Rappers love to promise blockbuster collaborations, but they seem to hate actually fulfilling those promises. Sure, every now and then a team-up will actually happen, but those cases are few and far between. For every Watch the Throne, there are a dozen T-Waynes, or EarlWolfs. One rapper, though, is particularly notorious for promising collaborations that never actually end up happening: DOOM.
You want proof? Where’s the new Madvillian record that he’s promised us once a year for the past decade? That’s just the reality of being a fan of Daniel Dumile’s music. You never know if he’s actually gonna do what he says, no matter if it’s actually showing up at a concert or making a full-length collaboration with Ghostface Killah.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Though they’ve been talking about it off and on fornearlythreeyears, all we’ve actually heard from DOOMSTARKS1 is the track above and a “Madvillianz Remix" of it.2 Although I would advise you not to get your hopes up about this project, the track is fairly enticing.
Aside from the simple thrill of hearing these two luminaries spitting rhymes on the same track, “Victory Laps” is a very promising blueprint for DOOMSTARKS. The beat (produced by DOOM himself) is ominous, endlesly striving, and rather RZA-esque, full of murky percussion and ghostly vocal samples. It sounds like getting chased through a dark, foggy alleyway by an unknown pursuer. DOOM and Ghost’s verses are, of course, excellent. DOOM opens with a verse that plays with idea of circles. On particularly inspired line equates the idea of “surround sound” with running laps around an opponent.
While their villain / hero alignment and the general competitiveness of rap might lead you to expect that DOOM’s opponent would be Starks, it’s clearly from the get go that this a “+" collaboration not a "vs." one. There’s a clear camaraderie between the two from the get go, with Ghost throwing in a few ad-libs during DOOM’s verse, and DOOM ending his verse by introducing Ghost. Ghostface’s verse is also worthy of praise, particularly the line about how his "…hits be immaculate and accurate" which is an interior rhyme for the ages.3
After that, DOOM returns for one more knotty, assonance-filled verse that’s full of the unique phrasings and tightly woven rhymes that’s he’s known for. He sounds as locked in as he’s ever been, and he doesn’t get lazy or sloppy with his delivery. I’m tempted to say that he’s making sure he holds his own against Ghost, but I think that one track isn’t enough to make that assessment.
Ultimately though, “Victory Laps” is a bit of empty promise. Each month that passes since July 2011 makes it seem less and less likely that this project will ever see the light of day. As enticing and exciting as this track is, I’m not going to get my hopes up.
But, I’d love to be proved wrong.
1. If you’re not a comic book / Wu Tang fan, their name is a combination of DOOM’s (obviously) and “Tony Starks” a nickname that Ghost has used for years. Both are derived from Marvel Comics characters. DOOM’s is a reference to the villain Doctor Doom who wears a metal mask similar to Dumile’s. “Tony Starks” is a slightly altered form of “Tony Stark” the alter ego of Iron Man.
2. And technically, they’ve been talking about a collaborative album of some form since 2005.
3. He also makes what seems to be a shout out to former Denver Broncos quarterback (and current handball player) Jake Plummer. While it isn’t a great line, Jake the Snake is one of those sports figures that I have an odd amount of affection for, so I really love that reference.
RZA’s kung-fu movie bonafides are beyond reproach, assuming, of course, that you’ve ever listened to any Wu-Tang Clan album. Between the dialogue samples and the myriad references that crop up in titles and lyrics, it doesn’t require a bit of effort to recognize the influence of martial arts films on the group. I mean, it’s right there in their name.
That’s the main reason why I had such high hopes for the RZA’s directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fists.1 Based on the trailer (which I’ve posted above) it looked like a basic action film, but with the involvement of one of pop culture’s most visible kung-fu movie nerds, I wagered that the film would at least bring an interesting twist to the material.
Alas, aside from minor tweaks,2The Man With The Iron Fists is a film nestled firmly in every one of its genre’s tropes and constraints. There’s the treacherous villain, the hero in search of vengeance, the girlfriend of the protagonist whose ultimate fate is so obvious I was surprised she didn’t get stuffed inside a refrigerator. This is, of course, not to say that this is an especially bad film. On the contrary, it’s certainly a solid kung-fu flick. But, due to the reputation of those involved in the film’s creation, it’s disappointing that the final product never transcends its genre trappings.
Speaking of the film’s pedigree, the tertiary involvement of Quentin Tarantino3 elicits a couple of comparisons, neither of which reflects particularly well on The Man With The Iron Fists. The first is to Tarantino’s most recent film, Django Unchained, due to the similarities between the titular characters of each film. Aside from the superficial similarities of their backstories (both are freed slaves), both protagonists are clearly supposed to effect a sort of stoicism that simultaneously entices viewers, and holds them at an arm’s length.4 Jamie Foxx’s turn as Django is far more effective at this pursuit than RZA’s as the Blacksmith. You can chalk this up to inexperience on RZA’s part or to Foxx’s ineffable screen presence, or even things that were out of the actor’s hands, like the way their characters were written and presented. In my opinion, the difference stems from a confluence of all the reasons I just listed. But no matter how you slice it with your yin-yang sword, the fact is that the film’s title gives the Blacksmith as much depth as he’ll ever have.
The second comparison I alluded to earlier is much more apt (and obvious). I am, of course, referring to Tarantino’s own kung-fu flick(s) Kill Bill. That film is a mash-up of a movie that takes elements of dozens of genre pictures and puts them in a sausage grinder (and yes, that sentence could be used to describe any of Tarantino’s films). This allows Tarantino to break genre elements out of their usual trappings and create novel scenarios, images, and characters from them. The Man With The Iron Fists, on the other hand, is constantly hampered by a slavish devotion to its genre. I’m certain that the filmmakers hoped to make a platonic form of martial arts films, but what they wound up with just feels derivative.
Perhaps the most illuminating comparison, however, is to RZA’s work as a producer. While he, like most everyone in hip hop, utilizes samples when constructing beats, he always tries to balance it with his own original compositions and recordings. He’s stated that he tries to use “the sampler more like a painter’s palette than a Xerox.” Essentially, he tries to create works that incorporate elements of other pieces, but that still offer unique and novel elements.
Sadly, when it comes to The Man With The Iron Fists, his approach was far more Xerox than it was painter’s palette.
1. Another major reason is that I’m a huge fan / advocate / apologist of co-writer Eli Roth. NAH SCRATCH THAT LAST PART ALL HIS MOVIES RULE AND HE DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR.
2. To list them: the soundtrack, the fact that the protagonist (played by RZA) is an African-American ex-slave / expatriate, and that’s really about it.
3. The film’s title is preceded by “Quentin Tarantino presents” on the poster, which means he had almost nothing to do with the film.
4. For examples, see basically any movie Clint Eastwood ever made.