Born Daniel Dumile, the artist best known as DOOM has not let a simple thing like a name slow him down. Spanning decades with many different alter-egos, his music and his characters has sparked the imagination of generations of music lovers. DOOM, in this rare interview with ACCLAIM speaks of his State of Origin shirt wearing Oz tour, collaborating with Madlib and gives some valuable advice to upcoming musicians.
Your music has now spanned decades, how would you describe your music to someone new to the DOOM sound?
I would just play them shit, you know? But if I had to give them a one or two word description I would say – ‘funky’ and ‘free’ and ‘conversational’. Coffee-table-top-lounge-lifestyle.
While you have legions of impassioned fans, you’ve always been labelled as ‘underground’ – what is the definition of underground hip-hop to you?
Underground hip-hop to me is similar to the underworld, the criminal underworld. It’s the place where I draw things from – it’s not something you can buy at your usual grocery store if you know what I mean, it’s something you’ve gotta go to the streets to get. The black market, where the raw is at.
You recently toured Australia with Ghostface Killer and XL Chino – at the gig I caught you were wearing a State of Origin shirt – how did you find the experience? Did it compare with the bigger shows in the UK and America?
It’s quite different – but similar in certain ways – you know like the cities of New York and London – but the attitude and the people are different, I wouldn’t say better or worse. But I love London though, for its music especially. But it was different; Brisbane to Melbourne even was different. But it was cool; you know what I’m saying?
Where did you get the State of Origin shirt from?
I went and got the gear from the mall! It was in – where was we at? It was a huge mall just before we got to Melbourne. I like to represent wherever we are playing.
You’ve said your audience should come to your gigs to hear not see—what would be your ideal venue for performing?
Like a huge empty park, definitely outdoors. Like the hugest park they’ve got, Central Park, or what’s the biggest park? Like a park in Africa – one of those huge big game parks. That would be the quintessential park, I think. All they gotta do is lay back, close their eyes, enjoy the sun and listen.
It could be daytime, it could be night-time, it could be in a theatre somewhere, but the important visuals are the ones you get when you close your eyes. It’s about what the sound sounds like, the frequency, the decibel even, that’s where I put things in that people can draw from. What I’m doing up there on stage, walking around, I’m not dancing around – I might do one little dance – it’s not a visual show. It’s about the audio.
How important do you think it is to create a public image of yourself as an artist? With so many artists now online to promote their music, do you ever think music will just speak for itself?
You know, I don’t think about my image, I just act and do it. Whatever other people think of that is up to them. I do it for the people that dig it. I don’t think about myself as an individual, when I make music especially, I’m outside of me. I am not ‘the character’ I’m just drawing from other things. I put ideas into a certain character, so as for how people see that I’m kinda out of it.
Which one of your alter egos do you find more enjoyable to play or write as?
It really changes; depending on what product I’m working on. I’ve just finished up the DOOM project, so now I’m working on the Victor project, I’m getting into the Victor character again.
Do you put much time into developing a backstory for each character?
Yeah, there’s a lot of time that goes into it – man hours – if you look at it like that. There’s a lot of study. But it’s worth it. But I put it all in so you can really see what I’m trying to say to people.
What do you think draws people – or yourself – to ‘villainous’ characters?
You know, there’s a lot to that. In the United States, where I grew up anyway, it seems that the darker you are the more you’re perceived as a villain anyway. You grow up constantly being taunted and looked down upon, you know, so I always related to the villain. No matter how much he would break, or be criticised or whatever, he always finds a way to still succeed, he never really loses, he keeps coming back.
I relate to the villain in that way. Be the underdog. Be the nerd. You know, I never played sports in school or whatever, so I would be the nerd – whenever people are judging you or ostracising you – just be the underdog. Be the villain.
The process of writing music and writing verse must differ immensely – but which do you prefer?
It tends to flip – when one gets boring I do the other. It’s something new to do. I get bored of each of them (laughs) so I do the other for a few months, steady, and then I’ll be like ‘uh, maybe I could make some beats.’ But I don’t stop – I’m always doing them, I’m always writing. But when I’m actually making the song, it can flip-flop, depending on the time of year or how many records I’m producing. But you know it’s not like there’s a shortage of beats in the world (laughs).
