Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain

Viktor Vaughn
Vaudeville Villain

MF Doom. The man needs no introduction; his name alone suggests myriad ideas, albums, and monikers to different people. Some know him best as Zev Love X, producer of indie-rap supergroup KMD; others know him as King Geedorah, alien monster and master producer and compiler; still others know him as Madvillain, the impeccable emcee who recently paired up with producer Madlib for Madvillainy.

All of these handles (and a bunch more) aren’t just symbolic of a fickle man unable to stick with a name; rather, they shed light on the creative personality of MF Doom. Doom constantly reinvents himself with each release, and the name is just the beginning. On Vaudeville Villain, MF adopts the character of Viktor Vaughn, a modern-day sleeze-pimp who tells sometimes depressing, sometimes funny, always clever tales about his sinful existence.

In classic MF style, Viktor Vaughn loves wordplay. He continually spits impossible-to-rhyme flows, filling in with either an unlikely word (“Holy Moses / my home girl know me closest / and how I played back and stayed bent like scoliosis”) or some home-brewed slang (“They likely to do the jig or do the hucklebuck / to Vik it’s no big deal / they just a bunch of knucklefucks”). However, the genius of Doom lies not in his ability to end-rhyme; instead, MF is at a level all his own in crafting incredibly dense webs of internal rhyme and phonetic jigsaws: “Mellow out what y’all bellow out y’all yellow mouth / what happened to the type of spit that used to help a fellow out?” is complex not only in that he found so much to rhyme with “yellow,” but that the verse flows like “shots of scotch out the square shot glasses.”

Another of Doom’s more entertaining idiosyncrasies is his penchant for amusing similes. “Bitch niggas talk behind your back like a catcher” and “Viktor the director flip a script like Rob Reiner” are not only hilarious, but also incredibly brainy.

The final element that makes Doom great is his deft storytelling skill. In “Lactose and Lecithin,” he describes a scene of a police shooting: “Somewheres out in cop-killer Queens / cops stop limousines and niggas flee the scene / somebody on his back’s bleeding / vest all cracked up / ‘freeze clown! officer down, requesting backup!” Doom has enough talent to conjure not just one image with his words, but an entire, comprehensive, dynamic scene.

As for the songs themselves, almost all of them are great. “Vaudeville Villain” is the best song on the disc. Vaughn raps over a bouncy, space-age beat with one of the catchiest drumbeats I’ve heard in hip-hop. “Raedawn” features an almost IDM-hop beat, glitching and whirring its way to cast an aura of melancholy around a subdued Doom. “Saliva” is ostentatious and flashy; blazing horns serenade the verses, some of Doom’s best. “Never Dead” is a humorous portrayal of the lives of two young students. Doom and M. Sayyid create an alarming story, contrasting the archetypal innocence of youth with rapid demoralization found in inner cities: “Nasty drop rhymes like limes in tequila / flipping like Optimus Prime into a ten-wheeler” and “If I don’t study, I’ma cheat off Peter Parker / keep a liter of vodka inside my locker” sport super-hero worshipping and alcohol abuse in the same sentence, alternately displaying the character’s immaturity and exposure to things someone so young should not see. This clever exposure of city-life sin is spread throughout Vaudeville Villain and makes up the bulk of its subject matter.

Through Viktor Vaughn, MF Doom has created a memorable character and an even more memorable album. The beats are mostly excellent, the lyrics and flows are unparalleled, and it’s got all the wit and nerve of any Doom release. Non-fans of hip-hop may be thrown off by MF’s seemingly unstable and phlegmy delivery, but a little perseverance will pay off in the enjoyment of one of the most intelligent albums of the 2000s. Vaudeville Villain is a great starting point for Doom’s career and a shining example of the potential of independent hip-hop.