Picture this: MC So-and-so doing 90 in a sky-blue, drop-top BMW, coasting along the Van Wyck, as the leaves falling from the trees coat the concrete with the carnival colors of autumn. Sitting lightly in the passenger seat, the fashion model turns towards the rapper, and politely asks him to "pass the 'dro."
Now picture this: a modest home in the Atlanta suburbs, where children are playing in the driveway and the sunlight is playing off the roof's weatherworn shingles. Daniel Dumile is returning from the grocery store, and he's just put the bags down on the kitchen table, when Street calls. His cell phone is running out of batteries, but he's still got a few minutes left to talk.
"Why don't I rap as myself? I mean, the real reason? Aw man, it'd be so corny! That's like Stephen King or somebody writing a real story about his real life, you know what I mean? Why tell everybody I mowed my lawn today? Um... my son came home, he got a B on his report card. That would be the high point of the day. It'd be so corny!"
Instead of reporting on his admittedly mundane daily experiences, Dumile raps from the perspective of a character that he has created, MF Doom, whom he describes as hip-hop's super-villain. Only, he means 'villain' more as outsider than evildoer. "The hero always seems to represent the Superman type of figure, where, you know, he's like flawless," he rationalizes. "To me, the villain is more human. He's an average cat. He has inconsistencies, but, at the same time, he still has that drive, that, you know, 'I'm a continue to come back 'till I get it.'"
In many ways, Dumile's own personal story resembles that of the villain -- disappointment and despair balanced with determination. At the start of his career, he signed with Elektra Records as part of the group KMD, which included his brother Subroc. KMD was darker and stranger than most of the groups with which it was compared. In 1993, Elektra dropped KMD, and refused to release its second album, Black Bastards, reportedly because of controversial artwork. Later that year, Subroc was killed in a car accident.
Flash forward to 1998: Zev Love X has disappeared. Bootlegged vinyl copies of Black Bastards have leaked out, securing KMD's place in underground mythology. Dumile's crew has become a symbol for everything lost in the mercenary calculations of big-money hip-hop. According to rumor he has been living in Long Island seclusion, resurfacing occasionally on Central Park benches late at night.
Yet, from Manhattan's Nuyorican Poets Cafe stage, a vaguely familiar voice was spitting melancholy verses over mellow disco loops.
His name was Metal Face Doom. He wore a stocking on his head to conceal his identity, having modeled himself on Dr. Doom of Fantastic Four comics. Only later would he adopt the metallic facemask that he wears during his performances today.
With long, freely associative verses full of sideways turns and non sequiturs, Doom's delivery resembles the alternating emphases and digressions of conversation. This unique style, as heard on his new album, MMM...Food?, which comes out November 16th, has been the key to his success. "Stuff that people are doing right now is fresh, but there's something spontaneous about [my work] that's more human ... as opposed to, you know, big posters and a bunch of shiny jewelry on," he explains. "And, you know, I think it's really working. People feel how I'm doing it so far, as far as the response I'm getting, you know what I mean"