Were you a big comic collector as a kid?
Yeah, no doubt. That was the main time. I don‘t really collect no more but back then? That‘s the age of Atari. Before video games, comics was the shit. We had comics, then we went right into the video games. Nowadays, kids don‘t really read no more like they used to.
Who were some of your favorites?
I was into everybody. Alpha Flight was ill. Vindicator – they bodied him too early, he was an ill dude. Sasquatch…all of them.
Wow. You are, like, the only person I‘ve ever met who liked Alpha Flight.
(Laughs) Good storylines in that shit.
What are some memories of hip-hop from your childhood?
We first got equipment…our first equipment was a cassette recorded, one of those joints where you had to hold two buttons down. We had that and a clock radio. What we would do is press record and put the recorder over the clock radio and just record like that. That was when we moved to Manhattan. We would just record whatever hip-hop was on the late night radio stations.
You would record tracks that way?
No, we started recording when we was older, back in Long Island. Maybe ‘85. That‘s when we started making KMD demos.
Growing up in Long Island, did you look up to JVC Force?
JVC Force was rockin‘. We looked up to them and respected them – Oh they got a record out. But cats we looked up to was more like Public Enemy, EPMD, De La Soul of course. We all kinda like grew up around the area, so we‘re all like colleagues.
How did you meet up with 3rd Bass?
Hooked up with them cats through Serch. Serch was the dude. At the time, Serch was living in Far Rockaway or something like that. He used to come to Long Beach out in Long Island and come chill. That was breakdancin‘ days, talent show times. He was from Far Rockaway so it was real close proximity. He could come out and kick it. We used to watch him perform and bug out – first white dude I saw rhymin‘ like that. It was fresh; he had style. Every year he would come out in the summertime and we would chill or whatever. He came down one time – ‘87 or something like that. He was real close friends with some partners of mine who ended up dancin‘ for him – he noticed that we was getting‘ busy. So he was like Yo I got this deal comin up, you want to get on this record with me? He was feeling a lot of our stuff. That was when I met Pete (Nice, also of 3rd Bass) and Bobbito (Garcia, later of Fondle ‘Em records) and all those guys.
Who came up with the “Gas Face” idea?
I kinda came up with the concept. We used to joke around a lot. So I came up with the term “gas face” – it‘s just that face you make when you shocked or surprised. Like when somebody catches you off guard – Oh shit – the Gas Face. He thought that was funny so we just used it as the title of the song, and wrote three different stories where that would play into.
What was the idea behind the KMD name?
We had KMD-it stood for Kausin Much Damage, graffiti-crew style. Then we kinda evolved into a “Positive Kause in a Much-Damaged”…wherever we are, we‘re there to help. A much-damaged society, venue or hip-hop game or whatever it is – that‘s where we‘re striving to be a positive energy.
What are some of your memories of recording Mr. Hood? What was a day in the life like?
Just really workin‘ in the crib. The whole album is exactly how it was. Me in my mom‘s crib; doing beats; cuttin‘ hair for extra cash; trading records and what not. Fun times, you know? Adolescence – that teenage time.
How did you feel the first time you heard the playback in the studio?
Man, that‘s a long time ago. That was when we was at Chung King mixing it. I was mixing – it was a really intricate thing. We was using two-inch tape machines, analog joints, really good machines. When you edit you have to cut and paste – take a razorblade and stick it back together. Now everything is digital. There‘s nothing like that two-inch tape, the process of putting that whole album together, that was the shit. Late night, three or four in the morning, listening to it and falling asleep. We did that whole album at night.
Did it sound right to you?
That‘s how I wanted it to come out. It‘s exactly how I envisioned it. Yeah, it was cool. It still surprises me a little bit, but it‘s pretty much right on.
It seems like it‘s been a while since you thought about Mr. Hood, and it‘s so different from the music you‘re doing now. How would you react if you heard “Peachfuzz” right now?
Such a spontaneous song. That was a good song, we came up with it quick. We just needed a song, we were brainstorming in the studio and I did that beat quick as hell. At first my partners ain‘t like it, they ain‘t like the concept, so they left the studio, left me by myself. By the time they show up the next day, I got my verse laid and I‘m like, Yo the beat is done, rip it and let‘s do it. Onyx did his verse and he still didn‘t like it. That‘s one of those things, when you in a group you have to compromise. “Peachfuzz” is a fun song.
