By Jim Schutze
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"The first hip-hop record I owned was The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five," recalls DJ Rob Viktum. "My father bought it for me."
When that record first dropped, back when Viktum was but a wee lad, it was mostly the inner-city kids who were having The Message handed down to them. It may have received some significant airplay on more "urban" radio markets, but probably not so much around Amarillo in the early 1980s.
"Amarillo was not a place for cultural advancement really, especially the hip-hop culture," Viktum says of his native Rotor City. "You are talking about a town where there are a lot of talented people who are held back by a standard of norms that is completely twisted. Most people grow up, graduate high school, go to community college, go to work, have a family and so forth."
Viktum's family helped him avoid the Amarillian assembly line, making music an integral part of his upbringing. A year before purchasing The Message for his 5-year-old son, his dad took him to his first concert—a James Brown performance.
"Pops was a real cool dude," he says, a massive understatement.
While his dad kept him hip, Rob's mom was introducing him to more traditional fare. "I started learning piano at 5, started [taking] lessons from my mother," he says, "and when she got sick of me, she passed me onto another teacher."
Synthesizing the classical training provided by his mother with the love for rap and soul music that had been implanted in him by his father, Viktum started making beats when he was 12 years old, eking out whatever hip-hop flavor he could find within the Texas Panhandle town.
"There was no real outlet for kids to express themselves," he says. "The only real thing I remember about a hip-hop influence was Saturdays on the college radio station. They had a hip-hop format for a couple of hours. But to be honest, let's just say the music was never really up to par."
Determined not to fester in Amarillo, Viktum moved to Dallas in 2002 and has been steadily carving his niche since. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but he wears them well. Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Alchemist, RZA, Madlib and J Dilla are among some of his more obvious forefathers, and like these heroes he faithfully borrows from movie scores of the '70s when creating beats and musical backdrops.
"I make sample-based hip-hop," he says. "But I definitely try to use very rare things and really alter things to where it's not as recognizable." Aside from piano, Viktum also plays drums, guitar and "a few woodwinds," skills he may sometimes whip out in the studio "when needed [for] filler."
Recently, Viktum decided to turn over one of his Wednesday night residency spots at Monkey Bar to create the Beat Down showcase. The inaugural Beat Down features Verbal Seed's OneSelf Salaam, Strange Fruit Project's Symbolyc One and Picnic from PPT doing battle for a cash prize, with KBFB-97.9 FM's Headkrack officiating. From speaking with the contestants, one gets the sense they weren't exactly cajoled into participating.
"I can tell you that Rob moves forward with everything that he does," Picnic says. "He's definitely gonna start a riot with this showcase."
Says Symbolyc One: "Rob Vik is doing what more people should be doing, taking it back to the essence and bringing back the fun in hip-hop."
And then there's this, from OneSelf: "Rob Viktum is a vital component to the DFW hip-hop movement we have going on here. It's an honor to know and work with this cat. Not only is he a talented artist but he's a stand-up dude."