DOOM Laughs Last

“What’s the last good joke I heard?” There’s a long pause, and then DOOM—a/k/a Daniel Dumile, a/k/a nefarious rapper MF Doom, who’s graced himself with a shorter, all-caps moniker for his new record Born Like This, though he still orchestrates his comic-book antihero persona from behind a metal mask—tilts back his faceplate, sips from his pint of Black & Tan while lounging in a downtown Atlanta bar, and says, “I would say the one in the New York Post, about the monkey with the stimulus plan.”

Yes, that cartoon, the one Al Sharpton is quite possibly still protesting as we speak. Another lift of the mask, another gulp, and Dumile flows on: “It was one of those edgy jokes. It was kinda a bad joke, but a good joke if you look at it as, How popular was the joke? It’s the President of the United States—a figure of the utmost authority—in a high-profile publication like a newspaper, and they try to make fun of it. All presidents get made fun of. But the vein of it, the strain of it, the tying-in-to-the-monkey part of it, it’s kinda funny. To me, it was like, ‘Oh, they said it like that?’ In that essence, that was the last good joke I heard—it was kinda in bad taste, but it’s still a good nigger joke.”

This isn’t the first time Dumile has found himself holding court at the juncture where racially provocative imagery inches out into the mainstream. Back in 1994—then going by the moniker Zev Love X as part of the rap group KMD (think DayGlo-and-daisies-era De La Soul laced with Nation of Islam teachings)—his self-sketched “Little Sambo” figure, whom he’d intended to depict being lynched for the cover of the group’s second album, Bl_ck B_st_rds, ruffled the suits at Warner Bros.–owned Elektra Records after a Billboard writer criticized the image. In spite of the illustration’s intent (a “hanging of stereotypes” according to then–Elektra A&R VP Dante Ross), the argument came in the wake of Ice-T’s “Cop Killer,” a song that outraged both George Bush I and Warner Bros. shareholders. KMD found themselves dropped. Soon thereafter, Dumile’s brother and KMD cohort, Subroc, was hit by a car and killed. Cue Zev’s disappearing act, until he re-cast himself as MF Doom, announcing his return to public life at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 1998, rapping with a stocking pulled over his face (“I couldn’t get a mask made in time, so I figured I could use a stocking,” he recalls).

Since then, he’s established himself as hip-hop’s premier cult figure, clocking up Adult Swim endorsements, his own Nike Dunk sneaker, and an imminent Thom Yorke remix, all sparked by his solo debut, 1999’s Operation: Doomsday. It was the most perplexingly brilliant rap record of that year: With the Neptunes’ futuristic, super-sharp sound dominating the radio, DOOM seemed to be broadcasting from a freshly soiled bathroom and was content to sample the warm grooves of ’80s r&b hits. His slurry verbals reveled in tricky phrasing (“With more rhymes than there’s ways to skin cats/As a matter of fact, let me re-rephrase/With more rhymes than ways to fillet felines these days”), he sketched an alter ego while dropping autobiographical clues (“Remember when you went and got the dark-blue Ballys?” he reminisces to Subroc) and used vocal samples from a Doctor Doom cartoon to stitch it all together. To this day, it’s his most revealing work.

Then came a five-year flurry of product: sets as the triple-headed monster King Geedorah and the time-traveling Viktor Vaughn; separate hookups with Danger Mouse and Madlib; one-offs with indie labels Rhymesayers (MM . . . Food, an album of songs with food-pun titles) and Nature Sounds (a live recording). It was Dumile in all-out money-making mode—even the most dedicated disciple might’ve balked at the set of 10 instrumental Special Herbs albums. But with overkill looming, things went quiet for a couple of years, and Born Like This sounds like a re-introduction. There’s not much science behind the gestation period (“I was just taking my time,” he says nonchalantly), but with the album title inspired by a line from Bukowski’s dystopia-conjuring poem “Dinosauria, We”—the set’s centerpiece, “Cellz,” samples Bukowski himself reading it—this is Dumile’s most openly political moment.

He cites “Absolutely,” a song speculating on a strategic reaction to police-against-citizen violence, as his album highlight: “That’s me asking, ‘What happens if we take up arms, and we have a whole planet, and we have rules to this, and we’re out to get them?’ It’s fiction, but it’s based on what could happen based on reality. It’s like Bukowski has that post-apocalyptic, worst-case scenario, walking-through-these-wastes angle—a lot of the things he said we ain’t reached yet, but some of the things we’ve reached after the shit was written. It’s like a glimpse into the future if it keeps going that way. That’s this album.”

His pint now heartily refreshed, Dumile delves back to his earlier musings: “There was some ill cracker jokes back in the day. Or the Polish jokes: ‘How many Polacks does it take to screw in a lightbulb?’ I forget the answer, but it was something retarded. That was always the funniest joke to me.” From there, he swings back to Born Like This: “I got jokes on my album about niggers, I got jokes about crackers—and I think those jokes that make humor of somebody else’s culture, in a way, they bring us together. At least it’s some kind of dialogue. Even though the cartoon does show the monkey with two holes in his chest like they killed him—it’s kinda bad, but at least they’re joking. The newspaper apologized for the joke, so now they know how serious it’s taken, and it starts a dialogue. It’s better than somebody actually getting shot in the street, and then we got to talk about it.”

And then, the big finish: “Laughter brings people together. When you can laugh at someone else, that’s bringing everyone together.” Dumile slugs the last of his pint, shrugs, and adds, “Anyone who’s salty at that needs to get their sense of humor intact. Go meditate or something—or drink a Black & Tan.”


From Madvillain to Milli Vanilli

The co-owner of San Francisco club the Independent got a call from underground rapper MF Doom’s agent mid-afternoon on August 15, saying the masked MC was likely too sick to make his scheduled performance that evening. Later, though, the agent called back and reversed course: Doom was good to go. But when the rapper finally took the stage at 11:45 that night, many in the audience did a double take. That’s Doom?

“The first thing out of my mouth to my buddy was, ‘Wow, that doesn’t even look like him,’ ” says concertgoer Dan Schwab, a buyer for Adidas who flew down from Portland, Oregon, with his girlfriend to see the show. “He looked way skinnier—at least 30 or 40 pounds lighter than the guy I’ve seen before. The guy who was up onstage was just walking back and forth, doing a little bit of the ‘rapper hands’ action and giving high-fives.”

Though unverified accounts of “fake” Doom shows have been swirling for a couple years, the critically beloved rapper usually does justice to his brilliant studio catalog in concert. Schwab, for one, says Doom’s performance on the same stage two years earlier was one of the best he’d seen.

But this guy was a joke.

“I went up to the sound guy about two songs deep and said, ‘No one can hear Doom’s mic.’ He looked at me and said straight-up, ‘I know. His mic’s not on, and that’s not MF Doom.’ ”

Having performed only a handful of songs, whoever it was abruptly ended his set and fled the stage; attendees booed and tossed water bottles. Doom’s scheduled Independent show the next night was also canceled, as were the seven remaining dates on his tour.

Even club co-owner Allen Scott doesn’t seem entirely sure what happened. “I watched the show, but I didn’t see him personally,” he says. “He walked [into the building] with his mask on—that’s how he always does it. I can’t say for certain whether it was him or not.”

The concert seems to have inspired a full-scale Internet mutiny among Doom fans. Incensed YouTubers point to clips from his July 29 Rock the Bells show at Randall’s Island as evidence of egregious lip-synching. Fans at his August 12 show in Los Angeles make the same charge— one even put up a Craigslist post headlined, “MF Doom Show Was Fake.” (Few attendees at either gig accuse him of not actually showing up, however.)

