For a handful of MF DOOM fans, Adult Swim served as the platform that introduced them to the late enigmatic rapper. Jason Demarco, Adult Swim’s Senior Vice President and Creative Director, talked with Okayplayer about how he brought DOOM into Adult Swim’s world.
On News Years Eve, it was announced that Daniel Dumile, the man behind one of hip-hop’s most enigmatic yet talented MCs of all time MF DOOM, had passed away on Halloween. Since the news was revealed by DOOM’s label Rhymesayers — and signed by his wife Jasmine — fans and contemporaries have been paying tribute to Dumile and the musical world he created.
In these tributes, a handful of fans have shared how there was one particular pop-culture platform that introduced them to DOOM and sparked their reverence for the rapper — Adult Swim. The adult-oriented nighttime programming block that rose to prominence on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s has not only become known for its popular animated and live surreal television shows — and playing a part in introducing western audiences to anime alongside its sibling programming block Toonami — but for curating and introducing viewers to an eclectic selection of music. From those early commercial bumps that featured Flying Lotus or J Dilla to the singles available on their website, Adult Swim has championed left-of-center music across genres since its heyday, and that includes DOOM.
Jason Demarco, Adult Swim’s Senior Vice President and Creative Director, played a pivotal role in bringing DOOM into the world of Adult Swim. Demarco first heard Dumile’s music when he was still Zev Love X in KMD. The first rap cassette he ever bought was 3rd Bass’ The Cactus Album, which included the minor hit “The Gas Face,” which was Dumile’s debut appearance. By the time he had heard Operation: Doomsday, Demarco didn’t realize that the rapper was Dumile, unaware of the backstory that told of his absence following the dissolution of KMD after his brother Subroc died, and his reemergence as the rap game’s Dr. Doom.
Through Demarco, Adult Swim and DOOM went on to create some memorable — and at times culturally defining — moments. Of course, there’s The Mask and the Mouse Album that found DOOM rapping over Danger Mouse beats sampling Adult Swim shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021. But there were other moments that fans have also reminisced on amid DOOM’s death, like him voicing a giraffe on Perfect Hair Forever or him doing Christmas bumps in between shows. Now, working with DOOM didn’t always end favorably, as Demarco has shared on social media. But in working with DOOM, he had not only found a creative partner but a friend — someone who, behind the mask, was a lighthearted and warm dude who loved classic cartoons.
We spoke with Demarco about how Adult Swim and DOOM’s relationship came together, the impact of “All Caps” soundtracking one of The Boondocks‘ most memorable scenes, the DOOM and Hannah-Barbera follow-up to The Mouse and the Mask that never came to be, and more.
How did Adult Swim’s creative relationship with Doom come about? What was the initial thing that kicked it all off?
So that came about because Brian Burton [Danger Mouse] and I have a long history together. I started using his music in our Toonami programming block when he was still DJ Danger Mouse and he was an artist. He had an alter ego for a while called Pelican City, and I bought a Pelican City CD and I really liked it. I called him and basically asked if he wanted to do beats for a Cartoon Network and Toonami and he said yes. So, he had been doing music for us for a couple of years at that point. And he went to the UK and during this he didn’t have a job. He basically said, “Hey, I want to do this move but I don’t want to screw up where we have going, but I don’t really have any other income. So can you be giving me money to make music?” I said, “Yeah, of course.”
So while he was there, he got the deal with Lex records or Electro, and he was developing a couple of things at the same time. But he somehow met DOOM, and basically he came to us and said, “Hey, DOOM loves cartoons. And I’m already doing music for you guys. What if DOOM and I did a Toonami album?” And I said, “I don’t think a Toonami album makes sense, but an Adult Swim album might make sense because we use a lot of old cartoons that we repurpose, and that’s what DOOM does in his music.” He said, “Let me talk to him.” And then when he talked to him, he was like, “Oh my God, DOOM was a huge fan of Adult Swim already.” And that was sort of what started the ball rolling.
Did you think it was going to be as successful as it was?
I hoped it would be successful, but it was way more successful than we thought it would be. It almost went gold, which is crazy. Obviously, that type of album wouldn’t do those kinds of numbers today. This was right before the bottom dropped out of the music industry in terms of buying CDs. But it did really well, and it ended up on a ton of best of lists that year. I think it hit a nerve that we weren’t expecting it to at all. For sure. We don’t really make anything with the expectation that it’s going to be some big success. We just kind of make the things we think are interesting, and they either become big successes or they don’t. And this was one of those things that just — it went broader than I would’ve thought it would have to be honest, but I was really happy watching it the whole time.
What do you remember most vividly during that time?
