Young Vaughn has ambition, we’ll give him that. While most UAE musicians record their first album in the hope of getting signed – or just making a little independent money – Dubai rapper Vaughn has bigger plans for his debut, The New School Cool: he wants to change the course of hip hop itself. ‘It’s all about trying something new,’ he says. ‘Hip hop wouldn’t sound like it does today if no one tried something different. They’d still be rapping like, “Clap your hands, everybody!” But it’s been in the same phase for the last 10 years. Nobody’s had the guts to do anything new.’
For Vaughn making something new means, in part, dismantling the old. So he’s travelled the world like a musical Frankenstein, chopping up influences from all over and stitching them together. ‘I went to Paris and discovered all the electro that they were playing there, then I went to London and heard a lot of drum ’n’ bass. So there are electro hip-hop tracks on there, lots of soul samples, some drum ’n’ bass and a heavy metal song. But it’s all positive-sounding, you know? You can sing about heartbreak and still make it sound upbeat with the right sound.’
But, as much as he took sounds and styles from his travels, Vaughn’s biggest influences aren’t musical. ‘If you put on a song to be inspired you end up writing an imitation of that song. So I find inspiration in other places. My music feeds off art, you know? And art feeds off life. I look at art pieces and even architecture and they inspire me.’
It’s not just the highbrow that stimulates him, though. ‘I get songs from everywhere. I’ll be in a club or in a mall and I’ll come up with lyrics. I came up with three songs today. But I can’t write them down – it’s like
I have ADD so if I tried I’d just end up drawing stick men or something. So I walk around and mumble lyrics instead. People think I’m crazy but it’s just that I’ve got a song in my head.’
He should probably invest in a Bluetooth headset – a useful way for habitual mumblers to look like clued-up business-types and not, well, nutcases. And, while Vaughn might not actually be crazy, the long wait for the album to be mixed and mastered is driving him metaphorically nuts: ‘I’m really bored right now. It’s why I keep adding songs to the album and changing things around. I can’t just sit there waiting.’
Still, you can’t blame his producers for wanting to make it sound as good as possible – this is, after all, the first official release from The Recipe, Dubai’s own rap supergroup. They had planned to release a mix tape featuring all of their members as their first launch, but now Vaughn has been pushed to the front of the queue. He’s not nervous, though. ‘A lot of rappers say crap like, “You’re not signed so you’re not a real artist,” so I wanted to show them that I am a real rapper and that I did this for the love of it, not because a record company told me to release an album.
‘I’m really happy with what’s on there. If you’re going to come out with something you don’t think is good then what the hell, right? I know a lot of people who put out music and then they say, “I’m not comfortable with it,” and I say, “Why put it out in the first place? Just scratch it and move on to the next project.” So I set the craziest standards for myself. And if people don’t like it because it’s very weird and not full of club songs that’s fine. I’d rather be someone different than an echo of someone they’ve heard before. I’m just being me – I don’t watch movies so I can sing a song about a life I don’t live. You hear what some rappers say and you know it’s not them. But I can really do these songs in my sleep because I live this life. I love sneakers, so don’t be too surprised if I end up writing a song about sneakers.’
Ah, we heard about this footwear fetish. And Vaughn was born in Manila. Is he trying to outdo Imelda Marcos? ‘I actually know her grandkids, man! I’m not trying to be like her. She had, what, 3,000 pairs? I know if I reached a certain point I’d sell some. Some people buy and buy and buy, but I just want a nice amount, you know?’ And what would a nice amount be, we wonder? ‘Probably something like…’ he stops to think. ‘About 400.’ Well you can’t be cool without style.
The New School Cool will be launched on July 31 at The Shelter. You can also download it for free from www.facebook.com/youngvaughn or www.myspace.com/youngvaughnmusic.
Photography by Zahra Soar, with thanks to Cuadro gallery. Artwork by Stash