What the MF, DOOM?

Hip-hop's villain reveals what's under the mask — sort of

DOOM's most infamous public appearance in Atlanta could best be called a caper.

Booked to perform at MJQ Concourse in December 2007, most accounts allege he sent along a stand-in to perform - an imposter who subsequently strutted off stage after 20 minutes of maligned lip-sync action.

This time around, DOOM's definitely in the house, holding court at Django's on Peachtree Street, ostensibly to promote his latest album, Born Like This, the project which sparked his all-caps name change and takes its title from a line in the Charles Bukowski poem, "Dinosauria, We."

A uniformed cop stands guard at the door, where the codeword "villain" must be given to enter. Upstairs, it's as if DOOM has turned the venue into a hideout. The masked man himself sits center stage behind a large table. There's a laptop to one side, a closely guarded metal case with undisclosed contents to the other, and four cronies with identities obscured by balaclavas and stockings over their faces fill out the scene.

Sitting like the boss of operations, DOOM says in that distinctive buttery voice of his, "I'm in here every day. This is like the club house."

Three hours later, after they've made their way downstairs for a photo shoot and ravaged the bar, DOOM and his troops will exit the scene, strutting out through the front door in an organized single-file line. No one among the bar staff seems to have ever seen DOOM in the venue before. Of course, most have no idea who he's supposed to be, either.? Chalk another one up to ol' Metal Face's ongoing and highly engaging smoke and mirrors show.

Whether you're still fuming over $30 spent on a ticket for DOOM's alleged no-show show, or whether you're willing to accept that the stunt was all part of DOOM's masked persona at work - as confessed in an open letter to Elemental magazine back in 2005 after he sent a hype man to pose as him for a cover shoot - there are few characters in the world of music more intriguing than the various incarnations of DOOM, cooked up by Daniel Dumile.

From behind his fabled metal mask (actually one of four currently in rotation), Doom has taken creative and commercial liberties, licensing various personas to a litter of labels. He's recorded under alter egos ranging from King Gheedorah, a three-headed monster, to vaudeville villain Viktor Vaughn.

His songs brim with the same seductive obliqueness. Few DOOM verses are straight-forward, and few lyricists pull off the balancing act between being tricky and memorable with such prowess. Now with Radiohead's Thom Yorke and indie rock darlings TV On the Radio remixing tracks from Born Like This, DOOM's prepped to amplify his rhymed musings on the largest scale yet.

But for those who can't help but wonder how seriously they should take him, DOOM refers to the album track "Costume Foolery" on which he snarls at a gaggle of superheroes looking "like a leotard fest."

A lot of my stuff is toying around," he says. "Obviously I ain't robbed Batman and them! There's obviously a lot of fiction mixed in with it, so I'd say it's usually a fictional play on a reality situation with me.

I think adults either get it or they don't," he says regarding the iconic mask that serves as his shield and literary sword. "I'm multi-faceted so this is my way of not being pigeon-holed into one character. I use the example of 2Pac - a prolific writer, very talented human being all around, with many facets - but I think a lot of times his work, his MC work, got kinda cornered 'cause it's 'you' and it's your face. But with the mask, I can do different sides of things."

When, as if despairing at grown folks who don't know how to react to the imaginative malleability of the metal face, DOOM adds, "Children though, they love the mystique about the mask. They're not as stand-offish as adults who might be like, 'Oh, I see the mask, what's gonna happen next?' Children gravitate towards it, looking at you friendly at first, like a superhero. They love it."

Jaunt at Django's aside, these days Dumile claims he lives some version of the quiet life just outside the city. "Atlanta's a unique place," says the native New Yorker. "I definitely like it here, it's comfortable. I really moved out here for the simple fact of children, the environment, schools, better to raise children here."

But when it comes to DOOM the character, he talks determinedly about becoming a "gazzillionaire" - a fanciful number that's used in the title of a track on the new album. And when he says, "I go do a show, see that the fans know all the lyrics, and I'm like, Oh, so you have been listening!" it's as if that night at MJQ was just another staged mirage long since forgotten in the winds of DOOM's infectious ether.

Sitting there, with a batch of empty shot glasses scattered on the table before him, he attempts to add some sort of clarity to the shenanigans. "It's like I'm still speaking to you now as the author," DOOM says, before pointing to the mask on his face and explaining, "This is for aesthetics. So when you write this up you'll be like, 'Well, so he had the mask on. I wonder if he wears it everyday?'"

When, a knowing pause, before he says: "For the record, I do."