Nowadays it brings back a good feeling. Maybe four years ago, I would feel a little funny about it, like Damn why they playing that? It‘s old. Now I got appreciation for it. I guess enough time has passed where I can look back and look at it like, I was young then and I can appreciate it. When I was close to that age, I wanted to forget that time. When you‘re older you want to move on and do new shit. But now I look back and I think that was classic times; that was a good record. Age and maturity has something to do with it.
Are as nostalgic about the times surrounding Black Bastards?
Crazy time right there. That‘s when we were growing up. During the album, I had my first son, and my brother had his daughter. Around that time was when we had our children – early manhood kind of memories. Thing was changing, shit was going crazy in 1992, 1993. Both the game and in life. The game was changing – gangsta rap took over the shit, I don‘t know how but whatever. But then, just being that age, a lot of stuff happens too. Especially living in America being brown people, or whatever you want to call it, that age is a very pivotal time – that‘s when you get hit with a lot of the traps.
Would you mind talking a bit about Subroc? Did he pass while you were still recording Black Bastards?
Towards the end of it. Right towards the completion, we had to do maybe two more songs. Can you imagine? During a six-month period, it was like, shit was changing so drastically fast, in all aspects. It was some hard shit. At the time it didn‘t seem so crazy but now when I think of it, it was some hard times.
Between Subroc and getting dropped, I can‘t imagine how you coped.
How did I deal with it? I don‘t even know. I had to stay focused, yo. I had to make sure we came up out of it. The goals that me and my brother set had to still be met – it was up to me. You know what it reminded me of? You see, we was big BDP fans back in the days – still am. When that thing happened to Scott LaRock, God bless, it was kinda like, like a prerequisite to this – to what happened. When that happened and we both peeped it, automatically we thought of ourselves in those shoes. If the same thing was to happen to one of us, you know what I‘m sayin‘, what would we do? So we saw how Kris handled that situation. He could have quit. We didn‘t know what he was going to do. Was he going to come out with another album? Then he came with that shit – by all means necessary. So that showed us what to do in that situation. You persevere, you keep going, you strive and you do it. So it made us ready for something to happen in life. Like I was saying, in this country, being original people, a lot of things be happening at a certain age, right when you reach manhood. A lot of things start happening. Strange shit. Not only my brother, but a couple other of my peoples disappeared – murdered, or jailed or whatever. Good people, not bad people. I‘m just noticing my peoples disappearing. That shit is kinda scary. Now I‘m like the only one left from that era from my crew. You just have to stay strong in those types of times, stay focused. I‘m like this – failure ain‘t even in my vocabulary. Even though I just used the word. You know what I mean.
You mentioned the goals you and your brother had set – what were they?
See, at this time my mother and father was separated. I‘m the oldest son, then there‘s my brother under me. It was kinda up to us to make sure things was straight. We was way living poverty – bad. This was a way to get out of that. Our goal was to get out of that – get our moms a crib, make sure our sister didn‘t have to grow up in that, make sure our children didn‘t have to grow up in that. Get our own cribs and have kids, like it‘s supposed to be.
Has anything ever come close to equaling how you felt when Scott LaRock died, and then Subroc died?
Everything else is grey.
Okay now the obvious follow-up: Where was Daniel Dumile from 1994 to 1998?
Ha ha ha. I plead the fifth. Just raising my son. Trying to get my equipment up and get some work done. It was hard trying to do a record with no budget. That Doomsday album took all that time to get done. I started it at the end of Black Bastards, but without the resources, it took so long to get it together, piece-by-piece. But I think it grew – it ripened. All the ideas marinated and came together. When you put that much time and thought into something, I think it was good that it worked that way.
At that time, so much wack shit was out. I needed that shit. I knew I was nasty with mine, so it was just a matter of finding a way to get it out to the people. Though Bob (Bobbito) – me and Bob been friends since like ‘89 – we had similar taste in music. We maintained communication, I was letting him hear songs.
At that time I was damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches and shit. It was a really, really dark time. But I still thought I was gonna get mine, regardless.
A song like “Dead Bent” really creeps me out. You took that Isaac Hayes sample that had been done to death and found something really unnerving and new in there.
