By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Dallas-based producer Rob Viktum makes beats all the time. No hyperbole there—the guy releases a new sampler disc of beats practically every week, just to put his name out there to rappers looking to grab a soul-infused, sample-heavy beat for an upcoming album. But the beats he's created on a new EP for his latest project, well, they're a bit different.
Not in style, mind you, but in creation.
"I think this disc is a little, well, not necessarily smoother, but more thought-out," he says of his Aight, New Drink collaboration with Tanya Morgan's Donwill. "It's not just beats for beats' sake, or something for rappers to pick out from."
More than that, to hear Viktum explain it, the new EP is something of a watershed moment for his career, one that has already seen the Amarillo-born producer provide beats for underground rap heavyweight Brother Ali and remix an entire album for the Definitive Jux-signed hip-hop trio Hangar 18. On this disc, which finds him working with Donwill of the much-buzzed Brooklyn-based hip-hop act Tanya Morgan (see recent praises from Spin, XXL and Vibe magazines, as well as countless blog posts from various outlets), the pressure, Viktum says, is on.
This isn't just another project, he emphasizes. This is the project that could put his name on the map.
"[Donwill is] the biggest artist I've ever worked with," Viktum says over a recent lunch, without a hint of exaggeration, but rather an honest-to-goodness sense of realism. "I hope the disc gets past the Dallas stigma. I don't want to say this accusingly, but there's a lot of talent in this city, and it's past what you see on TV. People need to see that."
Indeed, Aight, New Drink hardly offers the same synth-heavy, looped beats so often heard in the exploding local hip-hop scene that has seen artists such as Dorrough, Lil Wil, the GS Boyz and B-Hamp, among others, score national hits of varying degrees. Instead, it's a throwback to the boom-bap sounds of what's so often referred to as the Golden Age of hip-hop, back when acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Eric B. and Rakim, and others made their names by rapping consciously over soulful, sample-based and scratch-ready beats. And, featuring a slew of largely unknowns rapping over the beats, it's pretty much everything underground hip-hop is supposed to be: musical, conscious and, most important, fearless, like when DJ Jazzy Jeff protégé Phil Nash raps that "Def Jam couldn't sign a real artist if their fuckin' life depended on it" on opening cut "Worth the Wait."
So, no, Aight, New Drink isn't exactly along the lines of that D-Town Boogie stuff that gets played in the clubs.
"I don't want to be something I'm not," Viktum says. "I wouldn't even know where to begin with that [so-called D-Town Boogie sound]. It'd be like me trying to write a classical piece."
That'd be something of an ordeal, one imagines. But this disc, despite the gravitas Viktum puts on it, really wasn't all that much of a hassle, to hear Viktum tell it. It was put together over the course of just two months—and that's once you factor in the time Viktum spent waiting on the rappers to submit their verses and the singers to offer up their choruses for him to compile. According to Viktum, just a week after Donwill, who he first met at Scribbe Jam 2005 where both artists performed, confirmed that he was in, the beats were done.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance to lose focus," Viktum says with a laugh. And to his credit, the album keeps its focus despite featuring 10 different MCs in its just more than 19 minutes of runtime. Rather, that short timeframe works as something of a catalyst here; without much time to express themselves, each performer, Viktum included, is working hard to make the most of his or her time. It gives the disc a hungry-for-exposure feel, and for the better too.
So it's fitting, then, that the disc is available as a free download this week on RappersIKnow.com
"There's no reason to sell it," Viktum says. "No one's buying music anymore. And it's just exposure for [Donwill] and exposure for me. Why not just put it out there?
"I mean, there's something there, I think, on the album," he boasts, rightfully and proudly. "Something on maybe a larger level. To me, it's already a success. I wanted to do this, and it happened so quickly. It's instant gratification—and that never happens in this game."