The cover of Paranoid Castle’s second album, Champagne Nightmares, recalls those of Handsome Boy Modeling School sans the fake mustaches adorned by Prince Paul and Dan the Automator. Although a snarky sense of humor still persists; translucent tinkling glasses seem to shine a wink through the jewel case. The comparison ends there though; where Paul and Dan alluded to the ridiculousness of the opulent persona’s they embodied, emcee Kirby Dominant swathes himself in the sex-obsessed young-boy character he is on the mic, and you can’t tell if you’re meant to take him seriously or not.
Paranoid Castle is the collaboration between Oakland emcee Dominant and Canada beatmeister Factor, whose role reflects his name. His contribution is a great factor in the few aspects of the disc that are enjoyable. The beats are one of the likable things on the album, and it’s clear that Factor is intent on purposefully matching the tone of Dominant’s swirly, machismo laced, man-boy bragging.
Kirby Dominant’s range is pretty much as follows: raps about stealing people’s girlfriends, raps about having sex with said girlfriends, and raps about dumping those girlfriends for an assortment of other women he deems oddball but otherwise sex-worthy. It seems that Kirby Dominant is a rap version of the scandalized politicians who can’t seem to stay off of Extra! and other tabloids, both attracted to and outwardly judgmental of the women they cavort with.
These rhymes are all peppered with aggrandizing lyrics that deal with the destructiveness of drugs and alcohol (“Weed Man” eschews this theme) and appear to break the fourth-wall, hint-hint. The chorus of “The Audacity of Me,” for example, goes “I’m looking so fly/I know you hate me/I’m feeling so fresh I can’t believe myself/I’m wearing my new clothes/I know you hate me/I’m feeling so fresh I can’t believe myself….Ooo-oh, the audacity of me,” in an obnoxious ring-around-the-rosy chant that vaguely recalls the chorus of Ghost Town Djs’ “My Boo.” One gets the sense that he is being that annoying on purpose, and any inclination to smirk at Dominant’s wax antics seem justified. But then.
“Little Girl” is the “Oh you made cause I’m stylin on you,” the catalyst that had me backing up a few yards until I was clear across the grounds of the paranoid castle to appraise it’s shaky edifice with even more scope. Although the lyrics detail the emcee’s relationship with who I’m assuming is a grown woman, the sonic backdrop is as creepy as the assertion the chorus and the context conjure up. Kirby croons “If I wrote a song about you it would sound like this/You’re my little girl/ You’re my little girl, you’re my little girl, you’re my little girl.” Yeah. The song feels spiritually guided by Humbert Humbert, polished with the paternalism of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and set to a score that evokes a scene in a Lifetime movie about internet-voyeurism. Kirby’s singing, disjointed and choppy, channels the ghost of 1984-era Rockwell while the new-wave synths vamp out and you are left wondering what the hell it was all about (and in need of a shower).
It’s not necessarily the content of the song that had me scratching my head (even though it’s not hard to get turned off from a song with that chorus). I had trouble figuring out what its role is in the album as a whole, and to a larger extent what the album is trying to achieve. At the end of the LP, I was left wondering if its all a joke, or where Kirby Dominant the persona and the emcee begin and end. Perhaps that’s why the issue of persona is so important and controversial in hip hop, and in any artistic form. When the persona is not clearly separated from the emcee or artist it becomes harder to judge whatever achievements the artist has made within the work, and even still, those who embody a persona are not exempt from criticisms of repetitiveness.
Because the concept isn’t as tight as it could be, its themes are redundant and contradictory, and the above-mentioned persona issues persist, Champagne Nightmares gets it only partially-right. What Factor and Dominant have achieved is producing a shock-rap, (concept?) album that sounds straight out of, not Oakland, not Canada, and not a conceptual aristocratic shanty, but of surreal cartoon Adventure Time’s Land of Ooo.