Confessions of a mask

Confessions of a mask

  • James McNally
  • Hip Hop Connection (UK)
  • June 10, 2004

You could picture it now if it wasn't so damn dark. Two weed-dazzled, workaholic time travellers convene in the west. One, fresh from crossing Eastern Standard into Pacific, enters a room so dark he knows he'll have purple spots in his eyes when he finally walks back into the California sun. Inside the room - they call it The Bomb Shelter - dusted pianos crackle and spliced drums tumble to the floor. Otis, the other guy - the one whose dusted pianos are crackling - looks up, and, shielding his eyes, greets Doom with the same four words he will always greet Doom with: "You got a blunt?"

The blunt's disembowelled, rebuilt and finally Otis's trees get incinerated - "Just enough to keep the day moving," says Doom - then the music takes over. And as time begins to fall apart Otis Jackson and Daniel Dumile lose themselves in the bump, crackle and fanfare. Time? "It's easy to get outside that shit," reckons Doom. Then he starts to spit - or should we say mutter - in that half-drunk slur of random brilliance: "Got a breadwinner style to get an inner child to fin' a smile," he says confounding even himself. The words jump up from the gutter and bite everyone's on the ears. Such is the modus operandi when the egos of two of rap's best-loved conceptualists merge as Madvillain.

It was meant to be. Otis Jackson Jr. - metaphorical father of Quasimoto and his Astral Black rap - and Daniel Dumile - progenitor of Vik Vaughn and his inter-dimensional capering - had to meet. It was in the tea leaves. Two peas in a space pod. Otis and Daniel: standard bearers in a particular line of black art (Rammellzee, George Clinton, Sun Ra) that rejects the earthly in a quest for heavenly perfection. Looking for "That vacation place" Doom calls it, talking about that moment where liberation conquers space and time and all earthly troubles melt away.

"When I seen this dude, yo, it's like that's my brother from day one," says Doom with words that can come easy and hollow, but that exit his mouth with a reassuring thunk. "Somehow, through the music, we contacted each other. Usually it'd be through a relative who'd know your family line or whatever, but it-was music, straight up." These may seem odd sentiments in a world obsessed with realness - messages encoded in music? Predestination? But what could be more real than two artists recognizing shared ideas and picking up the phone? Cast aside Doom's fabled ill communication and you could say they clicked - Otis and Daniel: the Afro-futurist Tupac and Biggie.

Need proof? Ask Doom what he and Madlib talked about, and you get told that the metaphysical connection was so great, so immediate that shared ideas could go unsaid; that, in any case, the humble producer's actions speak way louder than words. Moreover, the unspoken connection meant they were free to get straight down to music, stopping only to bone up on each others' recording techniques. "Otis? He's the master of short cuts through time. He got that part down pat, yo," marvels Doom.

Ah, once again the figure from time casts a shadow over proceedings. Otis makes no secret of his admiration for jazz musician/self- taught philosopher Sun Ra (and the concept of Quasimoto in particular reflects an intimacy with Ra's thought) and Daniel has professed himself a follower of Malachi Z York - who you could say is currently swimming around in the tabloid scandal to end all scandals - whose thought can be connected to Ra's by motifs of space, time and astral travel, as well as a veneration of ancient Egypt. So, is Doom a fan of Sun Ra too? "Definitely. definitely... You seen that movie?" Doom's referring to Space Is The Place, the 1974 John Coney directed movie that combined '50s sci-fi, '70s blaxploitation and lngmar Bergman's The Seventh Sea in an exploration of Ra's philosophy.

No, we haven't, we say. But we'd like to.

"Oh, snag, you got to see that! That kind of sums it up. It's fresh, It sums the whole thing up. It's like it was made yesterday." And with that he launches into a blow by blow exposition.

"It's about a being coming down to the poorest people of this planet. To the people most downtrodden at the time. To the people in the struggle, and he's bringing the message to them that space is the place. All this earthly shit - you know, trying to be connected to the earth and all this war and money and hounding, and all that, Anything that's evil, inherently evil, is something we don't even need. Like, he came with the plan, like 'Yo, follow his jewels and you'll see, we work on the other side of time'..." Doom pauses. "It's hard to even explain in regular English," he concedes.

HHC quotes a lyric from 'Meat Grinder': "The old man preaches about it the cold sand beaches/The cold hand reaches for the old tan Ellesses," guessing it might be related, but unsure why.

"You picked an ill lyric there," says Doom. "Actually, I was thinking about my spiritual guide and teacher Malachi Z York at the time. A lot of the things he speaks about is about finding a better way - a way to improve us spiritually, mentally, physically. So it's almost like reaching that vacation place, where we're all at total peace."

Call it telepathy, or intuition, or more likely plain old coincidence, but the lyric's shaping up to be nothing if not prescient.

"But then 'The cold hand reaches for the old tan Ellesses' - that's almost like saying 'Oh, that's where we wanna be at, but where I'm at is cold, and I'm somewhere, probably in the city, in a sneaker store, arid I'm looking for these kicks. I look at it like any metropolis is the lowest you could be. To me that's like a hell," he says, hitting an interesting tangent. "But Ellesse had the butter, butter, butter all beige tennis sneakers at one time," he continues, beginning to sound wistful, apparently unable to resist the seduction of the earthly: 'Yo, they looked like Stan Smiths almost, only in tan. I was young and broke at the time when they came out. Now I have the paper to get them, I'm trying to find them, and I can't get them nowhere, man."

You almost want to phone Ellesse and find him a pair. "It sounds like you've got an unreachable quest on your hands there," you say.

"Yeah, yeah, it's almost like reaching for that gold sand beach, you know what I mean? But the fact that you're always trying to get there is good in itself. That's how I be. The struggle's almost the answer in itself."