Doom’s Los Angeles–based agent, Jason Swartz, says concerns for the MC’s health cut the tour short. Though he wouldn’t go into specifics for the Voice, the Independent’s Scott recalls that Swartz “said it was some sort of circulatory problem, where his feet were swollen.”

Swartz insists, however, that Doom really took the stage in San Francisco.

“He performed in L.A., he performed in New York, and he was totally at the show [in San Francisco],” he says. Asked if Doom was lip-synching, he says he doesn’t know, adding, “But he’s never done that before. There’s rumors about this artist all the time. The guy wears a mask. He’s an elusive character. He never does merch, he never signs autographs, he never does an encore. That’s just his style. He’s a comic-book character of a rapper. In a world where hip-hop has gotten so boring, it’s nice that he has a style that he sticks to that’s not boring.”

Doom himself did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mystique has certainly been central to his appeal. Born Daniel Dumile, the Long Island–bred MC’s stage name is derived from Marvel Comics’ supervillain Dr. Doom—other alter egos include Zev Love X, Viktor Vaughn, and King Geedorah. Hardly anyone knows what he looks like without his metal mask; he once said he planned to release an album called Impostor.

In 2005, he even employed a double for a pair of photo shoots.

“He’d been calling our editor saying he wasn’t feeling good and wasn’t going to make it, but for the shoot he sent his hype man [Big Benn Kling-on] in the Doom mask,” reports Scratch art director R. Scott Wells, referring to his magazine’s story on The Mouse and the Mask, a full-length collaboration between Doom and the producer Danger Mouse. “The photographer didn’t know any better, so he just went ahead and shot him. When we got the film back, we knew it wasn’t Doom. Benn’s a much bigger guy.”

“I spoke to Doom, and he tried to tell me something to the effect of: It was a new persona he was experimenting with,” says Jerry L. Barrow, who was Scratch‘s editor at the time. “He had some sort of justification for it, but to me it was really unprofessional.” (The pictures were scrapped, and the magazine made light of the situation by running Photoshopped pictures of figures like Jessica Simpson and Saddam Hussein wearing the infamous mask.)

Doom appears to have performed the same stunt at Elemental Magazine, which he confirmed in a letter to the publication in late 2005. “Faithful readers,” the typo-ridden letter began. “The Elemental staff and I would like to thank you for participating in last issues DangerDOOM retard test. This test was designed to gauge what percentage of fans are mentally challenged. The results are in . . . Some of you feared well, although the vast majority failed miserably. Here’s a recap: Question: Is that the real MFDOOM on the cover photo? Answer: Yes. The part of DOOM was played by Big Benn Kling-on, Don King. Still confused? Well you needn’t be. Its rather simple, actually the legendary MC MetalFace DOOM, The SUPERVILLAIN is one of the many characters invented by myself, Daniel Dumile author. If you will, think of each record as a book with different chapters often made for words expressed for a whole host of characters . . .”

He then went on to note that several different actors, from Adam West to George Clooney, have played Batman. His note concludes, “In the world of hip-hop music on-the-other hand things might be considered even stranger although not at all unusual. When you have artists ‘playing’ themselves, pun intended while having someone else more qualified to write the story (beats and or rhymes). To each is owns, after all its just entertainment right?”

Entertainment or not, Independent patrons aren’t getting refunds, and neither is the club— absent any proof that he wasn’t actually there, a lip-synching Doom wouldn’t have violated the terms of his contract, Scott says, adding that attendees can exchange their stubs for another performance, or return for the rescheduled Doom show on September 18. “We’ve had some great shows with this artist,” he says. “I have to assume [the August 15 show] was an anomaly.”

Regardless, Doom’s name is tainted. Lip-synching is bad enough—the possibility that he sent a replacement may sound deliciously Andy Kaufman–esque to some, but the majority of his devotees aren’t laughing. “Doom just totally shit on his fan base,” says Pete Babb, who also performed at the ill-fated show under his DJ moniker, Enki.

“It’s hard to figure out how I feel about it,” says jilted Portland resident Schwab. “He’s definitely still one of my favorite MCs. I feel disrespected, because I own all his music. I don’t go and bootleg it.

“It’s almost amusing,” he goes on. “It almost seems like he hatched a plan to see if he could get away with it. Why else would he do something like this?”


Private Enemy

Sometimes you need to cut niggas off like a light switch. MF Doom, ‘Deep Fried Frenz’

I don’t deep-fry friends/Grimm Reaper nuke ’em/Hearts don’t mend/Brothers turned to enemies, nigga/Enemies I eat them raw, nigga/MF Grimm is god of war. MF Grimm, ‘Book of Daniel’

Percy Carey is a strong man. The 36-year-old South Bronx rapper, known professionally as MF Grimm, has broad shoulders and chiseled arms, the result of a daily routine including sit-ups and push-ups; he also regularly wheels himself six to eight miles in his wheelchair. Once an NFL-caliber outside linebacker and middleweight boxer, Carey was shot and nearly killed by rival drug dealers in 1994. He eventually recovered his vision and speaking ability, but he may never walk again. “I wronged a lot of people, but it’s balanced out,” he says. “And that’s why I can live with myself in this chair.”

Although Carey was once poised for mainstream success, his years as a drug-dealing thug led to a lengthy imprisonment, stunting his rap career while friend and onetime recording partner MF Doom was blowing up as a simultaneously whimsical and menacing underground supervillain. Now Carey feels that Doom has forsaken him, and he’s fighting back with a dis track, a triple album, and a multifaceted company hawking everything from horror movies to energy drinks.

For a man who calls himself Grimm, Carey is optimistic, but he knows things
could’ve been different. He grew up in a loving middle-class family on the Upper West Side. “I had decent parents that would always try to do for me,” he recalls. “From a young age, I was taught right from wrong, how to be a man, to be a hard worker.” Morgan Freeman, the family’s next-door neighbor, quickly put Carey to work; the actor thought a three-year-old Percy—who then had an Afro and a potbelly—would look great on Sesame Street‘s stoop. Freeman put Carey’s mother in touch with the show’s producers, and for the next four years Percy regularly held court with Oscar the Grouch, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and the gang. “One episode, I lost my tooth, and me and Big Bird had to go through Sesame Street and try to find it,” Carey remembers.

As a teenager, he spent countless hours at his friend Jorge Alvarez’s 97th Street apartment. The guys played video games, smoked weed, and honed their rapping skills. Eventually, a young man from Freeport, New York, named Daniel Dumile joined their rhyme circle, well on the path to becoming MF Doom.

“Doom was more conscious at that time,” Carey remembers. “He stood for something big. He was for black culture. I rhymed about beating people up, about shooting at people, trying to make money.”

Guns and drugs were quickly becoming his reality. As a Park West High School student, Carey rarely went to class, preferring to shoot dice in the hallways, get high in the bathrooms, and chase girls everywhere. He was expelled for assaulting a school dean: “We beat him up in the snow. He was on drugs, and he owed us money for dope. So we kicked his ass.”

In the following decade, Carey built a mini–drug empire and a reputation for shooting enemies without remorse. “He was a fucking murderer. What do you want me to say?” longtime friend Sebastian Rosset recalls. “I have other friends that are a little less organized with that shit. He was a little more organized.”

Nonetheless, rap remained a passion, and Carey spent increasing amounts of time making music with Dumile. Influenced equally by the styles of KRS-One and Dr. Dre (both of whom he eventually collaborated with), Carey tells straight-ahead gangland narratives in his raps, peppered with political—and at times New Agey— messages. With Dumile, he formed a clique, Monsta Island Czars (M.I.C. for short), named after the mythical home of Godzilla. For stage names, Grimm and Doom shared the “MF” prefix, which Carey says stands for “Mad Flows” or “Mother Fucking.” After Dumile began wearing a mask, it took on another meaning: “Metal Face.”