As I’m sure anyone who’s ever collaborated with DOOM would tell you, he kind of sets his own pace and he does things his own way. And he was always like that. So one of the jobs I had was to make sure that he would show up to the studio. And sometimes that involves picking him up at his apartment, and sometimes it involves just going to the studio so he knew I would be there because he liked the idea that we were both fans of the same stuff. And he felt comfortable that he was with people who understood him.
So a lot of that was like, I would show up at DOOM’s house at 9:00, he was not answering his door. OK. Show back up at 10:00, but he’s still not answering the door. Typical rapper shit to be honest. But with DOOM you never held it against him. You would get there and he was so friendly, so sweet, and just wanted to hang out. And he would have his notebooks and he’d just be constantly writing in those notebooks, and looking at them and thinking about rhymes. And he had multiple notebooks of things he had jotted down, and I kind of feel like he would just pull different things together in the song. Almost in the moment, the whole song would be written on paper. He would have different verses from different places, and then he would play them off each other.
I wasn’t there for a lot of the actual recording of the album because I just wanted to stay out of the way. I was there for all the stuff like getting the Cartoon Network soundbites, making sure the samples rotate, helping them get the guests, all that stuff. So, mostly what I remember is DOOM coming in the office, or me going to pick DOOM up and just hanging out with him and talking about cartoons because he could talk about cartoons literally all day long.
Did DOOM have a favorite show on Adult Swim? Did you happen to make him a fan of anime at all?
I don’t think DOOM messed with the anime. He knew the anime that anyone growing up in New York would know from what was on basic cable in the ’80s. So he knew Vultron and Star Blazers. I think he liked that. But his heart was all in the Hanna-Barbera stuff. He loved Sealab 2021 and Aqua Team Hunger Force. Aqua Team, I think, was pretty much his favorite of what Adult Swim made. As far as old cartoons, obviously his favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon is Fantastic Four because that’s where he pulled of all of his samples from. But he loved all classic cartoons basically. He could tell you what episode a certain thing happened in, like The Pink Panther Show. We talked about the Pink Panther a bunch. He just loved that vibe of the old crunchy cartoons with the goofy voiceovers from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s.
I feel like one of the main moments in which my generation was introduced to DOOM was “All Caps” being played while Huey and Bushido Brown fight in The Boondocks. Did you have any involvement in terms of some of the Madvillainy songs being included in that episode or was that Aaron Mcgruder and his team?
I wish I could take credit for that, but no that was all Aaron. Aaron McGruder is a fan of that kind of hip-hop, and that era, particularly, of hip-hop that Madvilliany was from. He still references that now. What I did was sort of bring DOOM into the wider scope of Adult Swim, in terms of using his voice in promos and commercials, using his music on the air, bumps, and all these other places. And then also him ending up on Perfect Hair Forever as a character during the pilot that he did with MC Chris, the Christmas time where he hosted our Christmas marathon. That’s sort of where I helped bring DOOM into the family. In terms of him being in that Boondocks episode, as far as I recall, they knew they wanted that music and reached out to get it because he’s a massive fan.
How did you feel witnessing that moment and seeing it on TV? When I think of Adult Swim, that’s one of the main scenes I always think about. Just how well it was sequenced and how the music just perfectly paired with that moment.
I’ve been lucky enough to live through a couple of things like that, and be involved with a few projects that kicked off in a bigger way. But you never really know when you’re doing it. What I am always trying to do is, “OK, what’s the next thing we’re going to do?” Just keep building on it. So when a moment like that happens, it’s very rare that you go, “Wow, this is the moment.” But you’re just happy it happened afterward.
On Twitter, you had talked about how Adult Swim had signed DOOM for a record deal. Unfortunately, the record never came to fruition. But were there any talks about what the album would encompass? Was it going to be something similar to the DangerDOOM stuff?
The idea was — I said, “Why don’t we sign you? And then we own Hanna-Barbera. Why don’t we give you the rights to use all that music in those shows and those vocal samples, and you can just do a DOOM record where you literally can dive into all that stuff that you love?” And he was super into that. And that was originally what it was going to be, basically him just doing another DOOM album. But this time he would have all of the Hanna-Barbera library to use as sample sources, without having to worry about getting in trouble. Because at that time his profile was getting big enough that he couldn’t really afford to do what he did on Operation: Doomsday and just sample whatever the hell he wanted.
But I think he was thinking about his future. And I was just like, “On a practical level here, we’ve got a whole library, man. Use it and we’ll pay you on top of that.” And I think that’s why he signed the deal. Then, unfortunately, he just took the money and disappeared. Sometimes the gamble you take when you work with an artist who is mercurial like DOOM — I mean, I did not expect that that was going to happen. But it happens sometimes when you work with creative people who their whole life is their creativity, and it’s not like he was a banker or a businessman that’s going to keep certain hours. So, it’s like, you kind of know that risk when you jump into something with anyone in a creative level. But it was a bummer that he just disappeared.
