working too like that, so I hardly see him, even though we’re in the same house. So he’s always in the Bomb Shelter and I’m up on the deck writing. He’d give me another CD and I’m writing, he’s back in the Bomb Shelter and I would hardly speak to him. We might stop and he’ll burn one and listen to the beat and that’s it, the next two days I probably won’t see him. Then I was getting mad work done, knocking it out. Then at the end of the week we listened to the work. I’m, “Alright, here’s the angle I’m thinking of on this one, all we need is a verse and it’s done.” And then that’s it, we hardly spoke. It was more through telepathy. We spoke through the music. He’d hear a joint and that’s my conversation with him. Then I’d hear a beat and that’s like what he’s saying to me. It’s real bugged. And still to this day that’s how we do it.
RBMA: Let’s hear a bit of something from Madvillain, which is MF Doom and Madlib.
(music: Madvillain – Great Day / applause)
DOOM: Thanks, appreciate it.
RBMA: You always described yourself as a writer, even though you’re an MC and producer, you’re a writer. And the craft of what you do it’s easy to get lost among the records and the personality and the mask and everything else, but this craft of wordplay, of putting words together in an interesting way, maybe using this song as an example. This song, for instance, you say things like: “Groovy dude, not to be crude or rude, but this is like something you might put on movie food”. Obviously, it rhymes, as most rap does, but how do you decide when to say something by not saying something? You could say “movie food”, but in the main someone would say butter or whatever. It’s a reference to something that’s a little step off to the left, maybe two, and I wonder if you might address that a little bit.
DOOM: As I’m writing it I’m also thinking of it from a listener’s point of view. It’s almost to the point where I catch myself off-guard. I try to keep it interesting. The essence of rhyming is to keep everybody off-guard a little. I’ll take it and stretch it a little, leave one word blank, knowing that the listener is following along and will fill in that blank, just like I’ll fill in a blank, but always put that word in that you least expect, or that you might think would be there but that almost makes sense in another way. It keeps the story interesting where you can match wits. It’s like you keep a conversation with the listener where you can match wits with them makes it more fun to me. I try to keep it entertaining for someone down the line who might be listening. It gives it a sense of longevity when you never know what the dude’s going to say. So you want to hear it again and again, and once you do get it you want to pass it on to a friend. It’s like a good book. That’s why I phrase it as a writer. It is written, I’ve got the notebooks to prove it (laughs). I’m doing more writing than I ever thought I’d be doing. And it’s put together loosely, like you’ve got novels that are put together loosely. Like tabloids as opposed to credible newspapers, in the same way you’ve got hip hop in the sense of rhyming that is fun, here there, just thrown together, not as crafty, I would say. Then you’ve got the real crafty, good stuff. I try to make that good stuff where you say: “Wow, that’s a classy book and well written."
RBMA: And you did a whole album that we mentioned earlier Mm.. Food, where every title is a food, every subject on the surface is referencing food. But the songs aren’t necessarily about food, they might be referencing something else.
DOOM: Yeah, double entendres, it’s all in there (silence / laughs).
RBMA: I want to make sure we have time for questions, I’ll open it up in a second. Around 2006 up to the last album you did there were moments of a certain amount of unpredictability. You were very prolific but there was also some inactivity. What was going on in that time?
DOOM: Hmm. I was still doing work, but I was laying off it a little bit. I was concentrating on family, other children on the way, I just kind of took time off for family. Just to get away from it for a second. I don’t want necessarily to do one thing for too long, to where it gets boring, just take a step back for a second, that kind of thing. I didn’t think it was noticeable from the outside. I think there was still enough work out there for people to absorb. If it comes to a point where I need to get more information, I study – to give out information I need to take in information. So just leave it alone for a second and observe the world so I have more things to say. People expect us to just constantly be talking. I’m the type of cat who’s more laid back. The conversation isn’t always about what I’ve got to say, sometimes it’s just time to listen. So that was the listening time.
RBMA: I want to open questions up for folks, even though there’s still a few things to cover, but just to make sure everybody’s get a chance.