During the late ’80s, Dumile founded the group K.M.D. with his brother Subroc and had a minor hit with “The Gas Face,” a collaboration with affiliated group Third Bass. K.M.D.’s playful, politically conscious debut, Mr. Hood, came out on Elektra Records in 1991, but tragedy befell the group two years later when Subroc was struck by a car and killed. Shortly thereafter, Elektra dropped K.M.D. and refused to release their second album, Bl_ck B_st_rds, which featured an African American cartoon figure hanging from a noose.

Alone and depressed, Dumile disappeared from the music scene for five years, turning to Carey for support. “Things was on the downslope,” Dumile admits, on the phone from his Atlanta studio. Carey is “like a brother,” he says. “We’ve been through so much hard times. When we were both struggling, we had each other to lean off of.”


Things got worse. On a snowy January day in 1994, shortly after getting his hair cut in Harlem, Carey stepped into his stepbrother Jansen Smalls’s car en route to a meeting with an Atlantic Records representative, who was courting Carey for a record deal. But just as Smalls turned the ignition, bullets riddled the car, puncturing Carey’s left arm, gut, neck, and lungs. Smalls was killed instantly.

“It was a blizzard, and snow was all over the windows, so I couldn’t see much,” Carey recalls. “There were several different people shooting, and the whole car was annihilated. I don’t know who shot me. I was dealing, and when you get to a certain plateau, everyone knows you, though you might not know who they are. They think that doing something to you will benefit them, whether it’s for a rep or financially.”

At Harlem Hospital Center, doctors ripped open his rib cage to remove bullets, and for months afterward he couldn’t see, hear, or talk properly. Spinal cord damage confined him to a wheelchair, and larynx
damage affects his speech to this day. But his afflictions didn’t stop him from dealing dope. Five years later he was pinched on narcotics and illegal-firearms charges and imprisoned
for three years. Upon his release in 2003, Carey pledged to reform his ways and had reason to believe things were looking up.

During Carey’s incarceration, Dumile found success as a solo artist, assuming aliases from Viktor Vaughn to King Geedorah and collaborating with increasingly famous artists. (His next album, slated for release in early 2007, will be a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah.) Known for his dense flow and intelligent wordplay, Doom’s become a hero or villain to hip-hop heads worldwide. His 1999 debut album, Operation: Doomsday, was a big seller by indie standards, and Carey, who, before his incarceration, helped finance the album and supplied samples in his role as executive producer, expected fat royalty checks. More importantly, he and Dumile could resume making groundbreaking music together, now with an audience to receive it.

But it wasn’t to be. Dumile had left his friend in his dust. He says they grew apart, but Carey feels betrayed. “I consider him a brother to me, and it shouldn’t have gotten to the point where it’s at,” he says, adding that his visionary former friend has changed. “Sometimes the line of genius and acting crazy is so thin, you might fall over the line and need someone to bring you back.”

Carey’s modest apartment in a gentrifying South Bronx neighborhood overlooks basketball courts, a concert pavilion, and rows of tidy houses. From the pale brick building’s open windows, mothers yell in Spanglish for their kids to come home for supper. Inside, his abode is a shrine to hip-hop and comics. Action figures still in their plastic cases line the walls à la The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Most belong to Carey’s roommate, rapper Robert Warfield, who became a member of M.I.C. in 2003, around the time Dumile dropped out. Warfield, a lanky Puerto Rican, plasters Transformers stickers on his recording equipment and assists Carey when he needs it, both with his record label and in pushing him up steep hills or lifting him up out of his chair when he needs to zip up his pants. Though Carey navigates the world with the relative ease of a man who’s spent one-third of his life in a chair, there are still a few spots beyond his reach.

“There’s nothing cool about being shot,” Carey says. “It hurts. It changed not just my life, but also the ones around me. People have to help take care of me. I can’t do shit on my own sometimes.”

On this drizzly late-September day, Carey sits atop a towel in his black wheelchair. He rolls himself out into the hallway at the request of a photographer named Dumas, who has come all the way from Brussels, Belgium, to take his picture for an Internet site called 90bpm. (“Le 1er magazine de la culture Hip-Hop en France depuis 2000.”)

Carey has dark skin, a thin goatee, and a muscular upper body that looks like it could still absorb punches. From beneath a backward-tilted ball cap, his deep-brown eyes stare menacingly back at the camera. He doesn’t smile. But immediately after the shutter snaps, the veneer fades. “You got enough light?” he asks.

Though even now his lyrics don’t always reflect it, Carey has renounced his violent past, and he’s exceedingly polite. He calls men “sir” and women “ma’am.” His deep voice contrasts with his still childlike personality—he prefers candy to beer and remains a comic-book fanatic.


It was his interest in superheroes like Superman and Green Lantern, in fact, that helped convince DC Comics to publish his life story as a graphic novel. Next fall will see the worldwide debut of Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm. Written by Carey and illustrated by Brooklyn artist Ronald Wimberly, the book will be released on DC’s Vertigo imprint, known for titles like V for Vendetta and the Sandman series.

“There’s a lot in common with comics and music, in particular the underground aspect of it,” says Vertigo executive editor Karen Berger. “Certain songwriters, certain hip-hop artists, they’re storytellers. That’s the beauty of it. Percy has so easily moved from writing songs to writing a graphic novel. He’s a great storyteller, and he’s now found another medium to tell his stories.”

Carey and Berger are also in talks to develop a comic series called Candy Land, set in an urban ghetto controlled by gangs of sugar-filled personalities. “There’s a crew called the Donuts, led by Choco, a chocolate donut,” Carey explains. “Chewy P. Newton, he’s the political one, and tells kids they shouldn’t be out there using bleached flour and refined sugar.”

Comics aside, Carey’s days are dominated with running the company he founded in 1999, before he went to prison, Day by Day Entertainment. Its musical arm has become a major independent hip-hop player in recent years, securing worldwide distribution and selling nearly 100,000 units by Carey’s count. That figure includes 10,000 or so of an MF Grimm–MF Doom collaboration called Special Herbs and Spices, Volume One, released in 2004 though produced years earlier.

Originally conceived as a vanity rap label, since Carey’s release from prison three years ago Day by Day has taken on more than two dozen artists (Rob Swift, Hasan Salaam, Mudville) and now features a successful rock ‘n’ roll division (Serengeti, the Shadow). Carey is also in discussion with Verve to collaborate on a pair of jazz albums. Day by Day’s film division is set to release a low-budget, straight-to-DVD Australian horror movie called When Evil Reigns. Finally, there’s an energy drink called MF Potion in the works, not to mention a makeup line featuring lip gloss, blush, fragrances, and soap.

“There’s not a lot of products for women of color, from my understanding,” Carey says. “It has to do with the pigments. A woman my complexion, normally, whatever type of makeup they use has elements of pink in it. But they need something that’s based in yellow.”

Expect Day by Day cosmetics at a store near you this summer.

His varied projects aside, Carey’s focus for now is his own new triple CD American Hunger. After spending much of the ’90s working on other people’s projects (he wrote songs for Kool G Rap’s classic album 4, 5, 6 and, he says, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, though he’s uncredited for his work on the latter), it’s his fourth solo album, following The Downfall of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera, Digital Tears, and Scars & Memories.

Released in July, Hunger is among the most ambitious projects in rap history, featuring 60 tracks, including collaborations with hip-hop royalty like Large Professor and PMD of EPMD. At its heart a pop album, it sashays between themes of love and loss, redemption and revenge, flirting with the political but finally settling on the personal. “Trapped in the belly of the beast/Trying to get regurgitated because I am the feast,” Carey raps on the first of the album’s three title tracks.

