The man behind the DOOM mask
After meeting the renowned hip-hop artist at a hotel bar, Mpho Moshe Matheolane sits down with DOOM to talk about marriage, jazz and writing.
"Bad news today is cancelled. Really sorry but we just made the decision. He needs to rest, not feeling 100%. You should have enough material to produce an interview. If not, email the further questions. Once again, apologies."
And that was the text message that I received from Adrian, Daniel Dumile's manager, on that fateful Tuesday morning last week, two days after the Cape Town Jazz Festival had come to a close and four days since my serendipitous encounter with the man behind the eccentric mask that is DOOM.
Adrian had informed me on Sunday, after yet another possible appointment fell through, that they would be leaving on Tuesday evening. All I really needed, I told myself, was 30 minutes at the very least. I had more than enough time to put together some good questions; I had taken counsel from fellow DOOM enthusiasts and thus was nothing but prepared.
Feeling desperate that my last chance to interview Daniel Dumile was passing me by, I took matters into my own hands and promptly decided to go and wait in the hotel foyer in the hopes of spotting Adrian. I figured that if he sees me in person he would have no choice but to just tell me straight if I am getting the interview or not.
After a long pause, I saw Adrian and finally found myself in the company of Dumile once again.They had just returned from the recording studios and were a bit knackered. We were at the same place where we had originally met the week before, the bar at the hotel foyer. But before we could even start, and to my immediate dismay, Dumile informed me that he did not want to do a formal interview and preferred instead to just have a conversation, assuring me that we could do the formalities later in the evening.
I should've known better since the 'later in the evening' never did happen. The alternative Tuesday morning also didn't happen. Regardless, and I say this with a recovering heavy heart, our brief conversation was an eye-opener, albeit a limited one.
I am not quite sure how it came about but after inviting me to join him at the bar the question of marriage came up. I answered in the affirmative, careful not to overshare.
"God bless," Dumile responded jovially. "That's a beautiful thing man. Me myself, I been married for twelve years and we've known each other for a longer time than that. Our families are close so it was probably always going to happen, I guess. She used to be in the banking industry so naturally [laughs] she's the one who handles all the finances, like when I worked on the MadVillainy album with Madlib – that was her."
Dumile was surprisingly not guarded at all. His voice and mannerisms were the exact replica of the animated character that one hears in almost all of his albums. It was as if, at any moment, he could randomly start rhyming.
Well aware that we were just having a conversation, some questions nevertheless found their way in; looking back I'd say 'fortunately.' Remembering that he is currently based in London I asked if he found it more conducive for his work as opposed to the US.
"I am forced to live there at the moment, some citizenship-related thing about where I was born that I am trying to resolve. My family is still in the US."
For those who don't know, Dumile is a UK-born citizen but grew up in the US from a young age after his parents relocated. His father is Zimbabwean and his mother British by birth.
I asked him when Robert Glasper come into the picture, noting how well Glasper and his band gave his music a refreshing feel of jazz.
"Glasper is like all ambidextrous and shit. When I first saw him in the studio, his hands were doing all kinds of crazy shit like it weren't a thing. He's a giant, he's got that magic and more importantly, he is comfortable in his magic. We worked together at the Montreux Jazz Festival, two iTunes concerts in the US and in London and this festival right here in Cape Town – so this is our fourth one if I am not mistaken."
"Jazz ... I love jazz. Usually when I get home I'll put on some jazz station with my daughter and just let it play. I know way more about jazz than I do about anything else [even hip hop]. I listen only to jazz ... strictly" he adds.
"I know all the old school cats like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker and all the new cats too. Listening to jazz is like ... it's always saying what I am thinking with its moods, styles and different cadences. Those patterns of jazz music are reflected in the way I write but I don't set out to make records that sound like jazz.
"I think that, that's probably something that Robert [Glasper] picked up on and that's why he wanted us to work together and for me to be a part of his experience."
I had mentioned the late Zim Ngqawana while talking about some of South Africa's great jazz musicians but it seems that Ngqawana's name had Dumile temporarily transfixed in its pronunciation. Impressively it took him only three tries to do get it right as he laughed at himself and said, "My father was always trying to get us to pronounce the clicks properly when we were growing up. I was always like, what the fuck am I going to do with clicks in the US? But here I am now and it makes sense."
When I told him that Ngqawana used his mother-tongue, isiXhosa in his music Dumile surprisingly added with excitement, "Xhosa! That's my father's language. That's his lineage right there, from Zimbabwe, yeah. I should put you in touch with my father. He'd be the person to talk to because he knows more about where we come from than me."
Minutes later, Adrian indicated that it was time to go. Time, it would seem was never on my side. Although I had wanted more out of my talk with Dumile, looking back now, I'd say it is probably simple conversations such as the one we had that revealed more about the man behind the mask than anything else would have.
In his own words, he said it best: "I am a writer and it's something that I am very serious about. See, it's as a writer that I am talking to you. Those characters [DOOM, MF, King Gheedrah] are just creations of my writing. So who you're talking to right now, that's Dumile. DOOM is just an act that I put on and that's why I wear the mask with him. I am not a celebrity rapper like some of them other people, nothing like that. I just do what I do - writing and making music that's all."