If MF Doom is rap music's Ashton Kutcher, it looks like he finally got around to punking Atlanta last month.
Many concert-goers at the masked MC's Dec. 13 show at MJQ Concourse allege that he lip-synched his way through his set, while others insist it wasn't him delivering the rhymes at all. The concert's promoter even claims Doom's associates stole his share of the door receipts.
"It was a pretty surreal situation," says Randy Castello, the 34-year-old Kirkwood-based promoter who put the show together. "I'm 100 percent positive it was an imposter." He says someone wearing Doom's famous gladiator mask took the stage at about 1:30 a.m., and proceeded to lip-synch through about 20 minutes of Doom's catalog.
"Dude came out with the worst stage presence you'd ever seen," attendee Jeff Hoffman says. "He didn't say a single word to address the crowd, or a single word that wasn't on his albums. The couple times I saw him move his hand away from the mask, you could tell that he might as well have been singing Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.' I can't explain my levels of dissatisfaction and anger."
Attempts to contact Doom for comment were unsuccessful. The allegation of fraud follows a series of recent accusations against the Atlanta-area-based, internationally renowned MC, who almost never shows his face in public. In an ironic twist, the anonymity that earned MF Doom underground fan worship could result in his very undoing. Or it could all be part of his master plan.
Long-persistent rumors that Doom sometimes enlists impersonators seemed to be verified last summer. After he was accused of lip-synching at shows in L.A. and N.Y., he was taken to task by San Francisco concert-goers, who insisted that another performer – one who seemed significantly lighter in weight than Doom – performed in his place.
Many MJQ attendees were already aware of these accounts, and the crowd quickly turned on whomever was performing that night. A video posted on a blog called the Kaos Effect shows a piece of trash flying from the crowd and hitting the performer in the shoulder. The trash tosser was reportedly ejected from the premises.
"The crowd was livid," says MJQ bouncer Arthur Murph, who worked the concert. "People wrote graffiti all over our bathroom the night of the show. It says 'Where's Doom?' and 'Lip-synch = bad show.' Another person wrote, 'I was ripped off.' People can't believe they paid 30 bucks."
Castello was particularly incensed. He says Doom's camp was entitled to only 70 percent of the door's receipts, but that after the show they quickly disappeared with the entire take, including Castello's $1,350 share.
In retaliation, he turned himself into a veritable private investigator in pursuit of Internet vigilante justice.
"Anyone want to prank call MF DOOM?" he titled a MySpace bulletin, which was sent out to friends of Drunken Unicorn, MJQ's rock venue. The bulletin read, in part: "This was by far one of the single worst experiences I've had as a club promoter and I sincerely apologize if you walked away feeling cheated. To make matters even worse MF DOOMS [sic] appointed doorman took off with all the money from the door after the show!"
Castello then detailed his plan to give away leftover Doom merchandise, including T-shirts and posters, for free to fans who felt cheated. The missive included a phone number and a Kennesaw address, which Castello claims belong to Doom.
He says he sought revenge because he felt a debt to show attendees who felt ripped off. "We were getting endless amounts of e-mail from people wanting their money back," he explains. "I was like, 'There's nothing we can do to help you. Get in touch with Doom yourself.'"
The MySpace bulletin was quickly reposted on Urb magazine's website (without the address and phone number) and on Creative Loafing's Crib Notes music blog, in its entirety. (Shortly after Creative Loafing posted the information, however, we received an e-mail from a lawyer who said he represents Doom. He requested Creative Loafing remove the contact information from the post, and we chose to comply.)
Castello says he obtained Doom's personal information via a Google search, and that it was verified by a knowledgeable friend. Those who called the number, however, report that an older woman answered the phone and claimed to have no idea who Daniel Dumile or MF Doom were.
Castello also claims to know the identity of the man he says actually took the stage at MJQ. He sent Creative Loafing pictures showing physical similarities between the performer and an Atlanta-based DJ.
Regardless of whether Doom actually performed in Atlanta, the MC has severely tested his fans' loyalty in recent months. Long considered one of the smartest voices in underground rap because of his intellectual themes and clever wordplay, he has inhabited numerous character incarnations in his career, rechristening himself to personas ranging from Zev Love X to Viktor Vaughn. His primary alias comes from Marvel Comics supervillain Doctor Doom, who is known to send out "Doombots" – exact replicas of the Doctor – in his place.
The masked MC was accused of doing exactly that this summer, and after the San Francisco debacle, his next eight shows were canceled. When he failed to attend a scheduled New York concert in September, it was announced that he was "in the hospital fighting for his life," according to attendees. One of Doom's labels, Stones Throw Records, subsequently issued a statement claiming that Doom's health was just fine. That statement also denied that Doom had lip-synched or employed an imposter.
But Doom himself admitted to the latter offense a couple of years earlier, after appearing on the cover of Elemental magazine in 2005. He wrote a letter to the magazine confessing that he sent in hype man Big Benn Kling-on to pose for pictures. "Question: Is that the real MFDOOM on the cover photo?" the letter read, in part. "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." It went on to compare the Doom character to Batman, noting that Batman has been played by many different actors.
Even Castello admits that Doom's ability to incorporate his namesake's personality into his act is inspired. "I think it's brilliant that he's going so far as to send out impersonators to do his dirty work," he says. "I just don't like being on the receiving end of the joke."
While he seems to have taken Doom's behavior more personally than other promoters who have been burned by the rapper in recent months, he insists he's not trying to ruin Doom's reputation. He adds that because the amount of money he lost was relatively small, he does not plan to pursue legal recourse.
Nonetheless, he will probably remain bitter about the incident for some time. "MF Doom ruined my Christmas," he concludes.
Rodney Carmichael contributed to this story.