“The oppressed are the heroes to the people,” Doom says. “I’ll be the villian.”

photo: Sven Slimm

Making a three-hours-long album is, of course, insane, but Carey somehow makes it work, partially through his compelling story and partially by stacking the deck with top-notch underground beat-makers like St. Louis’s DJ Crucial, who plans to release his own album featuring the 12 songs he produced. “I was told it could not be done, but I like to do things people say can’t be done; gives you a reason to still be on the planet,” Carey says. “They can say the other 59 of them suck, but if somebody likes one song, I’m happy.” (American Hunger is available at for $13.50.)

A recent, largely praiseworthy Spin
print review called Carey “the rapper who’s taken almost as many bullets as 50 Cent.” Wrong. “He was shot nine times, and I was shot 10 times,” Carey grumbles, referring to both the crippling 1994 assault and a 1986 party in which he was shot in the stomach, knee, and wrist.


The Spin review also notes the album’s Molotov cocktail of a final song, “Book of Daniel,” which threatens Dumile by his first name and his stage name from his K.M.D. days: Zev Love X. “Zev Love X used to be merry/The mask took control of you like Jim Carrey,” Carey raps over a blistering acid-rock sample, adding: “When the bullets start flying, who’s gonna hide you?”

“You ain’t a man/You a character,” puts in crewmate MF Mez, adding, “M.I.C. gave you life/And we can take that shit away.”

“Book of Daniel” is a response to a track on Doom’s biggest success story to date: The Mouse and the Mask, his 2005 collaboration with superstar producer Danger Mouse, he of the Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album and this year’s buzz phenom Gnarls Barkley. A goofy, literally cartoonish venture featuring the voices of the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim stable (itself a favorite of Doom’s largely white, frequently stoned fan base), Mask was a critical and commercial smash. The Washington Post called it “the craziest, coolest CD of the year,” and it reached 41 on Billboard‘s album chart.

On the Mask track in question, “El Chupa Nibre,” Dumile obliquely references his past: “Once joined a rap clique, Midgets into Crunk/He did a solo on the oboe, could have sold a million/Then the Villain went for dolo and cited creative differences.”

Carey sees the “Midgets into Crunk” line as a dis of M.I.C. “I view ‘Midgets’ as saying he’s big-time and we’re small. And he probably thinks crunk is like a fad, so that’s just his way of saying we’re out of here.”

“I never looked at it like that—if I want to dis niggas, I’ll say it straight up,” Dumile responds. “But, if the shoe fit . . . you know what I’m saying? People can take it how they want to take it. If somebody feels offended by it, that’s on they own self.”

Whether or not Dumile intended to hurt him, Carey reacted viscerally and immediately crafted a response. “He just gets in [the studio] and starts ripping this verse, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ ” recalls producer DJ Crucial. “I’m looking around at everyone, ’cause Doom is like everyone’s favorite right now.”

“Book of Daniel” has listeners around the country duking it out on Internet message boards. Some see Carey’s rage as justified, while others find the song a pathetic attempt to cash in on Dumile’s celebrity. “Maybe Grimm looked at his sagging sales and said, ‘Damn, I need to start a beef with someone,’ ” reads a comment to a blog posting about the song written by someone calling himself “i’m the skwidawd.”

Carey insists “Book of Daniel” is not a publicity grab. “I do mean what I say. If I’m going to kill somebody, I’m gonna kill them. Am I looking to go hunt him down and kill him? Nah. But can it get to the point where someone could get hurt? Yeah. It’s about respect. People get beat up for less.”

So-called “dis tracks” are commonplace in rap music, of course. But “Book of Daniel” is different. When Carey isn’t threatening Dumile, he’s appealing for reconciliation. “Come home, Zev,” he pleads near the song’s end. “I can’t act like I don’t have no love for him,” Carey says now. “I care about him so much that it caused the conflict that we have today. The more I speak about him, the more it becomes to the world like I’m bitter toward his success. He was bound to be successful, but the plan was for him to direct that success toward the others. If our plan is to get up over a wall, and I push you up and help you get over the wall and you don’t throw a rope for me, then it’s going to be an issue.”

Dumile hasn’t heard the song, but says he has no time for Carey’s issues.

“It’s funny, how, once it gets to where the name is getting recognized, everybody want to act like they got a problem with the Villain,” he says. “I ain’t got no friends. As soon as you think somebody’s your friend, that’s when you gotta watch out. When you’re successful, there’s always somebody that’s cornering you, somebody that used to be your friend, talking about, ‘He did this, he did that.’ I open up my home to people, help people, and then motherfuckers turn around and try to stab me in the back.”

Out on bail and awaiting trial for narcotics and weapons charges, Carey made a risky move in early 2000. Lacking a driver’s license, he bought a fake one and used it to board a plane to Los Angeles.


There, he met Dumile. They came to negotiate with executives from Readyrock Records, who planned to release MF Doom’s solo debut, Operation: Doomsday, and K.M.D.’s second and final album, Bl_ck B_st_rds. Carey contributed financially to and is credited as an executive producer on both albums.

Carey hadn’t seen his friend in a while, as Dumile had moved to suburban Atlanta with his wife and their young son, Daniel Jr.—Carey’s godson. After the meeting, the two men revived their bond and, stepping into a record studio, quickly recorded hours of songs, one of which Carey would use for Grimm’s own The Downfall of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera, which was dedicated to stepbrother–shooting victim Jansen Smalls. “I expected me and Doom to make good music and become legends,” Carey remembers of the session.

Miranda Jane, a Los Angeles–based music consultant, came to the studio to interview the guys for Stress, a now defunct hip-hop publication subtitled “NY’s Illest Magazine.” She even brought along dinner for them: homemade jambalaya and smothered cabbage. “They had a really good synergy together,” she recalls.

Jane, who later became Dumile’s manager, was one of last people to see his face. Since Operation: Doomsday, MF Doom has taken to wearing a metal gladiator mask onstage, in press and album photos, and even in everyday life around people he doesn’t know very well. “Hip-hop tends to be about who’s the flyest, who has the biggest chain,” Dumile explains. “So it’s kind of like the mask is the opposite of that. It’s like, it don’t matter what he looks like, what race he is. All that matters is the vocals, the spit, the beats, the rhymes.”

The mask has metaphorical implications as well, Jane says. Having been scarred by the music industry, Dumile was reinventing himself as someone who wouldn’t be played for a fool. “Doom was concerned with making money right now and feeding his family by any means necessary,” she says, adding that this differed from Carey’s long-term goal of building a black-owned distribution company from the bottom up.

“I got a different agenda,” Dumile agrees. “It’s about getting money, and that’s that. I got children to feed.” As for Carey: He “ain’t got no kids.”

Shortly after the L.A. meeting, Dumile returned to Atlanta, and Carey to the penitentiary. During his three-year confinement, he was transferred to institutions all over New York State. “I’ve been moved and moved. . . . Most of them wasn’t wheelchair accessible,” he says.

“I remember visiting him up in Fishkill, New York, and the facilities were a little better,” recalls Elinor Tatum, a friend. “But he told me about how, before, he’d basically had to crawl to the shower. In another case, medical staff didn’t want to have to change his catheter, so they gave him a drug that kept him from having to urinate. He got very ill because of it, because he was not eliminating the way he should have been.”

Yet Carey found ways to make the most of a miserable situation, working on his chess game, teaching himself to cook, and studying the music industry.

“I got my hands on Billboard, Forbes, Fortune—anything that dealt with marketing,” he says. “And I learned the business models of people like Quincy Jones, Russell Simmons, Tommy Mottola, and Jimmy Iovine. I basically took my years in prison and I used it as college.”

