Who Is Viktor Vaughn?
by Shelton Hull
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone/After you who’s last, it’s DOOM he’s the worst known.” MF Doom’s public profile has increased exponentially since the release of Madvillain, arguably the best (and almost surely the most influential) album of 2004. In a year loaded with notable hip-hop releases, Doom’s first of the year stood out among the elite few, in large part because he was able to evolve one of the all-time great marketing gimmicks in music history: an MC in a metal mask.
His real identity is no secret — he’s an industry veteran formerly known as Zev Love X of KMD — but the compelling Doom persona forces people to pay attention to a superior lyricist. Doom’s debut, Operation Doomsday, is now impossible to buy in any condition for under $100, and his many mixes and bootlegs disappear within days of release. Why? Is it just because, as he puts it on “Figaro,” “The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd/The best emcee with no chain ya ever heard”? Well, no.
Doom is vague about the exact nature of his mission. The Supervillain persona could well be a front for some shadowy alternate agenda, something that could even — ah! — be positive in nature. It could be as basic as the day-to-day struggles everyone goes through trying to establish themselves in the cut-throat world of Aesthetics.
Doom’s collaborator, Madlib, was widely acclaimed for his Shades of Blue, which involved a vigorous reworking of the Blue Note catalogue — more of that retrospective publicity the label is so good at generating. He also records as Yesterday’s New Quintet, which appears on Madvillain, as does his alter ego Lord Quas. Doom’s doppelganger Viktor Vaughn holds down one track, using his forum to dis his ex for hooking up with “Tinhead.” (The feud picks up on Vaughn’s Venomous Villain, out on Insomniac Music, which also includes an infamous summit meeting with Kool Keith. Another Doom disc, MM Food, soon followed.) Medaphoar, Wildchild and Stacey Epps make cameos, too.
A typical verse from Doom can be heard in “America’s Most Blunted,” which calls to mind his multi-volume instrumental series Special Herbs: “DOOM, nominated for the best rolled L’s / And they wonder how he dealt with stress so well / Wild guess — you could say he stayed sedated / Some say booted, some say faded / Some day pray that will grow a farm barn full / Recent research shows it not so darn harmful / Sometimes you might need to detox / It can help you with your rhyme flow / And your beat box.”
In a year defined by a very intense Presidential election that turned, in part, on a war being fought against the wishes of much of the world, including such top-shelf MCs as Jadakiss, Mr. Lif and Eminem, Doom steps up to comment on the nature of what we face across the seas: “They pray four times a day, / they pray five / Who ways are strange when it’s time to survive / Some will go of their own free will to die / Others take them with you when they blow sky high / What’s the difference? / all you get is lost children / While the bosses sit up behind a desk / It cost billions to blast humans in half / into calves and arms / Only one side is allowed to have bombs / That’s like making a soldier drop his weapon, shooting him and telling him to get to steppin’ / Obviously, they came to portion up his fortune / Sounds to me like that old robbery extortion / Same game / You can’t reform ’em.” The Democrats’ inability to properly utilize and tap the hip-hop demographic was a major reason why the election went down as it did in both 2000 and 2004.
The only complaint worth making about Madvillain is that it wasn’t a double-album, which may be unfeasible for a number of reasons, though hardly for lack of material. Several out-takes appeared on an internet release, and Doom/Vaughn has released two more albums and countless guest shots and mixes in 2004. It is seriously getting about time for MFDoom.com to get online, because much of this material is very hard, if not impossible to find — a condition of no benefit to artist or consumer. Doom’s output suggests he’s making up for lost time. If he’s going to continue producing such copious content in 2005 and ’06, it’s well worth the trouble of having it centralized.
Stone’s Throw: www.stonesthrow.com
VV2: Venomous Villain
One of the great rivalries in America today is between the rappers MF Doom and Viktor Vaughn. They may or may not be the same person, but it really doesn’t matter because the names represent opposing schools of thought, in terms of the existential nature of man and his relationship to the world around him. It’s true: the best philosophers of our time have been musicians, MCs in particular. Just as folks like Bob Marley and Bruce Lee laid the foundations for the New Reality in their day, today we have people like these.
The album times out at 33:01, barely enough time to establish a story arc, but the time is well-spent. Vaughn is one of those MCs who is always up to the task, verse after verse after verse — not as dense as Doom, but in command nine times out of ten. Both men are as good as whatever beat they’ve got to work with, and this album has plenty of good ones. Production, beats and scratches come from folks like DJ INC, DJ Sure Shot, Kut Masta Kurt, DiViNCi, Swamburger and DJ Escher.
