When Kool Keith released Dr. Octagonecologyst in 1996, the former Ultramagnetic MC's schizoid take on hip-hop was treated more or less as a singular oddity. Now, almost a decade later, Keith's brand of conceptual babble could probably fill its own shelf at a Virgin Megastore: in '98, RZA became "Bobby Digital". In '99 Ol' Dirty Bastard unofficially became "Big Baby Jesus" (as well as "Osirus" at various points). Prince Paul and Dan the Automator became "Nathaniel Merriweather" and "Chest Rockwell". Eminem became "Slim Shady". Fat Jon became "Maurice Galactica". And, of course, former KMD vocalist MF Doom became Viktor Vaughn, the ever evolving, multi-talented pimp/hustler/player, who is the subject of Vaudeville Villain.
MF easily rivals Kool Keith as one of the most hilariously fucked up lyricists out there. Vaudeville Villain chronicles the elusive everyday life of Vik Vaughn, with MF weaving elaborate tales of the character's exploits. His erratic penchant for recalling washed up celebs and random ex-trends makes the record a kind of time capsule (here's a few gems: Dan Aykroyd, Deepak Chopra, Joe Piscopo, Optimus Prime, Rob Reiner, Fuddruckers, and Bobby Brown -� "The last performance was flawless/ He rocked the mic with his Bobby Brown cordless."). Some of the "Open Mic Night" bits makes you want to burn down your local coffeehouse, or at least avoid the poetry slam at all costs. The Eddie Griffin parody (Lil' Willabee, who's eventually killed by Vaughn), Brother SambukSa, the Afrocentric spoken word guy, and AJ Ready Wright, the white kid who can't rhyme for shit but charges on like a smack-addled Calvin Johnson, are especially deserving caricatures.
But for every 20 absurdities, MF throws out a hint of reality: "We studied transfigurations and different ways to bring the trance off nigga nations"; or "He's a member of the most playa-hated race who made this invaded place and stayed it with a straight face." So while the guy is mostly bizarre humor, he's by no means a one trick pony. "Let Me Watch", the record's singular jazzy, mellowed-out love song, is about the relationship between Vik and Nikki, his underage girlfriend. After listing the relationship's reveries and heresies, the track ends with Apani B. (Nikki) repeating the ridiculously creepy phrase: "I'd rather masturbate than fuck with Vik Vaughn."
Unlike MF's lo-fi debut, Operation Doomsday, and the ton of other singles he's released since, he enlisted SoundInk producers King Honey, Max Bill, and Heat Sensor, as well Def Jux's RJD2. The resulting sound is the anathemic equivalent of MF's lyrical opus: muffled guitar loops, horn sections, tweaked synths, and Nintendo samples easily blur the line between electronica and hip-hop, calling to mind a host of groups�from Anticon, to Anti-Pop Consortium, to El-P. "Saliva", which is probably the record's most single-accessible track, is typical RJD2. After the noir-sounding sample that declares some inane fact about Vik, a blaring and super catchy horn, guitar, and organ, along with MF's low, almost guttural voice, catapults the track into a funk-driven mania. An ethereal, Hitchcock-like synth lingers in the background, shifting between a distant melody and an obvious hook.
Vaudeville Villain's drum patterns build percussive compositions as well -� the typical hip-hop rhythms are constantly restructured with rock-sounding tom-toms and ride hits. The title track, for example, sounds like a Dalek cut, with its heavy, alternating drum sounds and static-ridden guitars.
The implications of a record like Vaudeville Villain could probably fill a book. Schizoid hip-hop is weird, experimental, and typically anti-pop, and MF's Vik Vaughn is no exception. If nothing else, guys like MF Doom have helped kick hip-hop in a thousand directions, both sonically and psychologically. What it does conceptually makes it one of the most relevant forms of the genre out there; it never quite knows what the hell it is or where it's going. Vaudeville Villain is case in point, and it's some of MF's best works to date.