Dumile visited him only once during that stint. Adding insult to injury, upon Carey’s 2003 release, Dumile told him that the album deals with Readyrock had fallen through. He’d struck new deals to release Operation: Doomsday and Bl_ck B_st_rds, but they would pay the two men only a fraction of what was guaranteed by the original agreements.

“Dumile promised that he was going to do something to make it right, to get some
thing to me,” Carey says. “But he never did.”

Answers Dumile, “It’s funny how motherfuckers want to complain about how ‘The Villain jerked me, and this and that.’ I’m like, ‘Get a lawyer!’ ”

Nonetheless, Carey was willing to let bygones be bygones, and he thought Dumile felt the same way when he invited Carey to perform at an MF Doom concert at Times Square club B.B. King’s last year.

“I wasn’t going to do any more shows,” Carey says. “It’s a very uncomfortable feeling sitting down and having to rhyme. It’s like boxing—you don’t want to be a boxer in a wheelchair. You want to stand up and fight.”


But the chance to be with Dumile was more than he could pass up, and in a video of the concert DVD Carey has, he looks as happy as a kid at his first baseball game. “All the people on the sides know MF Doom is hot, MF Doom is hot, MF Grimm is hot,” Carey raps from his chair at the beginning of the show, wearing a heavy sweatshirt and winter cap. “This is my brother, I love him,” he adds as the lights are cut and Dumile bounds onto the stage, clad in a Patrick Ewing Knicks jersey and, of course, his silver mask. He continuously shouts out Carey throughout the set, using his other stage names, Jet Jaguar and Grandmaster Grimm.

“It felt good being onstage with him,” Carey recalls. “It was good to see him rock. And after that, I thought we would be back to normal. It’s apparent that he didn’t think so.” Carey heard “El Chupa Nibre” shortly thereafter and became convinced that Dumile had fundamentally changed since their days as teenagers on 97th Street. “I think he’s caught up in an image he can’t escape from. He has to be a villain.”

Dumile doesn’t entirely disagree. “The whole Villain thing is really like looking at how other people see him,” he says. “The oppressors usually look at the people they’re oppressing as the villains. But the oppressed are the heroes to the people, so I just accept it now. I’ll be the villain. I’ll be the hero to the hip-hop world.”

Carey’s apartment is full of cardboard boxes, some packed with promotional T-shirts and copies of American Hunger. Others are troves of old mementos. After digging around for a few minutes, Carey produces old copies of Right On! magazine, a locally based hip-hop fanzine aimed at young girls in which he once authored a column called Grimm Reaper’s Harvest. Also in the boxes are photos from Carey’s Sesame Street days and a picture of him standing with DJ Roc Raida in the early ’90s, before Carey was paralyzed.

Eventually, Carey packs up the boxes and puts them away, along with the Doom concert DVD. The sun has gone down in the South Bronx, and the interview is almost over. But before that happens, he’d like to show off a new trick he’s been working on.

“I’m learning how to stand up,” he says, moving from his wheelchair to a leather recliner and motioning for Warfield to hand him his aluminum walker. He grasps the walker’s soft handles and, trembling, pulls himself up. After a few seconds of struggle he extends, fully vertical, his muscular arms supporting his underdeveloped legs.

“I fully expect to walk again, but it’s difficult for me to put a timetable on it,” Carey says, after sitting back down. “It’s not my body anymore. My body’s back. It’s just, there’s a lot of things I’ve got to overcome in my mind.”


Harmonies and Abysses

Pick Hits


The Milk-Eyed Mender

(Drag City)

Not only does she sing in a fey little voice and fingerpick a damn harp, she hangs out with the wrong crowd—hippie folkies, basically. So snub her on principle if you like, but note this quatrain (yes, quatrain): “And the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers/and we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words/while across the sky sheet the impossible birds/in a steady illiterate movement homewards.” Sorry, folks, that’s s-m-a-r-t whether you like its drift or not, and there’s plenty more where it came from. Right, she’s chronically whimsical—the final song adduces dragons. But her whimsy is genuinely funny, and though the melodies fade on the second half, which damages the poetry, there at the end of the faintest one comes the wise warning: “Never get so attached to a poem/you forget truth that lacks lyricism.” So I won’t. A MINUS

  • View “Sprout and the Bean” (Quicktime)





First you notice that the opener really is kinda gorgeous, with its twin-xylophone-echoed piano flourish and all. Then you isolate Win Butler’s sob and fantasize about throttling the twit, an immature impulse unmitigated by the lyrics, which are histrionic even for a guy who’s just lost a grandparent (or whoever). But if you keep at it till the next song, which tells the story of his runaway older brother getting bitten by a vampire, you begin to admire his resilience—he’s retained a sense of the ridiculous, which is more than you can say of most young twits who sing about losing a grandparent (or whoever). And that’s how the album goes—too fond of drama, but aware of its small place in the big world, and usually beautiful. N.B.: if you’re considering Montreal, which is certainly my favorite Canadian place, the ex-Texans and -Haitian here want to make clear that it’s horribly cold. A MINUS

  • Stream “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” (MP3)
  • Stream “Rebellion (Lies)” (MP3)
  • Stream “Wake Up” (MP3)


This Right Here Is Buck 65


Since four standout tracks come from one of my favorite albums of the millennium, the Canada-only Talkin’ Honky Blues, I have my doubts about the best-of route taken by Richard Terfry’s long-delayed U.S.-major debut. Only it’s not a best-of. Listening back to such worthy alt-rap cult items as Square, Vertex, and Man Overboard, I was amazed at how willowy he once sounded—a mere stripling, with a voice macho chauvinists could call nerdy even if he was a hell of a shortstop. Everything here projects his new gruff ‘n’ gravelly persona, including a remake of the best song in hip-hop history about a big dick (which utilizes a John Fahey-type sample rather than the electronics he has a knack for). Three are from two 2004 Canada-only EPs; another, the striking if overwrought “Cries a Girl,” is now a live staple. The collection doesn’t cohere the way it should, and I still say seek out Talkin’ Honky Blues. But wherever you start, he’s a major rhymer, performer, storyteller, humanist visionary, and student of the DJ arts. A MINUS

  • Preview AlbumTHE ROUGH GUIDE TO BRAZILIAN HIP-HOP (World Music Network import)

    As with most foreign-language rapping, you may wonder what the point is, especially given liner notes so devoid of lyrical clues I assume the compiler’s Portuguese is mucho shaky. But if like me you’re prey to the vulgar prejudice that most carioca rhythms run a little lite, the straightforward beats here are intensely pleasurable whether indigenous or r&b—imbued with the rhythmic sophistication of their culture, the vocalists just naturally provide enough variety to keep a North American clod like me going. Often the rappers work chorally, augmenting the r&b feel. One of the soupiest tracks, a love letter recited over Rammelzee’s “Bon Bon Vie” variation, is by two guys who were doing 10 years for armed assault when it was recorded. A MINUS

  • Sample Track (MP3)
  • SEPTETO RODRIGUEZBaila! Gitano Baila!


    Longer on violins this time, Rodriguez’s Cuban klezmer packs less thrill, with David Krakauer and Craig Taborn missed. But it’s smoother too, and with international mix-and-match feeling so crucial these days, that’s educational. The pomo aesthete in us craves disruptive kicks as inoculation against an undoing world. The weary traveler will settle gratefully for some social harmony. A MINUS

  • “Wolfie’s Corner” (MP3)
  • “Paseo Del Prado” (MP3)
  • “Hadida” (MP3)
  • “Baila! Gitano! Baila!” (MP3)
  • “Para Peru” (MP3)
  • “Turkish-Bulgarish” (MP3)
  • MATTHEW SHIPPHarmony and Abyss

    (Thirsty Ear)

    My tastes in piano run to five-fingered banging, my tastes in ambience to rhythm massage. So although I’ve admired several of Shipp’s many albums, Nu Bop especially, this one I identify with. The hard-driving “Galaxy 105” tinkles jazzily at times, and “Invisible Light” contributes a free interlude, but mostly Shipp and his certified-jazzbo drums-and-bass—plus, crucially, programmer FLAM—explore pulses and textures: all distinct, some quite jazzlike but most on the trip-hop side. Remember “acid jazz”? This is what it wasn’t tough enough for. A MINUS

  • “Ion” (MP3)
  • “Virgin Complex” (MP3)
  • “Blood 2 the Brain” (MP3)VIKTOR VAUGHN

    (VV:2): Venomous Villain

    (Insomniac, Inc.)