“Viktomizer” establishes the mood — a characteristic touch, layering soundbites over the beat like Glenn Gould. Vaughn drops in hard on “Back End,” making a case for file-sharing (a crucial part of the Doom/Vaughn PR machine) over a fabulous beat by System D-128 & Diplo: “Dub it off your man, don’t spend that ten bucks / I did for the advance, the back-end sucks / It’s better than sittin’ up in a crack den with a Mack-11 / Yellin’ at your fiends and friends to duck / Feds at the door, always just Fed Ex / I thought I heard walkie-talkies, must’ve been them redneck neighbors of mine / They fuckin’ with they CB, and we in the spot watchin’ COPS on TV / Blazin’ greens, thumpin’ big verse CD, drinkin’ OE, hopin’ pigs don’t see / If they was psychic, they’d try to give ’em the electric chair / It’s getting’ hectic in here, and it’s an election year.”
He references the persistent fear of biological or chemical warfare: “I got more tricks up my sleeve/Cough, hiccup and sneeze/Makin’ MCs sick, dry heave, wheeze/They must be still allergic to a real raw rhymer with skills that’s surgical.” It’s one of the most radio-friendly tracks he’s done yet, but airplay has lagged.
Venomous Villain boasts a number of guest shots. Lyricists include Manchild, Carl Kavorkian and Poison Pen; exec. producer Iz-Real maintains vocal presence throughout. They’re good MCs, but Vaughn is so far out ahead that his colleagues can’t help but pale in comparison. The only time Vaughn is paired with an equal talent is on “Doper Skiller,” where Kool Keith steps in to pitch a relief verse on his most favorite subject, wack MCs: “There’s a lot of ‘I murder you’ raps with lame ass guys out of nowhere / Corny asses, I never heard’a you cats / Guys like you mess up a lot of tracks / Ask your neighborhood about me while you rappin’ that tough and grizzly / Urinate on your jacket, leave you pissy / Star jockers get your autograph for missy / Defecate on your best lines, spit three verses in the cup and get busy / Your wack ass comin’ this way, you must be cross–eyed and dizzy…”
Even MF Doom himself shows up a couple of times, which might be surprising to anyone who’s heard “Fancy Clown” from Madvillainy: “Ain’t enough room in this fuckin’ town / When you see tin head, tell ’em be duckin’ down . . . He better be ready and prepared to get stomped in the ground.” He is graciously evasive on the subject of Viktor Vaughn, even though Vaughn used his spot on Madvillainy to call out Doom for using his girl as the subject of his “Operation Lifesaver (Mint Test).”
Water under the bridge: “Oh, big Vik? Vik? Oh Vik, yeah, he’s this young cat. He’s got his thing down pat. He know what he was doin’ so, you know, he do his thing. Mellow cat, though — good dude, though. Uhhh, uhh, uh, uhhh, I hear Viktor — he, he you know, Viktor doin’ somethin’ with um, uh, the Insomniac crew, y’knah mean? I don’t even really know. He kinda dropped it to me, a little, yeah, yeah, he was gon’ do it, to me he’s gon’ do it, but I’d love to hear it, though, ‘cuz he’s a nasty-ass nigga. To me, his shit is, like — man, how can I describe Vik? Vik, ah, y’know, ah, Doom come out, Doom got his rep or whatever, and Vik, you know, a lot of people compare Doom to Vik, or Vik to Doom vice-versa. Like, the Villain everywhere, yo, the Villain is you, the Villain is me, the Villain is you. But then Vik, he earned his own rights, knah’m sayin’. Now he doin’ his thing, and he got his own little niche, where people will know the difference between the two, and I respect that. Can’t beat that — priceless.”
Other highlights include “Fall Back/Titty Tat” and “Ode to Road Rage,” which belongs on your summer-time road trip playlist, with its vivid evocation of motorway meltdowns as cover for covert ops: “Yokum, leave ’em with his feet danglin’ / Got his degree in stranglin’ and street hagglin’ / You can find him on the beat braggin’, discreetly draggin’ MCs toward the meat wagon / And lead chicks to the Bang Bus / Make ’em kick it slang ‘cuz the Vik is no dang fuss / He sensed a trickle of lingerin’ hate, but refused to get tickled by the fickle finger of fate / ‘Fuck that nigga!’ / Vik, in for the buck by the giga/A short truck ride to the liquor store to refuel/Rookie at the counter, manager told him ‘He cool’ / (‘You got some change, brother?’) Walk, tellin’ your hard-luck story / All stats gonna leave the scarred, yuck, gory and we’re audi / Pyoom!”