Yeah that‘s the nature of the production style of Doom – the obvious/not-obvious. The in-between. Using what you have to make something totally new. I had a limited number of crates then, I was like, Yo there‘s something in-between that I have to get. You just have to find it. There‘s infinite amounts of it – layer and layer of it, different dimensions, it‘s just, which one can you tap into?
Explain the idea behind the Villain character.
M.F. Doom character is really a combination of all villains throughout time. The classic villain with the mask – Phantom of the Opera-style, of course there‘s a little twist of Dr. Doom in there, even a little Destro from GI Joe. It‘s an icon of American culture. I kinda made it a mish-mash of all the villains together, and my last name is Dumile, so everyone used to call me Doom anyway. It‘s a parody of all the villains. The villain always returns, the mask, that kind of thing. Through the way these comics are written, it always shows you the duality of things, how the bad guy ain‘t really a bad guy if you look at it from his perspective. Through that style of writing, I kinda was like, if I flip that into hip-hop, that‘s something niggas ain‘t do yet? I was looking for an angle that would be brand new. That‘s when I came up with the character, worked out he kinks and that‘s the Villain.
From their point of the view, we‘re the villains. But I‘m the Super-Villain. All caps.
Where did you get this mask?
My partner Lord Scotch came up with te design. Ill graffiti artist. He fabricated the mask out of…it was originally…you know that movie Gladiator? Son had the helmet piece on it with the mask on the front. We found an exact replica of the mask. He takes the faceplate off, attached that to the inside of a construction helmet, where you can tighten the helmet. So the mask is held together at the temple. It‘s perfect. It‘s light and all that. It‘s suspended maybe a half an inch above my face. It fit like a glove.
Do you ever have problems with airport security? You know, with 9/11 and all…
(Laughs) Sometimes I have to take it off. They used to me now. At some airports they know me.
Do you ever fear that the mask will just become a gimmick?
Not really. To me that‘s what the mask represents. It don‘t matter what we look like, it‘s just the sound of the music. The mask is the stiffest face – it don‘t change none, it just got that mean kind of look to it. So you want look at something? Look at that. It don‘t matter what I look like, what chain I got on, how I‘m dressed, nothing – it‘s just the microphone and the spitfire, you know what I mean?
It‘s as though you‘re multiplying while everyone around you disappears.
Yup. Yup. Definitely have to. I have to do that shit to stay sane, yo.
Why do you have so many characters? Doom is confusing enough, but you also have Geedorah, Vik and Zev.
I look at it like this. I‘m an author, it just so happens what I write is in rhythmic form, and it‘s over music. So for me to get different points across, just like an author would in a novel, I come with different characters. Now that author is writing from each character‘s point of view, but he‘s not the particular character. In hip-hop it‘s the same thing. We get kinda confused, I think we limit ourselves with the whole “I‘m the guy” kind of thing. Like I-this, You-that. In hip-hop you‘re the guy. It‘s too much responsibility – you don‘t want to be that guy. The Villain is a guy that transcends me personally – he can do shit that I can‘t do. So I‘m like, if hip-hop is all about bragging and boasting, then I‘m going to make the illest character – he can brag about all kinds of shit. Like why not? It‘s all your imagination? Go as far as you want.
So in that, I‘m like okay, if that‘s the case, then I can make multiple characters, and they can even have conflicting views, so you get around the whole thing of people trying to categorize you, a typecast-kinda thing, where if you change your mind. We‘re growing up as all this is going on – we‘re going to change our minds. The public looks at that and is like, Oh he‘s contradicting himself. When you got multiple characters you never contradict yourself. Have another character come with another point of view.
What about Zev and KMD? Are you ever going to resurrect them?
I don‘t know maybe. The story goes forever. It‘s taking twists and turns. What you least expect might happen. There‘s definitely going to be surprises involving all the characters.
You mentioned last night that Viktor Vaughn might do something irrational. Care to foreshadow a bit?
Vik is frustrated now. It‘s going to be ill though. (Smiles) Stay tuned, you know what I mean?
What about Mm…Food? Your manager was saying you two had this conversation where you broke down the album‘s themes and symbols, and it totally floored him.
Ha ha, he crazy. Food album is really like…of course it‘s a play on M.F. Doom, the name. I was just brainstorming how many titles of songs could have a food reference that could still be looked at more than one way – a double meaning. I noticed there was a lot of slang references involving food. Food being such a broad topic – everybody needs food – it‘s something everybody can relate to. Doom is about bringing people together. So the more points that everybody can relate, the better. So food was a good starting point. From there, I figured out the concepts and tried to cover the bases.