    Stuffed-up flow. Championship scratching. A lid on the C-movie dialogue. “Titty fat”/”kitty cat”/”pretty hat”/”pitty-pat”/”kiddies, brats”/”shitty gats”/”where they at”/ “city rats”/”gritty stats”/”chicks be at”/ “chitty-chat”/”pity that.” “Instincts”/”pink drinks.” Any questions? A MINUS

  • Stream “Back End” (MP3)
  • Stream “Dope Skiller” (MP3)

    (Thirsty Ear)

    Where the debut emulated drum’n’bass, this time their avant-funk puts its sonics across by spacing out four compelling vocals: Chuck D stand-in Traz’s “More From Life” (“economic equality”), Flavor Flav stand-in Bos Omega’s “TV” (“and a big old chair”), Rubén Blades stand-in Ricky Quinones’s “No Pistolas” (“Si tu quieres bailar/Si tu quieres gozar/Es bien, pero . . . “), and Bobby McFerrin stand-in Taylor McFerrin’s “Words They Choose” (he’s worried, unhappy). In the new millennium, you see, we use liberal politics to sell music. It has that aura of the forbidden. A MINUS

  • “Shine For Me” (MP3)
  • “TV” (MP3)
  • “Thirty Spokes” (MP3)
  • ZAMBUSH VOL. 1 (SWP import)

    “Zambian Hits from the 80s”—hence, geographically and musically midway between Congolese rhumba and Zimbabwean chimurenga, which contained rhumba to begin with. Population under 6 million then, close to 10 million now—though the great preponderance of these musicians died in between, AIDS and the local kachasu homebrew having taken their occupational toll and then some. Cheerful in affect, moralistic in content—the brightest warns against kachasu itself. But though I’m glad its creator survived, I wish there was more evidence that these musical homilies made a difference in the lives of those who created or heard them—after the musical moment itself, when they clearly did what they were supposed to. B PLUS

  • Stream The Five Revolutions’ “Kachasu”

  • Dud of the Month


    American Idiot


    If you’re wondering what this concept album means, don’t labor over the lyric booklet. As Billie Joe knows even if he doesn’t come out and say it—he doesn’t come out and say lots of obvious stuff—this is a visual culture. So examine the cover. That red grenade in the upraised fist? It’s also a heart—a bleeding heart. Which he heaves as if it’ll explode, only it won’t, because he doesn’t have what it takes to pull the pin. The emotional travails of two clueless punks—one passive, one aggressive, both projections of the auteur—stand in for the sociopolitical content that the vague references to Bush, Schwarzenegger, and war (not any special war, just war) are thought to indicate. There’s no economics, no race, hardly any compassion. Joe name-checks America as if his hometown of Berkeley was in the middle of it, then name-checks Jesus as if he’s never met anyone who’s attended church. And to lend his maunderings rock grandeur, he ties them together with devices that sunk under their own weight back when the Who invented them. Sole rhetorical coup: makes being called a “faggot” something to aspire to, which in this terrible time it is. C PLUS

    Additional Consumer News

    Honorable Mention


    Real Gone


    Shtick fights funk to the death, yielding both a circus spiel with some laughs in it and a battlefield habanera worthy of Motörhead (“Hoist That Rag,” “Top of the Hill”).

  • Stream “Hoist That Rag” (MP3)
  • Stream “Shake” (MP3)
  • THIS MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORYMidwesterncuttalistick

    (Version City)

    Seventeen songs in 33 minutes by Cleveland Voidoids/Fugazi fans who still read the newspaper (“Beans and Rice,” “Art Project,” “Paint Me a Picture”).

  • “Beans and Rice” (MP3)
  • “Progress for Real” (MP3)
  • “Electric Grandlover” (MP3)

    Worldly Christians meet secular Muslims, often in joints swank enough to feature a piano (Maurice El Médioni, “Bienvenue —Abiadi”; Eda Zari, “Ra Faja”).

  • Sample Track (MP3)
  • MF DOOMMm . . Food?

    (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

    Eat the theme up with your mouth Doom (“Hoecakes,” “Kon Queso”).

  • Stream “Hoecakes” (Real)
  • Stream “Potholderz” (Real)

    Carlinhos Brown and associates do their drum-and-chant thing (Carlinhos Brown, “Canto Pro Mar”; Carlinhos Brown/Cicero Menenez, “Margarida Perfumada”).

  • “Canto Pro Mar” (WMA)
  • “Margarida Perfumada” (WMA)CRAIG TABORN

    Junk Magic

    (Thirsty Ear)

    In a noisy way (“Mystero,” “The Golden Age”).

  • “Stalagmite” (MP3)
  • “Prismatica” (MP3)

    In Brazil as anywhere else, the sound of poverty can be a stark thing (Bonde do Tiagro, “O Baile Todo”; Furacao 2000, “Mengao 2000”).

  • Bonde Do Tiagro’s “O Baile Todo” (MP3)
  • Furacao 2000’s “Mengao 2000” (MP3)
  • U2How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb


    Pop music as spiritual balm—there are worse ideas (“Miracle Drug,” “Vertigo”).

  • Stream “Vertigo”
  • Stream “Miracle Drug”
  • MANNIE FRESHThe Mind of Mannie Fresh

    (Cash Money/Universal)

    “From Mexico to China/All I want is vagina” (“Not Tonight,” “We Fresh”).

  • Stream “Real Big” (Real)
  • DARRYL WORLEY(DreamWorks)

    Has good enough values as long as he doesn’t apply them too far from home (“I Love Her, She Hates Me,” “Work and Worry”).

  • Preview Album


    If only A Flock of Seagulls could do their hair (“Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” “Somebody Told Me”).

  • Preview Album (Real and WMA)
  • RANDY TRAVISPassing Through

    (Word/Curb/Warner Bros.)

    Decency is its own reward (“My Daddy Never Was,” “That Was Us”).

  • That Was Us” (MP3)
  • Right On Time” (MP3)
  • U.S.The Necessary Evil

    (Reality Check)

    Rapper dresses Unabomber, name-checks Che (“Brooklyn,” “Rome Too Burned”).

  • Stream “Brooklyn”
  • Stream “Rome Too Burned”

  • Choice Cuts


    “The Lyre of Orpheus”

    “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”

    “Hiding All Away”

    (Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Mute)


    “Losing My Edge”

    (LCD Soundsystem, DFA)


    “Triumph of a Heart”

    (Medulla, Elektra)


    “The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues” “To Do What I Do”

    (What I Do, Arista)


    “Next Exit”

    (Antics, Matador)





    The Lost Riots



    You Do Your Thing






    Still Not Getting Any . . .



    From a Basement on the Hill


    SUM 41

    Chuck (Island)




    Pawn Shoppe Heart




Though some smart people will argue otherwise, 2004 was another great year for, if nothing else on earth, recorded music—at least if that means nonstop quantities of sustaining entertainment of most every conceivable stripe, impossible to keep up with but a joy to try. Any other definition would be academic. I’ve said it for the past few years, but it bears repeating: More music means more good music as well as bad music. And repackaged auld acquaintances count too.

