I was blessed to be one of the executive producers on Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Villain album. We recorded and produced it almost entirely in-house for Sound-Ink Records in 2002. It was truly an awesome project to be part of. One of the greatest things about collaborating with DOOM is his ability to incorporate anything and everything from his daily into a rhyme scheme. In the studio, we’d talk about something we were into and the next day it would be built into the track we were recording. It never failed to blow our minds.
Keep in mind that “daily” could be something banal like a video game, something supernatural like Santeria, or even something fictional that bridges both. The Victor von Doom character from Marvel comics sums up this finicky balance: in college with the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, von Doom wants to harness greater and greater power, so he keeps mixing magic with science to produce ever more volatile results. In turn, the story forms a dope metaphor for the creative process: audio engineering is a science, but no matter how on point you are with your gear, you can’t make up for creative magic; that spark that might blow up your lab. So where does science end and magic begin? It’s hard to tell, but it plays out regardless in the all-too-real world.
It began with straight storytelling on “Monday Night at Fluid,” the very first song we tracked with DOOM. Rich Medina had booked DOOM to play at Fluid in Philly and one of our producers, King Honey, arranged for him to come record at his studio after the show. Long story short, when a couple clowns in the crowd refused to pay respects, which were inarguably due, a metal attaché case came out and…blaow! A couple clowns caught a lesson. This true story formed the lyrics for the session the very next day, and we put that out on our first compilation and 12-inch.
The working relationship between King Honey and DOOM grew from there. Soon we were committed to make an album together. I think DOOM geeked on the fact we were way into comics and sci-fi and shit. So he decided to flex his Viktor Vaughn persona for the first time. Vik was the predecessor to DOOM in the saga, pre mask. Vik was a younger and hungrier MC. To become your own predecessor requires time travel, so magic and science(-fiction) naturally entered the picture.
In “The Drop,” Vik spits, “The Klingons are now aboard the Enterprise rental vessel.” On the surface, it’s one of several Star Trek references on the record. On another level, Enterprise was the company I used to book a van every time we scheduled a week of recording. Mad basic, but I was the dude tasked to handle that shit!
I remember another time talking about trivia from growing up in New York and we laughed about Dr. Zizmor, the dermatologist who’s had ads on local TV and in the subway forever. I’d just seen his “fruit peels” exposed as a sham on the news. DOOM must’ve liked the idea that Zizmor was supposedly a scientist, but he was kind of a snake oil salesman, too—just like Vik. Hence the reference to the good doctor in the RJD2-produced “Saliva.”
DOOM gets meta on the whole concept of what’s down to earth and in your face as fodder for art in “RaeDawn.” He flows, “Just another day in the Dunya.” Dunya is an Islamic term for the material/temporal plane in which we live every day. The fact that you need to call it out though presupposes there’s something else—a lot that is else—and sets the stage for more magic and some weird, weird science.
Like I said, sometimes you can’t tell the magic from the science. On “A Dead Mouse,” Vik references Ed[ward] Leedskalnin as if they went to high school together, like Vik did with Peter Parker. Leedskalnin was famous for—among other things—building an enormous castle from coral as a tribute to his lost love, his “Sweet Sixteen.” How he built it may be a mystery, or it may have been thanks to Ed’s esoteric mastery of levitation. Sounds like Vik picked up tips from dude.
“Lickupon” has one of many references to voodoo-like rituals when Vik flips, “Umm, he wrote this one with a fever sick in bed/ With his dickhead inside a chickenhead/ No, a dead chicken’s head /He said it help his nausea / If he lost ya, wait ’till he tell you about the flying saucer.” He didn’t just have morning sex (or did he?), he’s giving you alternative-medicine tips and setting you up for more zaniness to come.
My favorite buried treasure comes in “Never Dead,” a whole extended story about mixing hard science with incantations. Outwardly, “Keep a liter of vodka inside my locker/ Use it like a book on the Grey Goose scenario” is about (ahem) teen drinking. But if you parse the sounds a different way you get, “Grey Goo scenario,” a hypothesis where nano-technology self-replicates and takes over the world. The guy who first wrote about it described a bottle as the breeding ground. We had all just read about it in a Scientific American issue that was floating around the studio.
Our producers, especially Heat Sensor and Max Bill, were way into putting sounds from electronic music into the beats they were throwing at DOOM to get loose on. I’m sure he was talking about them on one level when he wrote, “He’s like a Lego megalomaniac/ Who’s into electronic and techno, a real brainiac/ Smack dab in the hip-hop gold rush/ V, rather the old stuff / Preferably the Cold Crush,” as if DOOM was rooted only in the old school when in fact he was killing the beats we were putting in his Discman, especially the stranger ones.
Heads will know I’m just scratching the surface on the recurring and underground themes on Vaudeville Villain. Just listen to the album with an ear for references to graffiti writing, hair styles, and salesmanship, to name a few. These examples stand out in my memory as being ones you might not get if you weren’t there behind the scenes of an amazing creative process.