Doom returns with Iz-Real for the closing track, “Pop Quiz,” a “Bonus Extra Credit Remix” remix of a song from Insomniac’s Mic Planet Sessions comp. The record doesn’t end as strongly as it began, but it has enough quality material within to merit the listening. Whether one chooses to take Vaughn’s advice and “dub off your man, don’t spend that ten bucks” is a decision left for the individual.
Insomniac Music: www.InsomniacMusic.com
On the back cover of Roy and Diz (Clef MGC 641), producer Norman Granz, writing in 1954, says: “I know that there will be some who protest the emergence of Chet Baker as an important figure in jazz, but I think here we will have to let time decide whether his talent be transient or not; Dizzy, on the other hand, has the permanent talent by which all artists must necessarily be judged.” Time has long ago cemented itself in favor of Gillespie, yet Baker remains, in history, a prisoner of his mythology.
The first two releases in Shout! Factory’s “Career” series are fine introductions to the music of these two men, and by extension the scenes in which they are so identified. This company (distributed by Sony/BMG) has here done on a smaller scale what they did so triumphantly in 2004 with their Lenny Bruce collection, Let the Buyer Beware: cover a very wide range of material from multiple sources, compiling a delicate balance of known and unknown quantities from the massive legacy of a cultural icon.
The Baker box is divided, with instrumentals on one disc and vocal works on the other — a great idea that enhances its commercial appeal — but it begins and ends with “My Funny Valentine,” a standard that Baker was first (and arguably last) to leave an indelible mark on. The studio version from 1952 pulsates with sensuality and a hint of the menace that was always just beneath the surface of his work — perhaps even more so than the live version at the Haig in May, 1953 (part of The Pacific Jazz Years set),
Half of disc one goes to the superb 1950s “west coast” stuff, including a sublime “Alone Together” with Jean-Louis Viale, before switching gears into a sextet with Bobby Jaspar doing “Well You Needn’t” in Rome, 1962; it’s the first occasion on which one thinks, “this is Chet Baker?” While disc two has a lot of the songs that would be most familiar to younger listeners, the emphasis falls on later works like “Chetty’s Lullabye,” recorded with Ennio Morricone, and “The Touch of Your Lips.” “There Will Never Be Another You” (1982) has a bootleg-quality sound and an indifferent Oklahoma audience, but it makes the cut because of his unusually powerful trumpet and rare scatting. The second version of “Valentine” (Germany, 1988) anticipates an ending that would come 16 days later and retrofit itself to the details of his entire life.
The Gillespie collection runs strictly chronological, though 60% of it covers the years before Charlie Parker’s death in 1955. It begins, most ironically, with “King Porter Stomp” (1937), his first side with the Teddy Hill Orchestra, followed by a track each with the bands of Cab Calloway (“Pickin’ the Cabbage”) and Billy Eckstine (Opus X) before 14 sextet and orchestra recordings under his own name. Those were the years in which Gillespie became a national figure and concepts like “bebop” and “Afro-Cuban” first took root via classics like “Manteca,” “Two Bass Hit,” and “Oop-Bop-Sh’Bam.” No fat at all!
After “Bloomdido” with Parker, Monk and Buddy Rich and a number from the aforementioned Roy and Diz, disc one closes with “Salt Peanuts” from the Massey Hall recording. Disc two covers a lot of ground, 1953 to 1992. Highlights include a red-hot “Take the ‘A’ Train” with Stan Getz, Max Roach and the Oscar Peterson trio; “Cool Breeze” from Newport (which is sort of breezy, despite its staggering power); a swinging “Night in Tunisia” from the MOMA, 1961; “Woody ‘N’ You” with the Mitchell-Ruff Duo; an electrified “Exbuerante” that should be beach-cruising music this summer; and a poignant version of “Bebop” from his farewell session.
Both collections have 32 tracks, covering a combined 91 years. Among the hundreds of sidemen, only Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz, Al Haig and Shelly Manne appear on both of these releases. The stated goal of balance and comprehension was achieved. No other double-disc compilation available has a stronger cross-section of either man’s work, which makes these sets of worth to novice and expert alike. The only really notable absences are Dick Twardzik from the Baker set, “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” from the Gillespie and track-timings from both, but they are otherwise solid.
Shout Factory: www.shoutfactory.com