Since 1999, F. David Norris, a.k.a. Vigatron, has been shattering boundaries in the world of underground hip-hop. You might question the quality of his music, but you can't accuse this journeyman rhyme-slinger of being ordinary. A Vigatron show is not your run-of-the mill experience.
"They love it when I wear the wings," says Norris with an impish twinkle in his eye. With his third release, Pleasure, Norris adds another dark chapter to the story of his Vigattron persona, a dark warrior/slave in the service of the listening public. The cover of Pleasure features a strikingly brilliant image of the artist's musical avatar: a warrior dressed in black, clutching a medieval broadsword, obediently hunched down on his knees with black wings sprouting out of his back.
"That's me as the gimp, the man-whore that you're paying to come do all these things and give it to you like you like it," says Norris, who has the shoulders of a linebacker, the frame of a longshoreman and a shaven head. This menacing image is something he actively cultivates. He certainly cuts a distinctive figure onstage in full regalia.
"I like to give 'em a show," he says, insisting that hip-hop — the music he has loved since he was a kid growing up on the hardscrabble streets of East Cleveland — has grown complacent. While the album features throwback Bomb Squad-style beats and solid lyricism, Pleasure is a mixed effort that succeeds in telling Vigatron's story. In the world of hip-hop, few artists choose to navigate the treacherous terrain of the concept album. Norris has taken up this task with verve.
"That album is very conceptual," says Norris. "It's basically broken up into chapters. I see myself as a comedian. I think it helps people digest what's going on a lot easier."
Norris always attempts to add showmanship to his performances. For some shows, he's brought out a device known as the "debauchery box."
"They stop the show and roll out the debauchery box, and out I come in my gimp mask and a leash," he says. "I am huge Prince fan, and I wanted to bring back to hip-hop some of those theatrics."
Despite using these dramatic devices, Norris doesn't want to be defined by gimmicks.
"It's funny," he says. "I wanna give them something different than 'I'm just standing here rapping,' but I try to be more than the guy with the wings or the gimp mask."
Norris also sees himself as more of a writer than a pure freestyler.
"I am bit too meticulous about what comes out of my mouth," he says, adding that his musical compatriots, the local Nappyhead Entertainment crew, are known as lyrically strong battle rappers and hardcore spit-boxers. Norris will join DJ Wild Kyle, BamBam Smith, Nov.HoTel, Navy Blu and Astrovans at Nappyhead Entertainment's King of Beats: Battle of the Beats event taking place Friday.
"I don't think that I've earned the right to be called a headliner," he says. "The beat battle is headliner. There are no real headliners. I'm part of the team. This is our first beat battle that we have hosted. We get a bunch of local producers from Cleveland or from wherever. We have a few rounds of beats with a cash prize."
Norris believes that such events are the last true bastion of live hip-hop.
"It's a kinda different vibe," he says. "Beat battles are different from your average showcase. I think it's really for those who wanna hear some really good live music. These guys are putting themselves on the line."
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