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If Dean Van Nguyen needed his meat burned, he’d go to Sizzler.
Orchestral strings blow through ‘’I Wonder” like a freezing breeze in bleak winter. You picture MF DOOM henchman Hassan Chop fighting his way through the sleety air of a permanently greyscale New York, en route to the super villain’s hidden sanctum, wrestling with acidic thoughts as he pulls his turned-up overcoat lapels over his neck and face. “That’s right, I got problems and personal issues,” admits Chop on the song’s opening line. “Stories that’ll make ya eyes tear and wet tissue.” Every stormtrooper has their own chronicle.
Selecting a song for this series on DOOM’s legacy that saw him pass rapping duties to a confidant might seem strange. But the story isn’t complete if you don’t consider DOOM in the shadows. If, as his collaborators will attest, Daniel Dumile was a hard man to get a lock on, he also had a habit for making himself scarce on his own records. DOOM loaned time on projects to everyone from Bukowski to Scooby Doo. He assembled an army of rapping acolytes whose government names are impossible to uncover to act as pawns in his malevolent plans. The cutting and splicing of audio collages from Saturday morning cartoons and other offbeat sources was an extension of his own voice. On Mm.. Food, there’s an eight-minute section where nobody, neither friend nor foe, raps at all. It wasn’t so much less is more—you could always feel DOOM’s presence, his hand controlling the skies.
On 2003’s Take Me To Your Leader, DOOM emerged as King Geedorah, a twisted vision of the three-headed space dragon King Ghidorah, iconic figure of Japanese pop culture and long-time nemesis of Godzilla. Produced front to back by DOOM, the whole album slaps with the monstrous drama of a Kaiju movie. Filtering eerie sci-fi phantasms, gothic soap operas, and, according to DOOM, old porno soundtracks into the sampler, the album also engages with a certain strand of American cultural nostalgia—one of DOOM’s calling cards. So while he raps on only a handful of tracks, Take Me To Your Leader is a key document of Dumile’s warped values as a producer, something that has tended to have fallen out of focus in the tributes since his death.
Then there’s the squad assembled by DOOM, ready to do his venomous bidding. Unmasking his allies has been a long-time hobby of rap bloggers and forum surfers. Underground rappers would float onto his projects under alternate names. MF Grimm never seemed to settle on one form. Mr Fantastik became the stuff of lore. Many were said to be part of the Monsta Island Czars collective but you never quite knew what was going on with that. Take Me To Your Leader features about a dozen collaborators, many of which are canonical DOOM picks, the mystery surrounding these loyal warriors being another component of his unsolvable conundrum.
Enter Hassan Chop, star of “I Wonder” and product of DOOM’s forbidden laboratory. With a rap name presumably lifted from an old Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon, you can picture the man in the metal mask baptizing his latest creation with the moniker before sending him out into the world.
As well as the production, arranging, mixing, and mastering, DOOM is credited as writing Take Me To Your Leader, suggesting he had a hand in his followers’ rhymes too. Yet the nature of the DOOM saga means all presented facts must be met with uncertainty. On “That’s Me,” from his 2006 solo album The Sharpening, Chop says, “Been holding it down since 2003, dropped that ‘I Wonder’ shit, you know what I’m saying, the whole world got a chance to hear my stories.” So we can assume Chop had some sort of agency on the track. Given its highly personalized nature, this is not insignificant.
On “I Wonder,” Chop references his journey from Atlanta to Queens which may have included a lot of stops and life lessons. He remembers clinging to his dreams as the crack epidemic raged around him, watching his best friend go to jail, and vowing to live life full enough for both of them. Verse two is entirely dedicated to Chop’s cousin Dice as the rapper reminisces about the pair hustling the neighborhood hustlers. Chop ends the story by hinting at tragedy and the terrible regret that follows him: “I knew they wouldn’t let you take the money and run/That’s why I shoulda came when you told me to come.”
As a rapper, it’s reasonable to say that Hassan Chop is not MF DOOM. But his rhymes are soaked in vulnerability, something Dumile only allowed himself to show in flashes. The chorus has a sincere simplicity to it: “I wonder how certain people come in my life/I wonder why’d I get in so many fights/I wonder…Why I gotta live this life, hey hey.” Chop seems to understand that the deeper you go into life, the more pertinent the simple questions become.
Chop seems to have fallen off the map in recent times. His Twitter account has been inactive since 2011. Another DOOM confidant in the wind.
There’s something about the magic of hip-hop here. DOOM forms “I Wonder” out of sumptuous strings lifted from the score to the 1998 movie Central Do Brasil by Jaques Morelenbaum and Antonio Pinto. Minimal changes are made to the loop and some drums are added. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, yet Morelenbaum and Pinto’s work is harnessed into something colder, more urban, more impactful. This isn’t luck—DOOM pulls off a similar achievement on “Krazy World,” featuring Gigan and also from Take Me To Your Leader, one of the most emotional “pimpin’ ain’t easy” songs you’ll find. Finding samples is something all Large Professor wannabes can do, but only a chosen few have that instinct to regularly find stardust in old grooves.
Every time MF DOOM stepped into the booth something special happened. The universe did a cosmic dance of creation, language bowed to his will, syllables bonded together like atoms forming a molecule. Yet his legacy demands that another truth is acknowledged: Much of DOOM’s masterplan was formed behind the boards, which he brilliantly controlled with a metal fist.