Are you a MF Doom enthusiast? Then grab your copy of “Venomous Villain (VV2),” select “Dope Skill” and get a glimpse of Carl Kavorkian in action. Now if you think that prepares you for Kavorkian’s solo album “Tainted Razorblades,” you’re in for a surprise, if not a shock. Through all the odd twists to his music and his persona, Mr. Dumile has always been a soulman. His swagger, no matter how erratic it may seem in contrast to the streamlined rapper models that line the shelves of your local record store, is always smoothened out. His guest on “Dope Skill,” however, comes from a different school of thinking, and where he goes with “Tainted Razorblades,” few have actually dared go before.
Carl Kavorkian’s musical background consists of shrieking samples spiralling their way down your ear canal, scrap metal thrown upon the canvas, ripping the fabric and staining the sheet, towering skyscrapers of sound anchored by heavily strained basslines, rocky soundscapes colored in the darkest of shades, abrasive beats grinding up against grating guitar feedback. His own voice is often distorted to some extent. His guest singers engage in the deeply disturbing, guttural growls of grindcore, he himself is second vocalist in the hardcore metal band Burnowt. What sounds like a hip-hop traditionalist’s nightmare, isn’t really that far removed from hip-hop tradition. Looking back, the fusion of rap and rock is almost as old as rap itself. I’m exaggerating of course, but from today’s viewpoint, Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” from 1984, probably hip-hop’s first close encounter with rock guitars, took place relatively early on. Years and years later there’s no denying that hip-hop has played a role in the renaissance of metal, in a sense that bands from crossover pioneers Biohazard to nu-metal favorites Linkin Park can be said to be influenced by hip-hop. Insufficient labelling notwithstanding, “Tainted Razorblades” is at the same time a natural joining of forces and a rather obvious attempt at a crossover.
Calculated or not, “Tainted Razorblades” works instantly, but after due digestion leaves a lot to be desired as well. The “Tainted Intro” is well constructed, a full-frontal assault of sampled guitars, stomping drums and a quote repeating Kavorkian’s last name, originally probably referring to ‘Dr. Death’ Jack Kevorkian, who in 1999 was sentenced for one of his numerous euthanasia efforts. We’re then shoved into “Dead Air,” a well orchestrated oeuvre piling obscured piano loops accentuated by kick drums and guitar snippets. The rapper introduces himself with a comfortable flow and the promise to cause some ruckus:
“I grab the mic and hit the stage like I’m accepted
clear the club out quick without the use of a weapon
You must think I be on some Talking Heads shit
the way I’m ‘Burning Down the House’ with pyrotechnics”
Later, Carl Kavorkian goes into a lengthy chorus, where he essentially strikes the same pose as your average indie hopper, expressing his loyalty towards the underground (“Tune in your radio / you won’t hear them play me, though”) and the golden age (“Half these fans don’t know about the ’80s, so / don’t know That Ol’ Boom Bap, or Sonic Souls at that”). With his anti-establishment stance firmly planted, Carl Kavorkian is ready to reveal a bit more about his musical tastes. “Stagnantfux” opens with grindcore vocals, probably delivered by CK himself, hammering drums and over-revving guitars seguing into a verse by guest rapper Rummage before it’s Kavorkian’s turn to voice his contempt: “Go watch your Rap City and 106 & Park / and see the same videos 10 minutes apart.” It’s Company Flow light, a bit smoother, a bit better understandable, but ultimately lacking the beauty and the brutality of the flagship of the Rawkus fleet.
Being accessible is a rare feat for such a edgy experiment. For Kavorkian it comes at the cost of a lack of depth. There’ll be more than one instance when you expect more from certain songs only to realize that promising titles such as “Sweet Incision” and “Fear Factor” contain more or less nothing but battle raps. “My drive to compete been gone since high school,” he relates in the opening “Dead Air,” only to switch up and compete just the same. “I’m not that cat with a whole lot of shit to say,” he also admits, and for a substantial part of “Tainted Razorblades” unfortunately that statement seems to be true. There are exceptions. Single lines hint at the enormous potential, such as the promise “I’ll open my mind and get charged with indecent exposure” or the shapeshifting into a “nocturnal beast on the creep for a feast / grab on anything that breathes when it gets within reach” (both from “Sweet Incision.”) On “D.W.I.” he’s “goin’ through life makin’ a mountain range out of a mole hill,” but even with beautiful miniatures like “I sit with my arm in a loose tourniquet / and inject a syringe of emotions underneath burning skin” and guest singer Chris Williams of Chorea vomitting his anger over a Neptunes-gone-industrial beat, CK fails to reach a higher (or deeper) plateau of consciousness.
The most extensive exception is “Burning Bush,” which showcases Kavorkian’s acerbic side as he attacks the Bush administration, accompanied by a collection of revealing Bushisms (“It’ll take time to restore chaos, and order, but we – but we will.”):
“I’ll flip this Zippo to spark some controversy
tryin’ to inflame the ashes of an already burned tree
or better yet a Bush that bears the poison berries
with enough power to put bodies in cemetaries
Killin’ people to kill people that are killin’ people
Broady a whole country, leavin’ ’em not feelin’ equal
Power trips between power naps after power lunches
which are used to discuss how to overpower countries
Colin fills the description of what they’ve got in store
Rumsfeld stars in the war playin’ the role of Serpentor
And Condeleeze spits liquid Bush between the gap in her teeth
defendin’ her sugar daddy while sittin’ in the hot seat
Which could be another scam, smoke-screened by the man
Pullin’ strings on his puppets with his invisible hands
Dressin’ it up with a blindfold and some earplugs
and a ball gag for extra measure, without inflictin’ pleasure
Somewhere in D.C. there’s an orgy goin’ on
with politicians bustin’ off on the White House lawn
So slide the Obelisk Monument inside of the Pentagon
drop a bomb or two, grab an intern and get it on”
If Carl Kavorkian was half as sarcastic elsewhere, we’d have more to report than this segment from “Sacrificial Lamb”:
“I put myself in a position too bad to mention
cause if booked I’d probably perform at a Klan convention
Now I ain’t talkin’ about Wu-Tang and ’em
I do a 30 minute set with C4 strapped to my abdomen
And if they start to act up I’ll spark the blasting cap up
to show them racist fucks what my guts are really made of”
There’s “Pandora’s Pussy,” but that doesn’t exactly cover new grounds. All these objections aside, the self-produced “Tainted Razorblades” is an album that should please both fans of extreme metal as well as underground hip-hop. Carl Kavorkian has a polished flow that remains a fixture in front of an ever-changing background, from the claustrophobic closing-in of “Sweet Insicion” to the headbang-meets-headnod factor of “Sacrificial Lamb.” You’ll find scratching, you’ll find a posse cut (“Pull Plug People” f. Greek, Rummage, Masai Bey, Zest Rock), but best of all, you’ll find the type of action that’s largely missing from today’s hip-hop. If anything, Carl Kavorkian attempts to bring the physical aspect back into rap music, and if he has to do it with the help of metal, he definitely picked the right partner.