Participant: I’ve a really obvious question for you. When can we expect the next Madvillain album?
DOOM: Good question. It’s almost done, I can say that. But it’s been almost done for maybe like two years. I can’t say when it’s done, but I’ll be finished soon with my part by, say, January. But Madlib still has to put his little touches on it, but it’ll be soon. Soon.
Participant: First and foremost I just want to say that Doomsday and Madvillian are two of the greatest hip hop records ever made, I’ve listened to them all my life. One of the things I always wanted to know on Madvillain, I always found 'Eye' with Stacy Epps a really interesting track because 95% of the track is you and Madlib corresponding with each other. I always wondered, what was the point of the introduction of that track? Was it to break up the record, give people a breather? How did that track come along to start the record?
DOOM: That’s a good question. I make hip hop like the way we used to listen to. On radio shows and even at parties, the joint would be rocking, then they’d hit a certain point where there’d be more street records, more funny records, then by the end of the night they’d have some more slow jam for the ladies, just to add that feminine essence. It was always a good way to smoothen and even everything out. I would always put something for the ladies on every record, whether it’s a female MC or a song about women or girls singing, it needs balance. What would we do without them? Right, ladies (laughs)? So that’s where it came from. Stacy’s a good friend of mine and she came with good stuff and she was feeling one of my beats so I said: “Go ahead, just put something on there.” And it fit perfectly on there.
Participant: Out of music that’s currently going at the moment – I mean you’ve worked with Thom Yorke and I read this morning Jonny Greenwood as well – out of up-and-coming producers and more established ones like Flying Lotus as well, would there be any you’d call upon to do a record with? One that’s quite influential on stuff you’d want to rap on?
DOOM: I don’t really listen to current hip hop where I know who is who, to the point where I’d say: “I’d like to do a beat with this cat.” Usually I’ll hear something and say: “Who did that?” I find producers that way. But if I had to say anybody I’d say my man Kanye, he’s doing his thing. He’s a good friend of mine, too, and I haven’t had a chance to work with him yet. So if I had to say a producer, something that people wouldn’t expect, I’d say Kanye.
Participant: One last question. I always found it refreshing the fact that you used a lot of ‘80s samples, from Boz Scaggs to Anita Baker in your music. Would that have been stuff you’d listened to a lot in general? You don’t listen lots to what’s going on presently in hip hop, which I totally understand because I think a lot of it’s bullshit, but I’m curious, is that stuff you listen to in your spare time?
DOOM: The stuff I grew up on, I still listen to that stuff. The interesting records to me are records that are hard to decipher technically, I’m trying to figure out how they did that, what equipment did they use. It’s different now, the methods they used to record. You can tell – also a lot of times you can’t tell – what they used. Was it two-inch or quarter-inch? So it’s interesting sonically to me, enough to stay in that realm, looking for things from that era that I still haven’t heard, recorded from like Brazil. Brazilian [music] that was recorded in that time is still new to me. And it’s still just as interesting. It comes from that – I’m still in the ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘60s, I’m like stuck there. There’s a lot of stuff that’s still unfound.
Participant: I have a couple of questions. First, I don’t know if it’s the reissue of Mm.. Food that has the plastic silver cover and if you scratch it, it smells like chocolate. Do you come up with the concept while you make it, or is that something that comes afterwards?
DOOM: The concept about the chocolate, my partner from the label Rhymesayers, my man Saadiq, he came up with that one just to celebrate the record. It came out after the record was out, so it was almost an add-on to the food references we talked about earlier. That’s one he came up with to make it interesting.
Participant: When you’re making the music is it only an audio thing or do you have a visual aspect as well?
DOOM: I always have a visual. I always see it and I hear it. A lot of us do, too, as artists; you can see it and hear it, sounds have colours. So it’s always both, audio and visual.
Participant: "Rhinestone Cowboy" is one of my favourite of your songs. What made you come up with it? Did you hear the beat or did you have the concept already?