Eat My Nuts
(Disturbing punk-rock album)

Amplified Pillows
(Steel Cage live garage-punk album)

Preview album (Flash Stream)

For Almost Ever Scooter
(Scat ’80s powerpop-punk reissue)

“Not Proud Of The USA” (MP3)

“More Than I Can Talk About” (MP3)

“Guarding You” (MP3)

“Public Television” (MP3)

Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down: The Best of the Mississippi Sheiks
(Columbia/Legacy ’30s string-band blues reissue)

“Still I’m Traveling On” (Real)

“Please Don’t Wake It Up” (Real)

“Stop And Listen Blues #2” (Real)

Mm . . Food
(Rhymesayers Entertainment gourmet hip-hop album)

“Hoe Cakes” (Real)

“Potholderz” (Real)

The Greatest Songs Ever Written by Us
(Epitaph ’80s-’00s anti-imperialist ska-punk reissue)

Preview Album (Flash Stream)

Once More With Feeling: Singles 1996-2004
(Astralwerks glam-swishing Britpop reissue)

Preview Album (Flash Stream)

(Riot-grrrls-covering-Britney single)

“Toxic” (MP3)

This Is My Big Night
(S.A. post-punk album)

“Autumn Season” (MP3)

“Dance With Me” (MP3)

“Sha-Bang” (MP3)

Worth tha Weight
(Def Jam hip-hop album)

Preview Album (Flash Stream)

Happy Together: The Very Best Of
(Shout! Factory ’60s pop-rock reissue)

“Happy Together” (WMA)

“Happy Together” (MOV)

“It Ain’t Me Babe” (WMA)

“It Ain’t Me Babe” (MOV)

“Eve Of Destruction” (WMA)

“Eve Of Destruction” (MOV)

Studio One Disco Mix

(Soul Jazz import ’70s-’80s extended-mix reggae compilation)

“Willie Williams – Armegideon Time” (MP3)

“Norma White – I Want Your Love” (MP3)


Diphthong Songs

MF Doom might just be the Bobby Zimmerman of the rap game: a one-man cult of multiple personalities, oft misinterpreted raconteur, arcane seer-crackpot. Masked and Pseudonymous. But you know his old man wasn’t some kind of feudal lord. At the risk of becoming too much of a good thing, his Viktor Vaughn alter ego returns with VV:2 Venomous Villain—one of the half-dozen or so albums he’s released in the last year.

Doom’s last (real) album, Madvillain, quickly became the hip-hop disc for non-rap fans. Critics all loved it—even The New Yorker signed on. Ironically, Doom has more in common with the old New Yorker set; he might just be the James Thurber of the rap game, but that’s not important.

The important thing is Doom doesn’t believe the hype—especially not his own. Instead of another must-get for the don’t-get-it set, VV:2 has Doom flowing over brittle beats—crisp, streamlined material; one for the fans. Doom’s vicious flow tends to get overshadowed by his humor; he’s got the breathless delivery of a Raekwon or a Nas, throaty float sailing effortlessly, never forced.

VV:2 may not be an overt step in the MC’s likely eventual transition from Madvillain to Melvillean, but it does mark a slight departure. Some songs actually have choruses, which Doom usually eschews, but which here provide a more weighted, elastic feeling. The music still retains a cut-up feel—both in the Burroughsian and class-clown senses. He’s a posse of one, a solo Doom Tang Clan(g), but instead of all those kung fu interludes about dudes getting heads chopped off, he samples guys talking about “haberdashery.” Where the other rappers rock chicks with thongs, Doom spits mad diphthongs. Real karate-kid shit, like Ginsu-knifing mosquitoes with chopsticks.

Straddling the fine line between the ‘hood and the hoodwinked, serious joker Doom rubs out the ego in his own music (and everybody knows ego is central to hip-hop). Yes, he refers to himself in the third person, but only when speaking of an alias; he’s as much a channel as an MC.

VV:2 does have a bit of a for-hire feel. In another departure, Doom doesn’t get any production credits here. Executive producer and label head Israel “Iz-Real” Vasquetelle—who also happens to edit and publish the indie hip-hop magazine Insomniac—pushes his own mediocre rap skills in two songs (while seasoned underground masher Kool Keith only gets 12 bars). Another odd guest choice, Christian MC Manchild at least doesn’t fail miserably. Still, maybe Doom’s opening lines should serve as the last word: “Dub it off your man/Don’t spend the 10 bucks/I did it for the advance/The back end sucks.”

MF Doom plays B.B. King’s November 24.


Disguised Rappers Fight Crimes of Hip-Hop Normality

Madvillainy is an outlandishly imaginative collaboration that, on the surface, sounds like the goofy machinations of two weirdo comic-book characters undergoing an identity crisis. Daniel Dumile’s costume takes the metaphor to new heights, though: The Long Islander raps with a metal mask over his grill to conceal the early-’90s “disfigurement” he suffered from the industry as Zevlove of 3rd Bass-affiliated KMD. Oxnard, Californian Madlib’s transformation into a strabismic hunchback called Quasimoto, meanwhile, is achieved through mechanical manipulation: He sounds like Eminem on helium.

What makes Madvillain better here than on last year’s Champion Sound is the built-in theme: namely Marvel Comics icon Dr. Doom, a persona Dumile has assumed for years. Crime-fighting radio-serial samples provide a suspenseful storyboard, upon which Dumile exacts revenge befitting a forsaken genius. And although he’s not the greatest lyricist, like his namesake he possesses an uncanny ability to slip phantom-like into your psyche with subliminal phrases and sardonic punchlines. Listening to him rhyme over accordion is like trying to crack ghetto code. But that’s his charm—he’s intriguing, unpredictable, and absolutely hook-free.

Madvillain play B.B. King Blues Club April 5.


It Was Rewritten

It all began in the spring. First, producer 9th Wonder remixed Nas’s recent God’s Son album, titling it God’s Stepson. That inspired Soul Supreme to create Soulmatic, a revisiting of Nas’s 2001 Stillmatic; soon after, MF Doom remade Nas’s Nastradamus as Nastradoomus. Now it’s DJ Lt. Dan’s Hova’s Son, blending God’s Son lyrics with Jay-Z beats. No rap artist has ever received so much intense tinkering, but it’s fitting that Nas should be first. He’s become hip-hop’s prodigal son. And ever since his 1994 debut, Illmatic, inspired a generation, fanatics have championed his redemption through every success and slip. Let’s be honest—Illmatic was an incredible achievement. But remember Nas’s two 1999 albums, I Am and Nastradamus? Neither do the rest of us. Yet, no matter how far He falls, His disciples have passionately defended His genius, promising us that He will rise again. God’s Son indeed.

In a strange twist, these Nas-postles have become the Maker instead. Soul Supreme’s Soulmatic is the least compelling remix—it has all the intrigue of algebra homework. Soul Supreme drowns Nas’s verses in crashing waves of swollen strings and chipmunk vocals. His beat-craft is technically competent, but rote and mechanical—especially compared to God’s Stepson, which creatively customizes new tracks to fit Nas’s lyrics. 9th Wonder’s beats are pleasant if a little repetitive: a nuevo-school aesthetic of deftly stacked soul and jazz licks (imagine Nas remixed by a latter-day Pete Rock). Wonder’s greatest achievement is his bonus remix of Stillmatic‘s “Ether,” an apocalyptic revelation scored by heaven-born horns.