You seem to tell stories with each track you make – with such a passion for story telling, would you ever consider writing a novel or creating a comic book?
Yeah definitely, a novel would be something I would love to do. Maybe an autobiography that would be semi-fictional, or even like a sci-fi novel. Something based in the future. That whole feel of that genre would be my style.
Your new album Key to the Kuffs is with Jenerio Jarel – what drew you to him as a producer?
Yeah he did most of the beats, I arranged them, and mixed some of them. But mostly, he did the beats and I just had to pick them! But we’d been meaning to work together for a while. We have a lot in common, and we’re always talking together about music, so when it finally came time to do a record together there was so much that just came together. You know, you know somebody and you dig their production style and his is just, well it’s something new. I’d be listening and be like ‘wow, where’d you get that from? How’d you do that?’ so anything that can surprise me as a producer makes me excited, you know? He really stepped up to the plate.
It’s your fourth collaborative album, but you’ve worked with so many artists—De La Soul, Rza, Madlib, Talib Kweli, Prince Paul, Vast Aire, Peanut Butter Wolf, MF Grimm, OhNo, Thom Yorke and Dilla to name a few—who has been your favourite to work with?
(laughs) Wow, they’re all my brothers! I don’t wanna choose just one, you know what I’m sayin? But working with Madlib, I mean, we get along good, he’s a good brother of mine and so if I had to say like now, in this instant, I would say him. We haven’t worked together in a while so I kinda miss rhyming over his beats. They’re simple, to the point, they tell a story already when I listen to it, so it’s not hard to get an idea from it. It’s rare to make tracks from as many sources as he does – he gets it from [listening to] a million records, from old soul classics from every country in the world, he sources a million ideas – jazz, folk – so that’s why I dig a brother.
I feel like you guys have the same sense of humour when it comes to music.
Yeah, that’s totally it. He never speaks much (laughs) but he laughs a lot. And that’s what it comes down to with music – it’s all about how you relate to the beat, and how you relate to the brother who makes the beat. I would never do an album with a person I don’t know, I kinda have to know them so there’s a certain cohesion. You have to really listen to music to hear that it’s not just thrown together.
You’ve had so many great albums and collaborations, but what would you say has been your greatest achievement as an artist?
I don’t know yet. I don’t think I’ve done it! I just keep going, I never really stop and look back. I couldn’t tell you, the audience is gonna have to be the judge of that. The listener is gonna have to be the final judge. To me all of it is ill! You know, my next mountain would be something like teaching the youth, education is a big part of my writing – I want a bit of weight to it, without it being corny or preachy. Any form of education that you can mix with art and media. A novel, even, like we was talking. A lot of people don’t read these days – they listen to rap music. There are different forms of teaching these days.
Your music can be quite dark, but there’s always an element of humour and positivity to it, is that what you want to teach?
I have to be in a good mood to write music! I have to be happy and funny – that’s when I do my best stuff. It’s a matter of profession; too, I mean things can be perceived as dark or light to a listener, it depends on the mood or where your standing. But this [music] is my lighter side, if I wrote from my dark side, you’d all be in for something, lemme tell you! This is where I make light and weed out the ‘darkness’ of it. This, to me, is the standard of street news, not the stuff you hear about on the TV, you gotta talk to people to get the real news. So it maybe a little shocking, but it’s what’s going on planet Earth.
Do you have any advice for upcoming producers/emcees that look up to you?
Wow, I’m surprised if anyone would look up to me! If they do, then that’s good, but I consider myself a peer. I’m learning from people all the time too. But if I could give anyone advice? I would say: keep doing what you doing, no matter of anybody else, any outside influence might say, if you know what you doing, if you got a plan, then stick to the plan. You’ll see it come into fruition regardless. To my brothers and sisters out there: all of y’all, follow what you doing, and do it to the best of your ability and get money.