Bringing people together, eh? Is that you, Daniel, or Doom talking? I never interject like that. I keep myself out of it – I feel I‘m too corny, it‘s not going to be fun. It‘s gotta be those guys – them dudes are crazy. They can do it. Doom is an ill character. He‘s going to be around forever. I look up to that dude. (Smiles)
What about when Doom raps about “his brother” Subroc? Is that Daniel speaking through Doom, or is that just Doom?
So you could, literally, diss yourself a bunch of times.
What about this new KMD album? Is that you, Doom or Zev?
I got a cast of characters. It will be documenting that blank period of time that everybody wants to know about. It‘s going to be an audio-movie of that time.
So that will be you, or the characters?
All of them are characters, they‘re never me. (The album) will be Zev. But Zev kinda transforms into Doom. He goes through something. But what he goes through nobody knows yet. That‘s the part of the story that‘s kind dark.
Are you Zev? Were you thinking, ten years ago, that Zev was you, or that he was a character?
At that time it wasn‘t as refined. I was still rhyming in the first-person from his point of view, as opposed to narrating it and talking about that character, third-person type shit. That came about with the Doom shit. With the Zev thing…I‘m going to work it in. It‘s going to be ill. Trust me.
When you first reappeared post-Zev, it was at the Nuyorican Poet‘s Cafe in New York.
Yeah, I had a stocking mask. I was like a new MC.
Were you nervous? It had been a while.
No, I was like, let me do this shit and get this money, yo. This whole shit is paper – I gotta feed children. Let me just go do it. I‘ve been performing ever since high school and shit. Performing with Kane and Digital Underground and Latifah and 3rd Bass. I still get nervous, but it ain‘t no thing. I put a lot of planning into it, I already know kinda like the outcome. Everybody‘s wack, so all I gotta do is be iller than everybody. I practice ‘til I‘m better, ‘til I‘m nice.
What do you want people to get out of all this? Going back to the mask thing…I just don‘t know if everyone is thinking through these storylines, and picking up on the shift between first- and third-person, and the themes.
There‘s going to be a clincher. It‘s going to come together nicely. It‘s like an audio novel with beats underneath. I like to show people different perspectives, like put yourself in this guy‘s shoes for a second. This guy ain‘t so different from you. The Villain could be anybody. The character Doom – he‘s a brown person but he could be anybody. He could be any race. So it‘s really just the fact that, Yo put yourself in the other man‘s shoes, think about the plight of the other man, don‘t even judge.
Why don‘t you just put out an album that says, Shit is fucked up for twenty-something people of color? Why go through the mask and the characters and outer space?
Can‘t say it like that. Out here it‘s been so desensitized, that‘s not going to… everybody just turns their back on that shit. I had to figure out a way to get the point across, still make it interesting without making it corny, or making it seem like a race thing. It‘s a human thing and we all need to figure it out. It happens to all races at all times. It‘s something we need to nip in the bud, you know what I‘m saying? It‘s only going to come through awareness. Hopefully children, the next generation, will have more respect for each other.
Speaking of which – how do your kids react to the mask? Does it creep them out?
I think kids get it more than adults. They got a wilder imagination, they can grasp it. Like with comics – when you‘re younger, that‘s your whole world.
Earlier you mentioned that you weren‘t really feeling a lot of stuff these days. Last question: who isn‘t wack?
There‘s a couple people who ain‘t wack. Madlib ain‘t wack. Pete Rock ain‘t wack; that‘s my niga. Premo aint‘ wack. Guru ain‘t wack. The whole Wu is dope. Who else is not wack? Nas, he do his thing. Even the other genres ‘Kelis, she a good friend of mine, I love her music. This dude Kurt Elling, a jazz singer, he‘s ill, he‘s not wack, his music inspires me a lot too. Diane Reeves is a woman vocalist, she‘s not wack. It‘s like we‘re all kind of the same age, I look at what they‘re doing. Who else is not wack? Kurious he‘s not wack, he need to comeback. Talib ain‘t wack. Mos Def ain‘t wack. The whole Spitkicker crew ain‘t wack. My Rhymesayers fam ain‘t wack either. Everybody else is wack. (cackles)