Today we’re going to talk about Viper the Rapper and one of the most out-there releases of 2008. Who is Viper? Not a whole lot is known about this guy (and the more you try to research him, the more questions arise), but here’s what we know: his real name is Lee Carter and he hails from Houston, where he “works in real estate”. Prefers to go by “Viper the Rapper”, as to not to be confused with “Viper the Snake”. Enjoys smoking and selling crack, the latter of which got him some time in a federal penitentiary. Has been in the rap game since at least 2008, though he was recently “discovered” last year, so who knows how far back he really goes. He claims to have written over 3000 songs in his life, and given his massive discography, you can believe it. Amazon lists 168 albums by the guy (containing 2638 songs!), several of which are credited to “Cobra the Rapper and Viper the Rapper”. Cobra may actually be his father. Nearly all of his album covers are selfies, and he tends to recycle the same images over and over again. Likewise, some of his song titles are suspiciously similar – a quick browse of his albums shows that he’s written songs called “Why Take Life as a Joke”, “It Is Smart Not to Take Life as a Joke”, “U Must Not Ever Take Life As a Joke”, “U Really Wanna Take Life As a Joke?”, and “U Takin Life As a Joke?” These may all be the same song, as though Viper himself forgot his own song titles from album to album (you think he’d have a better memory, considering that he releases one every week). Lots and lots of his stuff is on Spotify.
You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack is usually considered his debut (though really, who the hell knows); “released” in 2008 but not discovered until 2013, when some 4channer rescued it from the stacks of anonymous bedroom producers that flood YouTube and SoundCloud these days (who used to be, or still are, the guys you encounter in the downtown areas of big cities, trying to sell you their CD-Rs of “professionally made hip hop” for six bucks, though for you it’s only four). It began life as an image meme for obvious reasons, but don’t sleep on the actual music, because it is glorious. I looked up reviews to see if anyone had an honest go at it, and luckily a few people did (the majority of them are the “hilarious” 5-star reviews that are so overwrought that nobody could mistake them for serious, or funny, for that matter).
Full disclosure: I don’t really listen to a lot of hip hop. Still, I feel it’s safe to say that there’s nothing out there that sounds quite like this. It sucks you into its gonzo sonic world immediately, introducing himself to you with a dusty synthblast and “ha ha, here’s a little something for you bustas”. The first thing you’ll notice is how much bass there is; even at a low volume this shook the walls at my house. Compounding this is Viper himself; low and mumbly, sounding like he’s either stoned out of his mind or captured within two minutes of waking up. The melodies skirt around the lines of R&B as played through a Sega Genesis; they move in and out of focus as they get pushed outward by the overloaded bass rhythms, and the overall effect is akin to being drowned. On headphones, the ethereal melodies and stumbly arrangements can make you feel nauseous – the beats often fall out of time with the rhythm, which is a real problem when he’s attempting an odd meter (“I’m Rich Already 4 Life”).
The end result is something that’s profoundly depressing; the music is suffocating and relentless, full of keyboard figures that emulate sad, out-of-tune R&B. Take a sad song and flange the hell out of it and you’ll hear something similar. On the off-chance you can make out what Viper is saying on top of this, you’ll uncover some strange lyrics, to the point where you wonder exactly how together this guy really is (“I sold my soul to Satan/but bought it back from God with this song”). I get some kind of a Wesley Willis vibe from this, if only Wesley had written the music himself rather than use Casio presets. Viper writes his own music, and most of it would sound almost professional if it weren’t played through blown out, decayed keyboards. Some of it is real catchy – both the title track and “I’m That S-West Blood” have lines that have been looping through my head for weeks (“I roll…….only gangsters stroll” and of course “I’m fine…tunin’…my papermaking game”. Maybe add a few more periods for effect). Not all of these tracks are great but there are some gems if you stick around (the stoned lullaby “I’m Gone Sting”, or the alien funk of “Parlayin’). Of course, fifty minutes of music this monochromatic and oppressive is bound to make anyone uncomfortable, so there’s a good chance that you’ll never make it that far. I would imagine most people will turn this off by the third track. It may even inspire a good puke. Apparently some versions of this album have a totally different tracklisting, so maybe this all reads as nonsense. And here I thought The Fall’s discography was confusing.
For whatever reason I decided to poke around a bit on Spotify and listen to some of this guy’s other works, and believe it or not it gets more bizarre from here. He samples a bit on his later albums, but does so in a way that’s seemingly designed to mask the sample source; either by backmasking the melody or by clipping out the beginnings or endings of words so you can’t tell what the person is singing. Several of his “remixes” involve slowing the song down and pitching it even further down; say what you will about this guy, but man does he own his niche hard. He uses auto-tune from time to time (“Can’t Stop Me From Snowbirdin'”), and it’s a predictable disaster, though you have to give him props for trying to mix things up anyway. Even Zappa couldn’t keep up with this guy’s pace.