DOOM (currently sans MF for reasons unclear), Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah… the list of personas created and inhabited by the rapper/producer/all around metal-masked oddball goes on. Each has its own unique characteristics – DOOM, for example, is a “typical villain… always looked at as the bad guy, but he really has a heart of gold”, while Geedorah “is from outer space… an idyllic being… a 300-foot, three-headed dragon”. Both quotes are pulled from a recent video interview, filmed in Madrid, during which the audience is treated to occasional flashes of the rarest persona of all – Daniel Dumile. The mask, of course, stays firmly in place, but over the course of the 100-minute Q&A session we hear how the man behind it needs music not only as a means of expression, but as means to an end – how it raised him, how it helped him through the tragic death of his DJ and younger brother Subroc and how, years later, it feeds his family.
Mystery and intrigue aside, the burning question on this chilly November evening is this: will any of his colourful cast of characters show at all? DOOM has something of a reputation as a no-show, be it a lip-synching imposter or a straight-up void at the top of his own bill, the man’s past form reveals a rather worrying attendance rate. Two and a half anxious hours after the doors open our prayers are answered and he takes the stage to ‘Accordian’, complete with enormous hype man who, whilst presumably used to entertaining crowds many times this size, couldn’t look happier to be here. The Supervillain cuts a strange figure in the flesh – with a muted jumper pulled tight over his substantial belly and a pair of prescription glasses sitting comically over the trademark mask – but it’s his unique music, his true calling card, that brought us here, and for the next hour or so our esteemed host entertains in the way that only he can.
Now in its third decade of service, his voice is darker than ever before, and his deliberately deadpan delivery only adds to the comic effect of his often absurd lyrics – even after countless listens and several years, it’s hard not to laugh when he interrupts his own flow with a rasping “don’t talk about my moms, yo!” Though often intentionally sloppy and skewed, he doesn’t shy away from the kind of verse that would leave lesser MCs reeling, frequently cramming ludicrous strings of internal rhymes and impossible numbers of syllables into just a few lines without so much as pausing for breath: “do not stand still/ both show skills/ close but no crills/ toast for po’ ills/ post no bills/ coast to coast Joe Shmoes flows ill/ go chill/ not supposed to overdose, no ‘doz pills” – ‘Figaro’).
As my partner in crime for the evening notes, tonight’s setlist is a crowd-pleaser. Drawn largely from career-highlights Madvillainy and Mm.. Food, it’s concise but effective, and the crowd is indeed conclusively pleased. Heads bob and hands bounce from lights down to lights up and the assembled throng yells obliging in all the right places, from the now-standard ‘Hoe Cakes’ (super!) to King Geedorah cut ‘Fazers’ (rule number one? Keep your fazers on stun!).
Oxford is hardly famed for its hip-hop scene and it’s difficult to say exactly what brought the metal-faced one to Cowley Road – his recent, excellent, collaboration with Messrs Yorke and Greenwood perhaps providing the crucial clue – but judging by the beaming faces and sweaty bodies that disperse at the end of the evening, what scene there is could hardly be more delighted that he did.