By Jena Ardell
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The co-owner of San Francisco club the Independent got a call from underground rapper MF Doom's agent mid-afternoon on August 15, saying the masked MC was likely too sick to make his scheduled performance that evening. Later, though, the agent called back and reversed course: Doom was good to go. But when the rapper finally took the stage at 11:45 that night, many in the audience did a double take. That's Doom?
"The first thing out of my mouth to my buddy was, 'Wow, that doesn't even look like him,' " says concertgoer Dan Schwab, a buyer for Adidas who flew down from Portland, Oregon, with his girlfriend to see the show. "He looked way skinnierat least 30 or 40 pounds lighter than the guy I've seen before. The guy who was up onstage was just walking back and forth, doing a little bit of the 'rapper hands' action and giving high-fives."
Though unverified accounts of "fake" Doom shows have been swirling for a couple years, the critically beloved rapper usually does justice to his brilliant studio catalog in concert. Schwab, for one, says Doom's performance on the same stage two years earlier was one of the best he'd seen.
But this guy was a joke.
"I went up to the sound guy about two songs deep and said, 'No one can hear Doom's mic.' He looked at me and said straight-up, 'I know. His mic's not on, and that's not MF Doom.' "
Having performed only a handful of songs, whoever it was abruptly ended his set and fled the stage; attendees booed and tossed water bottles. Doom's scheduled Independent show the next night was also canceled, as were the seven remaining dates on his tour.
Even club co-owner Allen Scott doesn't seem entirely sure what happened. "I watched the show, but I didn't see him personally," he says. "He walked [into the building] with his mask onthat's how he always does it. I can't say for certain whether it was him or not."
The concert seems to have inspired a full-scale Internet mutiny among Doom fans. Incensed YouTubers point to clips from his July 29 Rock the Bells show at Randall's Island as evidence of egregious lip-synching. Fans at his August 12 show in Los Angeles make the same charge one even put up a Craigslist post headlined, "MF Doom Show Was Fake." (Few attendees at either gig accuse him of not actually showing up, however.)
Doom's Los Angelesbased agent, Jason Swartz, says concerns for the MC's health cut the tour short. Though he wouldn't go into specifics for the Voice, the Independent's Scott recalls that Swartz "said it was some sort of circulatory problem, where his feet were swollen."
Swartz insists, however, that Doom really took the stage in San Francisco.
"He performed in L.A., he performed in New York, and he was totally at the show [in San Francisco]," he says. Asked if Doom was lip-synching, he says he doesn't know, adding, "But he's never done that before. There's rumors about this artist all the time. The guy wears a mask. He's an elusive character. He never does merch, he never signs autographs, he never does an encore. That's just his style. He's a comic-book character of a rapper. In a world where hip-hop has gotten so boring, it's nice that he has a style that he sticks to that's not boring."
Doom himself did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Mystique has certainly been central to his appeal. Born Daniel Dumile, the Long Islandbred MC's stage name is derived from Marvel Comics' supervillain Dr. Doomother alter egos include Zev Love X, Viktor Vaughn, and King Geedorah. Hardly anyone knows what he looks like without his metal mask; he once said he planned to release an album called Impostor.
In 2005, he even employed a double for a pair of photo shoots.
"He'd been calling our editor saying he wasn't feeling good and wasn't going to make it, but for the shoot he sent his hype man [Big Benn Kling-on] in the Doom mask," reports Scratch art director R. Scott Wells, referring to his magazine's story on The Mouse and the Mask, a full-length collaboration between Doom and the producer Danger Mouse. "The photographer didn't know any better, so he just went ahead and shot him. When we got the film back, we knew it wasn't Doom. Benn's a much bigger guy."
"I spoke to Doom, and he tried to tell me something to the effect of: It was a new persona he was experimenting with," says Jerry L. Barrow, who was Scratch's editor at the time. "He had some sort of justification for it, but to me it was really unprofessional." (The pictures were scrapped, and the magazine made light of the situation by running Photoshopped pictures of figures like Jessica Simpson and Saddam Hussein wearing the infamous mask.)
Doom appears to have performed the same stunt at Elemental Magazine, which he confirmed in a letter to the publication in late 2005. "Faithful readers," the typo-ridden letter began. "The Elemental staff and I would like to thank you for participating in last issues DangerDOOM retard test. This test was designed to gauge what percentage of fans are mentally challenged. The results are in . . . Some of you feared well, although the vast majority failed miserably. Here's a recap: Question: Is that the real MFDOOM on the cover photo? Answer: Yes. The part of DOOM was played by Big Benn Kling-on, Don King. Still confused? Well you needn't be. Its rather simple, actually the legendary MC MetalFace DOOM, The SUPERVILLAIN is one of the many characters invented by myself, Daniel Dumile author. If you will, think of each record as a book with different chapters often made for words expressed for a whole host of characters . . ."
He then went on to note that several different actors, from Adam West to George Clooney, have played Batman. His note concludes, "In the world of hip-hop music on-the-other hand things might be considered even stranger although not at all unusual. When you have artists 'playing' themselves, pun intended while having someone else more qualified to write the story (beats and or rhymes). To each is owns, after all its just entertainment right?"
Entertainment or not, Independent patrons aren't getting refunds, and neither is the club absent any proof that he wasn't actually there, a lip-synching Doom wouldn't have violated the terms of his contract, Scott says, adding that attendees can exchange their stubs for another performance, or return for the rescheduled Doom show on September 18. "We've had some great shows with this artist," he says. "I have to assume [the August 15 show] was an anomaly."
Regardless, Doom's name is tainted. Lip-synching is bad enoughthe possibility that he sent a replacement may sound deliciously Andy Kaufmanesque to some, but the majority of his devotees aren't laughing. "Doom just totally shit on his fan base," says Pete Babb, who also performed at the ill-fated show under his DJ moniker, Enki.
"It's hard to figure out how I feel about it," says jilted Portland resident Schwab. "He's definitely still one of my favorite MCs. I feel disrespected, because I own all his music. I don't go and bootleg it.
"It's almost amusing," he goes on. "It almost seems like he hatched a plan to see if he could get away with it. Why else would he do something like this?"