DOOM Shares The Stories Behind Ten Of His Best Verses
For such an elusive, mysterious and generally hard-to-reach figure, DOOM is a jovial guy once you get him on the phone. Then again, that’s the tough part: The legendary masked rapper isn’t exactly the easiest person to locate, and he’s not exactly media-friendly. In an age when even an intensely private artist like Prince has a Twitter, DOOM remains an enigma. He has a verified Twitter account but it only has one Tweet: “DOOM IS NOT ON TWITTER.” His phone conversations can be prone to strange circumstances: DOOM and I were mysteriously disconnected twice, the first time for a matter of minutes, and the second time for 10 days. Getting a hold of him is difficult, but hanging on is almost impossible.
And yet, when XXL called up the artist formerly known as MF DOOM (and occasionally known as Viktor Vaughn) to discuss some of his classic verses, he was nothing but a gentleman, speaking in the same charming, discursive and easy-going style that he raps with. It was easy to picture him anonymously shopping for groceries and crossing streets in the UK, where he now resides and prefers to the U.S. because, as he puts it, “Motherfuckers aren't getting killed in the streets as much.”
Though he’s allegedly facing some visa issues, it’s also likely that DOOM enjoys life in the UK because it allows him to focus on what he does best: write killer rhymes. DOOM is a lyrical scientist and he's been in the lab for decades, concocting immersive, cavern-like albums like 1999’s Operation: Doomsday and 2004’s Mmm.. Food on his own and experimenting with collaborative projects like Madvillainy with Madlib and the more recent Key to the Kuffs with Jneiro Jarel.
Currently finishing up a project with 17-year-old hip-hop prodigy Bishop Nehru and putting the final touches on the long-delayed Madvillainy sequel, DOOM took some time out of his day to break down some of his most intricate and mind-melting verses. Read on to learn more about the maniacal brain lurking behind that mask. —Dan Jackson
Album: Operation: Doomsday (1999)
DOOM: That's a while ago, so I'm trying to remember what inspired it. It's really just normally what I'd be talking about. I kinda do bragging rap. I do the kind of hip-hop where the MC is more pointing out things and accentuating certain things that have been forgotten at some stage. So I'm really just explaining hip-hop rules. Rules about rhyming. Typical shit that you would normally do or don't do. That's basically it. Hold on a second, I'm crossing the street right now.
[“Ever since the womb ‘til I'm back where my brother went/That's what my tomb will say/Right above my government, Dumile”] Really, that's like saying my word is bond. There are certain instances where you use that phrase in life. In that reference, "what my tomb will say," that means "word to my death." It's really in general. That's just how we speak normally in the streets, so I don't wanna look too far into it. It's a normal thing. I'm just putting my stamp on it, like everything I say is justified in my heart.
Album: Operation: Doomsday (1999)
DOOM: Another good one. [“Pure scientific intelligence, with one point of relevance/Emcees whose styles need Velamints”] With the whole analogy between hip-hop and science, or anything and science, science is the exploration of why things happen. That's how I view science. I'm a fan of science. I consider myself something of a scientist, though I don't have a degree. To me it's intriguing and it's something I'm interested in.
The way it correlates to that song, "Dead Bent," is it's almost like, "Yo, the facts match any situation." So in that scenario it matches what I was talking about. It's like the macro and the micro. What you see in the macro world, science and things of that nature, I see in the micro world. When we perceive the double correlation between things we tend to have more things to compare.
Album: Vaudeville Villain (2003)
DOOM: [Performing as his alias Viktor Vaughn] I change for the character, but the style existed before the character. I had the style and I knew I was going to place it to a character. Once I placed that style to the character, it changed. It's a different attitude. It's easy to reach back to the DOOM style. They all exist in me, so it's just a matter of placing them, putting certain rhymes with that character.
[“True victory, a new sick story/I never met a chick that was too thick for me”] It's a little more vulgar than DOOM would be. That's the obvious thing you can tell. Viktor say whatever the fuck is on his mind. It's a no holds barred type of thing. DOOM on the other hand is a little more reserved and watches what he says. He's trying to be grammatically correct, politically correct, and cover all angles. Vik speaks from a heart place. It just has more testosterone. He's a young whippersnapper so he talks shit.
Album: Mm.. Food (2004)
DOOM: Oh yeah, "Beef Rap." Good song. Good choice. I just think it's a funny word. I don't get angry at this point, so [rap beef] is like whatever. The challenge is what it's about with me, the challenge of being such a picky topic to handle. Also, the double entendre with the word beef, the way it's perceived in the street world and it's a food—a so-called food—so how it's perceived in the nutritional realm. The fact that there's two things that correlate there gave me enough metaphors to play with. But it's all fun. I always do it with something that's fun. Anger is something I don't deal with.
It had to be two things: It had to be a food people could relate to and there had to be another play on the word. For instance, I'd say con queso, like cheese. Everyone knows "cheese" has a reference in the street, as money and whatnot. And cheese is something that's always added in addition to a cheeseburger or a beef patty. So it's about finding a word where you can take two different approaches to it.
