That of the Vaudeville Villain is the newest mask assumed by independent Hip Hop’s favourite scripter and actor (generally known as MF Doom), although chronologically Vik Vaughn’s story precedes that of both Doom the Super Villain and King Geedorah the three-headed space monster.
Viktor Vaughn, scientific genius, has become stuck in the early 1990s following trouble with the time machine he constructed in his future. As a character, Viktor has a nefarious edge much more sinister than the nonchalance of the Super Villain and, as he strives to repair the time machine in his past to return to the future which is really his present, Viktor engages in more wicked deeds than simple rhyme battles.
Vik’s tale opens with someone offering him help, only to be answered by his incredulous response “You? Help Me?” Then his echoing, evil laugh follows as the rumbling bass of the title track begins. Over this and a futuristic-sounding, loud cacophony of guitars and feedback, Viktor introduces himself as one whose wordplay and demeanour are charismatic, darkly humorous and full of mischievous villainy. He then sets off on his adventures; all the while searching for ways to fix his time machine, but never missing out on an opportunity for personal gain in the meantime.
“Lickupon” and “The Drop” follow one another to develop Viktor’s character further; not all of the tracks on “Vaudeville Villain” are essential or even relevant to Vik’s tale of survival in the past, yet each adds more depth to the story. These tracks are both also examples of the soundscape that the Sound Ink producers have engineered as a backdrop to the unfolding drama. While there is no Drum and Bass on the album (as was originally rumoured), there is some adherence to what might be recognised as Drum and Bass sensibilities in the commanding presence of the drums on most tracks, and the usage of sparse, industrial/metallic sounds to form melodies of sorts. That being said, the production provided by Heat Sensor Max Bill and King Honey (and rjd2 on “Saliva”) is neither simple nor repetitive, and is suited to both the ambience of the story, and Viktor’s rhymes above it.
We are introduced to the different standards of Viktor’s early 90’s rhyming competitors on “Open Mic Nite Pt 1”, as Little Willoughby (played by Lord Sear) plays host to the scat poetry of Brother Sambuca, the break-neck show-stopping rhymes of Dr Moreau (played by Rodan) and the lyrical twistings of Louis Logic. At this point, it seems Viktor is only a spectator, assessing his rivals, although he steps up on “Open Mic Nite, Pt 2” to destroy AJ Ready Wright and Creature over a track with ghostly vocal samples which sounds like an adapted horror movie theme.
As well as exhibiting his futuristic rhyming ability to all those sucka MCs in the past, Vik finds time to romance his “cousin’s friend’s friend” Nikki (played by Apani B), and tries all of his player tactics to get her into bed before blowing his chances by mistakenly referring to her as a “ho”. The chemistry between Vik and Nikki perfectly captures the essence of adolescent love/lust, and the vocals of both flow smoothly over tripping piano keys until Vik feebly begs “let me watch” as Nikki defiantly dismisses him. Whether this is a pivotal point in the story is debatable, but Vik’s sinister side becomes much more obvious on the latter half of the album, as he explodes over rjd2’s funky horn-and-string-sampling “Saliva” and then schools us spectators in the art of robbing on “Modern Day Mugging”.
In testament to the ingenuity of the mind behind the Vaudeville Villain’s mask, Viktor’s most menacing moment in the tale is one prompted by the most childishly-humorous turn of events; someone steals his Donkey Kong game from his school locker. Trading verses with his ally Curtis Strifer (played by M. Sayyid) over the warped synthesisers of “Never Dead”, the most haunting track on the album, Vik promises violent retribution with the words “it’s Vaughn against the ninth graders.”
The narrative eventually draws to a close after the rhythmic, jumping organ of “Mr Clean”, and then the echoing bell-like notes of “G.M.C”. But as Viktor’s tale fades to black, and all that is left are the sounds of a thunderstorm, the album grants one last surprise in the addition of “Change the Beat,” which previously appeared on the 12″. MF Doom offers final lyrical abstractions and Hip Hop stylings.
While an album can perhaps never be described as “perfect”, because the definition of musical perfection is an elusive and, no doubt, constantly changing one, “Vaudeville Villain” comes fairly close with its spades of innovation, ingenuity, and originality. Each example of production supplied by the Sound Ink crew, in conjunction with RJD2’s one offering, manages to be both inventive and consistently thematic. Vik offers ill lyrics like these:
“Know the stee
Write a rhyme like a mystery
And sign it at the bottom in calligraphy
Ya nigga V”
It’s clear that even some of the best-respected lyricists in the industry can still be expected to take it to that next level. With the King Geedorah full length, Monsta Island Czars contributions, “Vaudeville Villain” and the completed, yet-to-be-released “Mmâ€¦Food” under his belt, ‘though the Chinese Zodiac contends 2003 is the Year of the Goat, believe me when I tell you this is, in fact, the year of Doom.