Hear Vin Diesel’s 1986 rap collaboration with Arthur Russell
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Barring a collaboration between Will.i.am. and Sarah Palin, there are no two people less likely to have worked together than Vin Diesel and the late New York avant-garde genius Arthur Russell.
One of them ranks among the world’s biggest box-office stars, a muscle-bound and monosyllabic action hero best known for his work in the ‘Fast and Furious’ series, ‘xXx,’ and the disturbingly successful ‘The Pacifier.’ The other was a visionary composer and cellist who dabbled in disco, classical, folk and country-western music.
But the union of Xander Cage and the student of John Cage was one of Russell’s rare attempts at creating hip-hop, then a nascent phenomenon of the New York streets. Under his birth name, Mark Sinclair, the 19-year-old Diesel was discovered rapping and breakdancing in the West Village by guitarist Gary Lucas (best known for his collaborations with Jeff Buckley), who recently uploaded the fragmented track to his Soundcloud page.
Though many rappers have successfully segued into lengthy Hollywood careers, few actors have established themselves as rappers. This January, I catalogued some of the more ignominous experiments.
But Diesel’s right there. Taped in 1986, right at the dawn of the new school, Diesel yells about ‘party people getting stupid.’ He calls himself the ‘man of steel’ with ‘skin of silk.’ He shouts out ‘the ladies without a man.’ He makes Vanilla Ice look like Ice Cube.
Known for his use of minimalist drone, Russell was obviously drawn to the repetition of the driving 808 slaps. But the beat’s irregular rhythms caused Diesel to get immediately thrown off. The rapping is a different ZIP Code, the words aren’t enunciated.
Thankfully, Diesel decided to take up a different vocation soon after, and he’s done quite well for himself. Plus, he’s able to say that he worked with one of the best to ever do it.
And we’re not talking about the Rock.
-- Jeff Weiss