“Rap Snitch Knishes”
Album: Mm.. Food (2004)
DOOM: Yeah, yeah, that's another good one. I grew up in New York so knishes were a part of life. At the time I wrote the song, I think I was with one of my boys and we stopped and got knishes that day. It's just something that resonated with me. I had a knish the other day and it reminded me of... [Phone gets mysteriously disconnected]
XXL: You were saying you got a knish recently?
DOOM: Yeah, recently, like over five years ago, but to me that's kinda recent. I grew up in a multicultural town in Long Island where it was part of our experience of dealing with different cultures and different foods and different influences they brought to the country. It's a funny sounding word too. Knish. Words that rhyme with knish...any aspect of that, how it sounds, how it can match with something in society. So "rap snitch" and "knishes" kinda go together. So it was easy to find a title. The challenge was coming up with good enough references to make a song.
[“True, there's rules to this shit, fools dare care/Everybody wanna rule the world with tears for fear”] That's just in general. Snitching is frowned upon basically within all levels of society, besides police levels. It's just a typical message I'd be talking about anyway if it wasn't a food reference. So tying it into the food thing made double sense. I didn't mean to intimidate really. I'm just reinforcing something that everybody already knows about. It's street rules.
Album: Madvillainy (2004)
DOOM: [On working with Madlib] It was a straight-up traditional approach. Just like, "Yo, let me hear the beat," and the beat was ill. Nothing complicated about it. It was a real laid back environment so it was easy to get into that mode. Sometimes the environment doesn't really suit that type of creativity, but being out there on the West Coast with the sun and all that, everything added to it and made it really simple.
[“It's a damn shame/Just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man name”] I'm not really dealing with frustration. I'm dealing with joy any time I'm doing music. I don't really write stuff down if I'm in a frustrated place or an emotional kinda thing. I was just making an observation. Like, is this all caps? Eventually it's gonna not be all caps, just out of sheer probability. So the song was made prior to any time when my name would've been in a different font or anything. There's nothing really connected to it at all. When I rhyme I rhyme from a place of authority and I say things authoritatively, and that may come across as frustration, but it's just creativity.
Album: Madvillainy (2004)
DOOM: That was one of the first beats I heard. It just happened to be a catchy beat. I was just writing down my first thoughts for all my rhymes right there. There's not a big concept behind it, it's like a freestyle verse. It depends on the project. It depends on how much time I have to do it, how much information I have available. A certain amount of time has to pass to add texture to it. That one just happened to be at a time when everything was coming to a culmination of information. It was simple and easy to do. Wasn't hard.
Album: The Mouse And The Mask (2005)
DOOM: It was handy to work with something that already existed in popular culture. It makes it—I wouldn't say easier—but it's a different kind of style. I like both styles, coming up with a whole new thing or picking something and doing the research. Both are challenging.
Usually I wasn't up all night watching cartoons and shit until that project came into view. I had to really watch the shows and get the Adult Swim thing and get current references and see what the viewers of the shows liked. Get a feel for it. A lot of research was done in the form of having verses that were...I have a lot of ammo in my books. Pieces of rhymes stacking up. So it wasn't hard to piece songs together.
The one thing that really made me do that project was basically because of the bread. It had nothing to do with the music really. I know [Danger Mouse] is a good dude, everybody got beats and shit, but what about the bread? He had a good strategy for getting the bread and we made bread, so that was a good thing. Other than that, I always know there's gonna be something. I know there's a certain level of talent where no matter what they do, they know what they doing.
Album: Born Like This (2009)
DOOM: ["Cornish hens switching positions, auditioning morticians"] Weird words count. You wanna have things that will tickle the ear. Words that people might not hear as often. Things that sound funny to make you think a little more. Words that might be decades old or from hundreds of years ago or things that were made up that week. It's all about how many rhymes you can fit together in a short period of time that can make sense to the listener. Really, no matter what you say, it's going to make sense to somebody, as long as the words rhyme. It's just random thoughts, free-style rhyming, then record it and POW! One quick joint.
[At the end of the song DOOM sings, “Can it be I stayed away too long?/Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone?”] The singing ending of a line has been going on for a very long time, like with Slick Rick joints. Certain MC's do it. Even on the Food record I did it. I do that shit here and there, just to accent the style. There's really no particular reason. It's just a couple lines. I do it and then things will pop up and it makes those couple points seem connected, but they're not really chronologically connected. Things start making sense once they come into existence. Everything else will seem connected, but it's really just like, "I felt like singing right there." It was the right tempo and it's like, "What's that joint I heard the other night? I'll add the words in to the end." That's that.
Album: Key To The Kuffs (2012)
DOOM: That's a different style of beat [Produced by Jneiro Jarel]. It's a huge difference. You're dealing with vocals and different styles and patterns in the beat. There were different things going on in my life. I had more time to do certain things, so each one is going to be different as time passes. Drastically different.
[“Uh, I get what you're sellin'/Swellin' from alien microfilaments it's Morgellons/Even if you're gellin'/What's that in your melon? And what the hell is they sprayin'? No tellin'”] Sometimes I do have to hit the books real hard. I'm taking information in and gathering data to look at a certain subject. I had to dot my i's and cross my t's with that one. I had information on the subject [genetically modified organisms] but I had to go back and see what was false information. Sometimes you've gotta put a fine tooth comb through this stuff to see what's false information. Sometimes it gets mixed up. I was going for facts with that one or close to facts. Facts that could support the rhyme.