Beyond Good and Evil

Rapper MF Doom's new works of hip-hop fiction reinvent the hero principle for the modern age

One need not be a sci-fi junkie to get a better grasp of Viktor Vaughn's Vaudeville Villain, on Sound-Ink, but you won't get help from Doom. Staying in character, balancing mild schizophrenia, Doom says he doesn't know shit about that record -- "you'll have to ask Vik." When you call back, there's Viktor on the phone, talking a mile a minute about the seasonal mood clouds of the album's shadowy narrative: "Every day everybody is not in a good mood, you know what I'm saying? So a lot of that naturalness is caught in there, you know what I'm saying? So I just lay down whatever I felt."

Which fits. Vaughn's album is a smart nerdy kid's braggadocio diary notes -- more than a little mean-spirited, kind of bitter, but also completely evocative of the outsider surviving high school. If anything, it's a portrait of a Doomed hip-hop artist as a young man: blowing people away on open mike nights after composing brilliant "four sides to every story" rhymes in a locked bedroom, falling for a girl only to alienate her with attitude, painting a neighborhood he thinks he'll never escape. "Straight-up Brooklyn," says Vik. Underneath, newcomers King Honey, Heat Sensor and Max Bill drop a cornucopia of techno-minded hip-hop beats (think Prefuse 73 and RJD2, who contributes one) that directly balance Vaughn's lyrical nostalgia with an abstract future funk. All of it exudes a full-bodied reality that hip-hop rarely aspires to. The good, the bad, the funny and the ugly all get equal play.

"Every record I do, I feel my responsibility to add on in some way, as well as to entertain," says Doom about painting life. "It's a waste otherwise. The way hip-hop is so many words per second, and you're listening to words like you're reading a book. So just to be bragging and boasting through that whole time, for hours and hours, seems to me a waste of that time. From a creative point of view, I wanna do something that people aren't doing, 'cause they're not talking about life and living. All the positive things are being left out. Everybody seems to be stuck on this downward spiral about death and destruction and shit. To me that's putting a bad thing over on hip-hop. Let's see if you can come to this from a living point of view."

You see, there really are no heroes here.

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