Yeah. I could imagine when you first gave him the idea he felt like a kid in a candy store. Like, actually having free reign of those samples.
He did. But I think he had things that happened in his personal life. And I don’t know all of them, I just know some of them. But I think he just had a hard couple of years. DOOM is a person who would have his personal struggles — part of his whole mystique is his personal struggles, and the most interesting part for the average fan is the way he rose from the ashes and created this DOOM character. But what nobody who doesn’t know him really well wants to talk about or realizes is that his whole life was like that — ups and downs. He lived an interesting life and had a lot of shit go down. And all the way up until getting locked out of his own country and his place of growing up.
So, I don’t know all the what happened in between. But I just know for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to make the record and he didn’t want to. He called for a couple of years after that, and I just didn’t pick up the phone because when somebody screws you, whether they meant to or not, you kind of take it personal. But I think he knew he dropped the ball. But, at the same time, I was doing other things and just always looking forward. And I wasn’t like, “Oh, I hate DOOM.” I just was like, “I just blew $45 grand on him. I can’t get my network to work with him anymore.” Straight up, nobody I worked for would let me work with him. So then when that dust settled, it took a long time. But I still tried to bring him back in because I just missed being able to work with him because he’s such a genius talent. And that’s how the Missing Notebook Rhymes [series] came around. I thought things had calmed down in his life, and he was sort of ready to do something bigger again.
Speaking to that series, the remaining half of it has still gone unreleased. Was there a particular one you were really looking forward to sharing?
Yeah, there’s a couple, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to it in the wake of his death. He had made record deals with labels that he owed music to, and he frankly had projects with artists, other producers, other rappers that he didn’t necessarily have the right to just give to us. They belong to other people too — like, when you make a track, it’s the producer and the rappers and sometimes the person you sample as a publisher, and then sometimes the label. They all get a cut, and DOOM was just handing us tracks like, “No, no, it’s all good.”
But unfortunately, what happened is that as those songs released, every week we would have some new pissed off person who would be like, “Why is this song out? This is our song,” or “This is my song” or “This is something DOOM and I worked on, and we haven’t figured out what we were going to do with it yet. He didn’t even tell me that he sold it to you.” So, we eventually just had to pull the plug because we were worried about if we were going to get sued, and we didn’t want to piss off other people. And even before pulling it down, we said to DOOM, “Hey man, if you have other songs that are not these songs that you do own 100% of, let us know.” But he didn’t — at least he didn’t at the time or he didn’t think he could give us.
So, he was capable of being a bad business partner. But he was also capable of being an amazing business partner, and he was capable of being an amazing human being. I worked with a lot of different people over the years and a lot of musicians, and very few bring DOOM’s level of intent and quality and love and thoughtfulness. And that’s one reason I personally — maybe I’m just a sucker, but couldn’t stay mad at him. There was even a period where I had a hard time listening to his music because I got in such trouble over working with him. But I couldn’t stay away.
And here is one of the paintings he made for me. We bonded over our mutual love of the Pink Panther cartoons, so he painted one of the bad guys from those shorts. It’s always been something I cherish but it will hold a special, and sad significance now. pic.twitter.com/bAFn9nsZLE
— SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO (@Clarknova1) January 1, 2021
Was there a dream collaboration you always wanted to do with DOOM within Adult Swim? Was there ever talks of trying to have him have his own animated TV show or something?
At Adult Swim, I can’t tell you the number of rappers we have either had come to us wanting to do a show, or we developed things with. It’s just very, very hard. DOOM had a great persona but the fact is, it was basically a rip-off of a huge Marvel property. So doing a show as DOOM is going to be tough. And I think my bosses really wanted to figure out how to use him because he has such a distinctive voice and a distinctive sense of humor, and that’s how he ended up in shows like Perfect Hair Forever. But doing a show and being an amazing creative and musician are two totally different skillsets, and I think DOOM would not necessarily have been as good at being the star of a show or the creator of a show as he was at being DOOM. And that’s not taking anything away from him. I just think it didn’t happen because it wasn’t really meant to happen. So there wasn’t really a dream project that didn’t happen, though the dream project that I wanted to help make happen is the DOOMSTARKS album, which I really wanted to happen.
When you had the DangerDoom Adult Swim performance, DOOM had told you that it’s the mask that’s what’s important and not the man. Do you agree with that sentiment?
I will say that I understood where he was coming from. I think if you were to try to do what he was trying to sell us, which is, “This is a conceptual art thing, this isn’t just me as an MC,” I think there’s an interesting idea there. I really do. I think to pull that off would require more effort and support than DOOM had. If you wanted to do the Doombot thing, you would have to make it a way bigger gesture so that the audience understands ahead of time and they don’t feel ripped off. I think what he liked was the audience not knowing. He liked that tension.
Graphic: Raj Dhunna for Okayplayer