DOOM: Interesting question. The record was a little short and my man Egon, he was: “Doom, we need one more song.” At the time he was up in Stones Throw, he was the A&R dude. I had so many beats from Madlib, I went through them, picked the one that stood out the most. That was the one in a heartbeat, it wasn’t tricky to rhyme to. So that song came out of just needing to fill the slot, real spontaneous, like a week to turn the record in. “Here you go E, it’s done.” That’s how it came about, but it’s one of my favourite records as well, so a lot of the time when I’m under the gun like that, I tend to come up with that kind of thing. So I wrote it to the beat, just real quick. Crunch time.
Participant: Do you ever find yourself out of ideas? How do you work around that and outside of music where do you look for inspiration?
DOOM: A lot of the time I do. Writer’s block is part of the process. When that happens I tend to just leave it alone and look for something else, I’ll read or something. I get inspiration from a lot of different things though; nature, silence a lot of the time, playing with my children, just things people might do every day, some people take for granted. The smallest thing might start something. When I get stuck I just go back to normal mode, that’s when you find things will come to you. Just have a pen and a piece of paper handy, you never know when it’ll come to you.
Participant: So you don’t just stand there and force it?
DOOM: I’ve tried, lord knows I’ve tried. The way creativity works for me, it comes to you like an energy stream, like a wave. So you’ve just got to be ready for the wave and when it subsides, wait for it to come back. There’s no way to make it happen. You’ve just got to be ready.
Participant: You haven’t talked much about Grimm yet. So can you tell us how you guys met, the nature of your relationship and maybe why things went sour?
DOOM: I wouldn’t say it went sour, but we met around the same time I met Bob. The same crew, all from uptown. Kurious was around the same time too. I met George up there, he was working up at Def Jam with Bob. Grimm was doing demos and winning battles around the same time. Everyone was from uptown, so I was uptown with these dudes. I wouldn’t say it went sour, just that relationships tend to split. I don’t see the same people that I used to see every day. They’re still my peoples and I’ve got mad love for all my brothers. That’s how it went.
Participant: What happened to the Invisible Girl? She did the hook on Doomsday and then on "The M.I.C.", but I’ve never heard of her again on any other records.
DOOM: She’s the invisible girl (laughs).
Participant: Did she write those records? Man, those hooks changed my life.
DOOM: She was the kind of singer where it was like: “Yo, my man knows a girl who sings and I’ve got to finish the record. Ask her can she sing this part.” And I’d play her the reference. “Oh, I can sing that.” I paid her $25 or something as a session singer to come in and do it and I don’t know what she’s doing now, I haven’t seen her ever again. I don’t think I even know her real name (laughter).
RBMA: You should be able to find her though.
DOOM: Probably. Maybe.
RBMA: Who’s next?
Participant: You said your characters have conflicts. Have you ever thought about making a record with your different characters battling it out?
DOOM: Yeah, matter of fact there’s a little rap beef starting right now between DOOM and Vik. Vik is plotting on him ‘cause he’s jealous because DOOM’s getting a little shy, so he’s talking of coming at him with a dis record. So I might make a spoof of the little hip hop rivalries that go on. When Vik is going to come he’s going to come hard with some shit (laughter).
Participant: Nice, thanks.
RBMA: Is DOOM ready to respond?
DOOM: We got to see (laughter). He’s nice though, I wouldn’t go up against him.
RBMA: I think this is the point where we’re going to have to wrap it. But first do you have anything to say to these impressionable young minds in conclusion?
DOOM: Yeah, follow your heart is the number one rule. A lot of people might not see your vision yet, people might call you crazy. Just follow your heart all the way through; that’s when you’re breaking new ground and people will appreciate it later on. Never do something to try and impress the next man or the next woman. It’s about what you see, what’s inside you. Everybody’s a unique individual, you have something inside you. So whatever it is, bring it to the table and share it out with all of us. Thanks for all your support. It’s people like ya’ll that make me continue to do it. It’s valuable when you guys show appreciation, I’m like wow! Somebody else is actually listening and knows what my crazy ass is thinking about. So I appreciate that and thank you guys.
RBMA: Let’s say thanks to MF DOOM, everybody.
(applause / cheers)