Still coughing up jewels
Clash Magazine - DOOM interview

As Clash stamped out a cigarette and jumped into an Addison Lee, a cartoon DOOM mask, the grim one he wears on the ‘Madvillainy’ cover, appeared among the clouds, scowling at our attempts to root him out at his secret HQ. The publicist spoke hushed into our BlackBerry as we cruised down King William Street under the Monument: “DOOM hasn’t spoken to a UK journalist in four years, but I’m sure it’ll be okay...”

The taxi ground to a halt. We were led into a building by the publicist, and sat down in a room. Presently Jneiro Jarel walks in, whom we recognized from the press shots as DOOM’s producer for this album. Jarel smiles, eager to please, telling Clash about a shoot DOOM and he had just been doing. He prefaces comments with “I wish DOOM was here to hear me say this”, and seems a little uneasy on his own.

Time passes.

The irrepressible publicist arrives with some Guinness for everyone. We remember people talking about DOOM’s drinking, the wasteland era; before he put on a stocking cap to rip mics in the Nuyoricans Poets Cafe, on East 3rd Street, New York; after his brother died crossing the Long Island Expressway in 1993. We sip our beers and wonder how long it’s going to be for DOOM to come. Momentarily the door opens and someone, an intern maybe, enters and sits down and starts to talk to Jarel. “This is DOOM,” says Jarel. Clash suppresses a double-take. DOOM!

How does a face you see only through a brushed-steel visor come across with the maskless and cordial meet-and-greets? Very fucking different - relievingly friendly - and subliminally disappointing. The visual gravitas of DOOM is totally reversed by the goofy friendliness of this guy. He has a tufty, sparse black beard, a pair of small rectangular black glasses, with a sticky-out lower lip which is always bobbing when he’s talking, or splayed out wide when he smiles, which is a lot. He is very friendly, and it is harder than ever to equate the two personas - the artist, spewing out his inchoate, beautiful bars, and the lovely and more run-of-the-mill Daniel Dumile.

DOOM has a new collaborative name, JJ DOOM, which incorporates Jarel, and they have been working on a new album, which is called ‘Key To The Kuffs’, which is out this month. The album contains some brilliant new DOOM material, alongside enough references to DOOM’s motherland to convince us that he’s been worrying Homeland Security more than a few times with his metal stow-on allowance. The standout track is ‘Winter Blues’, ostensibly a love song, with living proof that DOOM is in rare fettle: “Need a handful of melanin / Feeling of a lambswool beard on your tender skin / Might give you a shock initially / As we reconnect up the flow electricity / The phenomenal melanin biopolymer/ Followed by a glass of merlot I could swallow her”.

DOOM veers into his artist persona at one point, when he describes the process that engenders bars like the above: “I’m thinking about people, about how that [rhyme] is going to accept into their patterns of thinking, their psyche. I could do just the set style, or I could get the strangest beat. I know how Jarel works, I can see his patterns. I can see it, I can hear it, it’s an audiovisual thing. I can find his patterns. I can see him in the room flippin’ that shit when he sends me a beat in the email.”

JJ DOOM as a conjunctive could have been expected to sound like the disco’d, bossa-nova-LA-beat-scene music that Jneiro Jarel has been known for of late, with links drawn between him and the Brainfeeder label. However the music he has created for ‘Key To The Kuffs’ has an altogether darker edge than Jarel’s abstract excursions. The album style varies within itself, with ‘Wash Your Hands’ featuring DOOM speculating whether a girl “applies itch cream to her cameltoe” and Jarel dropping a Tinie Tempah-ish siren on the beat. Another track, ‘Guv’nor’, has DOOM talking about his native cockneys again, over a lighter, textured beat that alternates between loose dice rolling percussives and agglomerating snare rolls. “Vocals spilling over like the rolling hills of Dover.”

Jarel tells Clash: “It made complete sense that eventually we would hook up - we came from the same school of hip-hop - both of us make the effort to keep things fresh. DOOM told me he was really happy about this project, because it wasn’t just him putting out [DOOM produced] Special Herb stuff. This is completely new, fresh - the first new DOOM in a long time.”

After the esoterica of his collaboration with Madlib, the more conservative yet excellent album and remix album with Danger Mouse, the classic yet untamed creativity of his ‘Vaudeville Villain’, to the more mixed 2009 long cut ‘Born Like This’ (as DOOM), there have been a number of projects in the pipeline. One of them was a collaboration project with Ghostface Killah, which was showcased at a somewhat lacklustre performance at the Roundhouse in North London. Complaining about all the white people in the audience was never going to be a clever demographic play for someone like DOOM, who falls prey to the funny little problem that leftfield artists suffer from - that unless you’re at a Best Of British night in Vauxhall or at a Beres Hammond concert in the Brixton Academy, you’re going to be surrounded by students trying to capture the special moment on their iPhone. At the last Best Of British we remember, a student attempted that and got his phone swiped by the hoodies behind him. Maybe DOOM would have appreciated this.

DOOM’s associative thought provokes the question: What does he look at to keep inspired? “I don’t really draw from other art. Mainly I’m mining into my own mind, I’m digging into that, places that only I can see, and I’m trying to bring that out so people can see.” Sounds a little freaky from DOOM; we probe further: “I’m making music the whole time, wherever I’m at I’m absorbing things to put into my music. Anything can trigger off an idea. When we get to an idea is one stage, and then we sketch it out later. It’s a twenty-four-hour-a-day job, it never goes off. Even when I’m half-asleep, I’m thinking about the next line, like ‘damn!’”

“We gon’ be making beats in Costa Rica soon though,” he exclaims. “One of my good friends is a biologist. We going there next month, I’m really into all that geeky biological stuff. Organisms, the ecliptic, the stars, you get all different types of stars you don’t get here.”

Our chat was over, and we all headed out into the morning, certifiably “cold as a witch’s tit” to borrow from DOOM’s unrivalled powers of description. As Clash listened back on what we said on the tape, it can be concluded, that despite the friendly bobbing lip and the reassuringly patchy beard, DOOM’s point of view is as fragmented, mad and unique as his raps. The mask just reminds you.

Words by Miguel Cullen
Photo by Hayley Louisa Brown

This feature appears in issue 74 of Clash magazine, out 3rd May 2012. Find out more about the issue HERE.

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