Dean Van Nguyen is swift and changeable
MF DOOM and Ghostface Killah. Does hip-hop have a more fabled double team? With their near-perfect instinct for a soul sample, use of madcap cartoon outtakes and affinity for hiding their faces behind masks, pairing the two almost seems like too perfect a concept. Maybe they know it themselves, and take a kind of twisted pleasure in teasing us by releasing a track here and a track there – rationing out the goodness as we await a full-blown team-up record that might never come.
That collaboration album has supposedly been in the pipeline for years, yet the number of tracks featuring both currently wouldn’t fill a well-stocked EP (below is a playlist of their joint efforts I’ve put together, padded out with some Ghost-only tracks produced by DOOM). The Wu-Tang veteran has come across as the more willing of the two in interviews, but trying to get a lock on Vic Vaughn is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Like Dr Doom, the Marvel supervillain that inspired not just his name but a large part of his persona, he lives way off the grid. Striking out when you least expect it with an unpredictable collaboration LP or record under a different guise, before disappearing again into the shadows.
Their latest team-up is ‘Ray Gun’, a single taken from Sour Soul, Ghost’s forthcoming collaboration record with Toronto experimental jazz trio Badbadnotgood. Following the Adrian Younge-produced 12 Reasons To Die and The Revelations-helmed 36 Seasons, the album continues his recent formula of working with a single, soulful production team who abstain from programmable beats and instead favour live instrumentation, And though he’s rarely spitted Fishscale-levels of fire on any of the records, all three have been unglossy, smoked-out, easy-on-the ear efforts as the 44-year-old nicely settles into middle age.
‘Ray Gun’ is a good example. The snappy drums, leisurely strummed guitars and playful organ chords are 70’s guitar pop pastiche. Excluding the badass Blues Brothers-esque wall of horns that closes the track, this is a two-minute chorus-less sprint that allows both rappers, taking a verse each, to effortlessly breeze over the track. And, of course, the chemistry is on-point; Tony Starks’ spikey flow and DOOM’s gruff voice (though not quite as thick as it’s sounded in recent years, like he’s been hitting the eucalyptus) meshing together as perfectly as ever.
Neither rapper actually appear in the video for the song. Instead it’s Odd Future’s Left Brain, of all people, who takes up the role as the man in the iron mask for this fun blaxploitation spoof which, like ‘Ray Gun’ itself, has plenty of retro charm. I’m particularly fond of the gaudy strip club, in all its tarot card-reading, ray gun-firing, birthday cake-providing glory. Another 10 or so of these packaged together as an album would probably be too relaxed to truly satisfy, but on its own, ‘Ray Gun’ is fine showcase of why they need to get it done.