Interview with a Villain 

Teach your babies well, or MF Doom will do it for you.

"Doom, I presume?" I politely ask. "What up, kid?" answers the slightly slurred voice, one fairly ubiquitous in the indie rap field in the past few years: none other than MF Doom. the illinest supervillain, the vaudevillian MC, one of America's most blunted, the fancy clown himself, calling from Las Vegas.

He speaks just like he raps -- in the language of well-articulated inner-city Ebonics -- but between all the "nameens" and "knowhamsayns," the occasional four-syllable word ("magnanimous," say) slips in. The MC still drops the math and science lessons he learned long ago as Zevlove X of Golden Age group KMD, but today, as the mask-wearing, fully reformed character MF Doom, the rapper is still getting right down to the real nitty gritty, as Zevlove X once boasted. Since blasting back on the scene in 1999 with the underground classic Operation Doomsday, Doom has emerged as a derelict of dialect for a new generation, with a mission statement no less grandiose than "the rebuilding of hip-hop culture."

"Have I accomplished this mission? Definitely not. It's an ongoing thing, nameen?" he reasons. As for his motive, "Just like anything that starts out pure, anything that can be capitalized, that starts out pure, whether it's art, like fashion, knowhamsayn? As it gets into the mainstream, [and people] start making money off it, you get the watered-down versions, and the versions that don't got an integrity." For example, "Being in The Source being based on the dollar amount, as opposed to the quality or the fun, you know? There were other kids that were droppin' it before money was involved in it, you know. Those things are concrete things, they need to be there, whether or not the money side is there, in order for the whole thing to stand firm."

At one point back in the KMD days, Doom was on Elektra, a major label. But since then he's become an indie icon, a ghetto savant who has pimped his antihero shtick to the point where he's become a champion and a visionary. Average MCs are like TV bloopers/MF Doom, he's like D.B. Cooper, he boasts on his new Rhymesayers album, Mm..Food. Stack that line with The cold hand reaches for the old tan Ellesses, a line from Madvillainy, this year's Marvel Team Up-worthy pairing with producer Madlib. The difference, perhaps, between Doom and all the other rappers is that he knows his shtick is a shtick, while other cats might be getting caught up in actually believing their own image.

But who is MF Doom, anyway? More than just an excuse for the rapper to talk about himself in the third person, Doom represents the inner megalomaniac in all of us. "Yeah, that dude," he laughs. "That dude is the villain. He's known as the supervillain. Self-proclaimed, as they say." Doom's secret is that he's really a nerd, the guy that maybe got picked on in high school, who "didn't have the freshest kicks" and "never had a chance to pop the chain." Doom represents, he says, the average Joe, because "Everybody ain't the cool guy, there's like one cool guy out of twenty motherfuckers, nameen? It's more of us than them, so I figure the supervillain is the one to represent that guy. I think that guy hasn't been represented in hip-hop really for a long time."

But you can't have either a supervillain or a superhero without an alter ego -- Superman had Clark Kent, Daredevil had Matt Murdock, and Darth Vader had Anakin Skywalker -- thus Doom's doppelgänger Viktor Vaughn, star of the albums Vaudeville Villain and Venomous Villain. But "Vik," as his creator calls him, isn't simply Doom out of costume.

Instead, Viktor Vaughn "is like a Bizarro Doom, if I can use that expression and whatnot. He's like the Doom from another dimension. But at the same time, it's another timeline, you know? Doom is known to dabble in science and technology here and there. But then Vik, in his dimension, technology might've been a little further along, so he had access to maybe quantum mechanics and all that a little earlier. He could devise a time travel machine, so that now you got Vik, he ends up in this dimension, but he's a little younger. He's a nineteen-, kinda eighteen-year-old, kinda hotshot. He's a know-it-all kinda guy. But he's nice on the mic, knowhamsayn? But he's still out of place. He's not even from here. But at the same time, he got that vigor, that young vigor that makes you say, 'It don't matter, like whatever. Like, well, y'all rhyme out here too, let's do it.' Nameen? It's really like I had to like make a Vik just so that I could speak for that other side. You know, because that side is valid too. We all remember being younger and kinda wild, a little rebellious. So I think that side needed a voice too."

But while Viktor Vaughn counterbalances Doom, at the same time, "he don't know as much as he think he know." That's why he sometimes comes off as a bit of a jerk, as in the song "Let Me Watch" from Vaudeville Villain, where Apani B., portraying Vik's girlfriend Nikki, declares I'd rather masturbate than fuck with Vik Vaughn after he dogs her out.

"Sometimes the dude be no good and the woman got her feelings invested in a relationship," Doom explains. "She gets dogged out so many times, it's like war wounds. It's like you're going to war and you come out battle-scarred. Now you're hardened. So that's what make that woman like that, that's gonna break the next man's heart. Something had to start it, nameen?"

That theme is one Doom explores further on "Guinnesses," a key track from Mm..Food (an anagram for MF Doom), which concocts a batch of songs ostensibly about food, then flips them into double-edged metaphors. The Guinnesses in this case are a tragic point of departure, catalysts for the traumatic events that follow. The record's other tracks have equally duplicitous meanings: "Beef Rapp" is Doom's commentary on the ultraviolence too prevalent in hip-hop these days -- "There's just no place for that" in music, he says, somewhat angrily. "Rapp Snitch Knishes" follows along a similar vein, addressing the topic of crime and its overuse among rappers.

"The jewel on that one, it's really like straight up and down, pretty cut and dried: How MCs in the rap game and whatnot started really leaning toward the gangster kinda thing," Doom says. "But c'mon, no one, you have a record talking like, you-killed-like-five-people-type shit. Ain't no statute of limitations on murder, though. I don't know how these niggas gonna tell on theyself, record it, put it out for the world to hear, and ain't gonna get in no trouble. Or somebody's not gonna get in trouble. Or even talking too much about crime. That shit's illegal. It's really talking how rap snitches telling all they business, they telling on theyself really. So in court, who's the star witness? They own self pointing at theyself. So it's really like a lesson to these cats that's like stuck on the crime topic. It's only getting them in trouble."

Just like any true supervillain, Doom has plans for future world domination. "The type of plan I got, I can reveal without threat of it being thwarted," he intones cryptically. "It's all about the youth, it's all about the babies, nameen? It's like, whether they have parents or not or whether they have their older brothers, the role we play as entertainers is so instrumental. Because the cat that might come home from school, his mom might scream on him, so he throw on a CD, listen to that shit for like four or five hours in a row. So that's who's talking to him right there." With every album he does, therefore, Doom's voice grows stronger, along with his influence. "I'm in the crib talking to your seeds, knowhamsayn? I'm-a tell 'em what they need to know if you don't tell 'em."

You can almost hear the fiendish laughter in the background.

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