In contrast to the meticulousness of God’s Stepson and Soulmatic, Hova’s Son and Nastradoomus play for funsies. MF Doom raids his own bugged catalog of tracks while Lt. Dan pilfers Jay-Z’s—so whatever they lack in laboriousness, they make up in entertainment value. Doom is a backpacker favorite, but his eccentric musical tastes actually lean populist. He favors sounds others would consider junk (syrupy ’80s r&b, for example), so it’s only fitting that he’d choose to redeem one of Nas’s worst albums. Even Doom can’t save droning, thuggish rubbish like “Come Get Me.” But in “Life We Chose,” his melancholy piano and sax loops polish the luster of one of Nas’s more thoughtful songs. Doom throws crazy ideas at the wall—some stick, like the Persian vibe of “Some of Us Have Angels”; others miss, e.g., the dense tangle that swamps “Last Words.”

The beauty of Lt. Dan’s Hova’s Son is how its sublime surprises play fantasy peacekeeper between Nas and Jay-Z. The overwrought martyrdom of “The Cross” switches from plodding to passionate when fit over the dramatic fury of Jigga’s “U Don’t Know,” while the nursery rhyme charm of “I Can” syncs well with the playfulness of Jay-Z’s 1997 “Who You Wit.” The main misstep is the clashing bounce rhythms of “Heaven” set to “Big Pimpin’,” but who’d think “Revolutionary Warfare” would sound so good over “H to the Izzo”? The blends Lt. Dan concocts are at once familiar yet unexpected, and that tension fuels the CD’s appeal.

Keep in mind that all this redux fever is happening against a technological and cultural backdrop where everyone with a laptop and Pro Tools is churning out his own mash-up mix tapes. Now that this quartet of remixers have spurred the trend, their efforts only portend future projects as expansive as your imagination. Coming soon: Public Enemy’s Fear of a Crunk Planet—the Lil Jon Remixes!


The Nerd Behind the Mask

Ever wonder why rappers change their names so much? They’re growing up. Cocky bastards that they are, the Jiggas and P-Diddys update their handles every so often to let the world in on even the minutest personal development. Fine, if it helps them cope. But don’t expect Slim’s or Marshall’s or whoever’s next LP to be any grand departure from the Eminem album that Jimmy Iovine paid for. MCs with nothing to lose, on the other hand—ones who, as De La Soul put it, “fell the fugghhh off” long before gold was the lowest acceptable sales standard—experience much more dynamic character arcs, emerging as if from behind Ricki Lake’s curtains, wholly made over. When Kool Keith morphed into Dr. Octagon, he grew into his dirty old manhood. As Deltron 3030, Del came out of a drug-and-freestyle-induced haze an aging hippie, brooding over our planet’s future. Now, hidden behind the Metal Face of Doom, a hip-hop Michael Stipe finds a new religion in rocking the mic.

From the beginning, MF Doom was heavily at risk for an identity crisis. In 1989 he debuted as Zev Love X, the token black guy on 3rd Bass’s “Gas Face,” a song that featured two white rappers criticizing white people for demonizing black culture. Zev’s cleanup verse was mostly meaningless, but his anxious release and quirky wordplay (“Cash or credit for unleaded at Sunoco”) were enough to set off the “yo, who’s that?” ripple that had launched so many rap careers before him. Wigger sponsorship aside, Zev and crew KMD came out preaching to the gods and earths alongside Five-Percent nationalists like Brand Nubian. Their first album, Mr. Hood, was a primer for Islamic teens cast in beats, rhymes, and cartoons. (Remember “Peach Fuzz,” rap’s only ode to adolescent stubble?) But “pro-blackness,” arguably the first mass-marketed hip-hop trend, faded fast, and by 1993 KMD were ejected from Elektra ostensibly because the cover art for their on-deck second album, Blck Bstrds, was too inflammatory. No more than a year later, Zev Love X shipwrecked on rocks way sharper than his professional ones: His brother and musical partner Subroc was hit and killed by a car.

Zev resurfaced—sort of—in 1999 wearing a Marvel Comics Halloween mask and calling himself MF Doom. His Operation: Doomsday buzzed underground but was hard to come by. Old schoolers being all the rage on small labels these days (the Large Professor is on Matador and Oh, how the mighty—KRS-One, Grand Puba, and even RZA—have signed to Koch). Sub Verse rereleased both Doomsday and Blck Bstrds this May. As promised, the album jacket for Blck Bstrds—a lynched Sambo—smokes, but there’s no fire within. The lyrics, when decipherable, are limited to weed and women. There’s no well-intentioned anti-pork propaganda, just signs of boys turning to men and handling it poorly: “Who said I drink? I don’t drink. I guzzle. . . . I got stress, I sip booze to heal it.” Without Allah, KMD were like the Leaders of the New School sans Busta, rushing garbled rhymes over muddy, indistinguishable two-bar loops. Were it not for Zev Love X’s current incarnation, KMD might eventually wind up in the next ego trip Book of Lists, stuck between the UMCs and Fu-Schnickens under Whatever Happened To . . . ?

So: “Why don’t you tell him about the time we faced Doom?” Sound bites nabbed from episodes of The Fantastic Four and the movie Wildstyle clue us in: Our hero has been resurrected as a “super villain,” a tortured personality who shies from the spotlight while at the same time plotting world domination yada, yada, yada. The shtick is beside the point; Doom is a purist now. The anxious, mumble-mouthed lyrics filled with “knowledge of self” rhetoric have calmed into a casual stream of confident, clever self-promotion. Fortunately, Doom rhymes with tongue in cheek as well as dick in hand, frequently slipping off the inflated ego and revealing the cynical, self-deprecating nerd behind the iron mask, admitting, “I only play the games that I win at.” In fact, if there is anything truly villainous about Doom, it’s that he subverts hip-hop’s foundation of taking oneself way too seriously by acknowledging that it’s all just tall tales: “Me, sci-fly, whole style stuck-up/Used to talk to myself, I told him, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ” Imagine Wu-Tang unclenched; Doom often likes to knowingly suspend disbelief, kick back with us and watch his own fantastic exploits from the safety of third-person: “He’s like a ventriloquist with his hand in the speaker’s back.” And even then, he never seems too excited to see himself, always rhyming as if in repose and simply exchanging pleasantries. (Sometimes he is: “Anyhoo, how ’bout them Yankees?”) When Doom is actually ready to accept his own praise, he does so with such humility and finesse that it’s pointless to argue: “This fly flow takes practice like Tae Bo with Billy Blanks/Oh, you’re too kind. Really, thanks.”

Doom also likes to name-drop archvillain Slobodan Milosevic, but the worst of his own crimes amounts to sampling without a license. Everyone from Steely Dan to Sade gets gouged, the latter losing several bars and the chorus of her “Kiss of Life” to “Doomsday.” It’s all fun and games until someone loses a lawsuit, but our (anti)hero doesn’t seem worried. He acknowledges his sources with winks in lieu of payment, like the last line of the Scooby-scooping “Hey”: “to all my other brothers who is doing unsettling bids, you could have gotten away if was not for those meddling kids.” And when he pulls from James Ingram or Atlantic Starr, he strips the polish off, dicing their smooth r&b and crumbling it over jagged drums straight out of the RZA’s missing chamber.

And samples aren’t all that MF Doom won’t credit—he won’t give Elektra credit for derailing his career eight years ago, either. Even the adverse effect of his brother’s death gets only a passing nod on “Red and Gold”: “I been bent back since my physical went back.” Other than that, MF Doom seems to have settled with his past and put aside all his childhood pursuits . . . well, all except one. “As the life cycle goes on,” he rhymes on “The Finest,” “you learn to hold on to things like the mic.” But unlike most guys still struggling to check one-two in their twilight years, Doom somehow managed to fall completely off and come back, not just older, not just more genuine, but a hell of a lot cooler the second time around.

MF Doom will perform at S.O.B.’s August 15.