On the afternoon of August 15, the co-owner of the San Francisco club the Independent received a call from MF Doom's agent. He said the underground rapper was too sick to make his scheduled performance that evening. Later, the agent called back: The masked MC was actually good-to-go. But when Doom 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 Oregon to see the show. "He looked way skinnier -- at least 30 or 40 pounds lighter than the guy I've seen before."
Though unverified accounts of "fake" Doom shows have been swirling for years, the critically acclaimed rapper usually does justice to his brilliant studio catalog in concert.
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,' says Schwab. "He looked at me and said straight-up, 'I know. His mic is not on, and that's not MF Doom.'"
Performing only a handful of songs, whoever-it-was abruptly ended his set and fled the stage. Attendees booed and tossed water bottles. Afterward, the next night's show at the Independent was canceled, as were the seven remaining dates on Doom's tour.
The concert has seemingly inspired a mutiny among fans. Incensed YouTubers point to clips from his July 29 show in New York as evidence of 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.)
According to Jason Swartz, Doom's L.A. agent, health concerns cut the tour short; he didn't mention specifics. But Allen Scott, co-owner of the Independent, recalls Swartz saying, "It was some sort of circulatory problem, where his feet were swollen."
The agent, however, insists that the real Doom took the stage in San Francisco, New York, and L.A. And as for lip-synching . . .
"He's never done that before," says Swartz. "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."
Mystique has certainly been central to the rapper's appeal. (Doom himself did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.) Born Daniel Dumile, the Long Island-bred MC's stage name is derived from Marvel Comics' supervillain Dr. Doom; other alter egos include Zev Love X, Viktor Vaughn, and King Geedorah. Hardly anyone knows what he looks like without his metal mask.
Doom once said he planned to release an album called Impostor. What's more, he even employed a double for a pair of photo shoots in 2005.
"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 producer Danger Mouse. "The photographer didn't know any better. He just went ahead and shot him. When we got the film back, we knew it wasn't Doom. Benn is 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, Scratch's editor at the time. "He had some sort of justification for it, but to me it was really unprofessional." (The magazine ultimately scrapped the photos.)
Doom apparently 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, Doom's name is tainted. The possibility that he sent a lip-synching replacement may sound deliciously Andy Kaufman-esque 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. [But] I feel disrespected.
"It's almost amusing," he adds. "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?"