Out with the bling: Name-Shifting rapper sticks to sampled tracks

James Levy

Without Lex Luthor, Superman probably would be just another spacey, tights-wearing urbanite with allergies. At least according to MF Doom’s somewhat-blunted logic.

“Every hero needs a villain to stay relevant,” said the character-driven rapper who plays Monday at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace St. The show will take place a day before the release of “MM Food,” the follow-up to 2001s “Operation: Doomsday.”

Doom must be on to something because he has the underground hip-hop community convinced his self-described “evil schemes” are a beacon of hope.

His grandest plot? For someone who has played a game of musical monikers with alter-egos Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah and Metal Fingers, surely MF Doom’s intentions are to create a boundary between the artist and the ‘narrator.’ His discussion of technique suggests maybe we should have listened in English class after all.

“Everyone always plays the hero out,” he said. “Nobody speaks up for the villain. Conceit needs to be balanced out by the real cats, the ones who don’t always get the girl or win the game.”

And, if possible, that’s Doom’s mantra in a nutshell.

Having honed the braggadocio he’s been hinting at since KMD’s “Black Bastards” album, Doom purrs through songs like “Hoe Cakes” on “MM Food,” concerned with nothing other than upping the fun factor.

“Not everything is either gangster or pimped out,” he said. “If this gets people buzzing, it’s gonna because it’s good music, good vibes.”

He references jazz singers like Chicago luminary Kurt Elling to emphasize his point, and mentions the scaled-down approach of his current tour.

“With these guys, it’s not about fireworks or crazy dancing,” Doom said. “Sometimes, it’s just the microphone, the mask and the beat.” He laughed menacingly. “You know, straight rhymes.”

Since his pre-villain days as indie-rap pioneer Zev Love X, Doom — known as Daniel Dumile by day — has made a habit of defying genre convention, even if it means costing him most of the mainstream exposure some of his peers have attained. It doesn’t take a public relations guru to understand that constantly switching stage names can confuse the average listener. It’s not surprising then that Doom enthusiasts are known for being somewhat rare, as well as uncommonly loyal.

The cotton-mouthed chameleon gained many new listeners this past year, however, as his “Madvillainy” collaboration with Madlib yielded praise from publications as prestigious as The New Yorker and The Washington Post. The collection hit a chord with bling-hating purists by exacting a direct cross between Doom’s lyrical Mobius strip spinning and Madlib’s jazz heavy breakstrokes.

Full of Fantastic Four cartoon samples and hazy production, “Madvillainy” provided a perfect combination of MF Doom’s strengths: irreverent politics, alias juggling ‘cameos’ and a rhyme-at-all-costs mentality. By sampling almost entirely pre-recorded material, he also defiantly spurned the growing hip-hop trend of shelving samples in favor of keyboard loops and drum machines. Conscious of this choice, Doom feels DJs and producers thus far only have touched upon the immeasurable opportunity permitted by sampling.

“Anything that I’ve ever done is only partially attributed to me,” he said, before interjecting — “though it is processed through me.”

He paused, as if interrupting himself.

“It’s my past and my present combined,” he said. “So if a cat wants to use my sound to help make their own, I’ll definitely be all for them using it. I’m just keeping the flow of things, you know?”4

Medill freshman James Levy is a PLAY writer. He can be reached at [email protected]