In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight
, Harvey Dent says, "I guess you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Look, whoever the Batman is, he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life doing this. How could he?"
Much of the same can be said about David "Vigatron" Norris. He's a force to be reckoned with on the local hip-hop scene, but he's also making waves as an actor with several credits under his utility belt as well.
"I'm a rapper and writer first and an actor second, although the roles have somewhat switched as of late," Norris says. "I focus more on acting now; I've been rapping since high school but only seriously since about 2002 or 2003."
Vigatron made his bones as a rapper, but he's always pictured himself as a rocker. It's a concept he says may one day come to fruition.
"I'm more of a Prince guy," Vigatron says of his influences. "I came up wanting to be Michael Jackson until 1984 when Purple Rain
came out; then I wanted to be Prince. I had to make a decision once I decided I wasn't going to play a bunch of instruments. So I started experimenting with writing raps for a bit and discovered I was good at it, so I kept along that path. In my heart of hearts though, I really wanted to be a rock star."
As the younger Vigatron grew more confident in his abilities, he would quickly become one of the standouts amongst his friends in a scene that was rapidly becoming oversaturated by his contemporaries.
"I think it was the summer of 1989, and Too Short started blowing up," Vigatron reflects. "That's when a lot of the guys I grew up with got the bug to start rapping. In my arrogance, I thought to myself that if I'm smarter than them, I can write better raps. I tried it, and it was one of those things I was instantly decent enough at it to keep doing it until I got considerably good amongst my peers. I'd say from '91 through '93, I was in that upper echelon of high school guys that people talked about. It was a good way to express myself. I used to write a lot out of anger back then, but now, it's more like I write things if I have something to say or if I can present it in a funny way."
The name Vigatron is certainly an imposing one, and while the Transformers inspiration is obvious, the journey to the name isn't as straightforward.
"I used to go by Vigilante, but not as a rapper," he says. "In elementary school, me and my best friend at the time had a crush on this girl in our class. We created this hatin' ass group where we were trying to stop this other dude from getting a kiss. This was around the time that the original Transformers movie came out, and there was the whole thing when Optimus Prime dies and comes back."
Norris was the leader of the group and decided he, too, would leave and come back.
"I got bored, and my mother had rented this movie called Vigilante,"
he says. "
I ended up messing around with this old typewriter and typed out this anonymous letter and signed it, 'The Vigilante.' There was this whole buzz about 'who is the Vigilante' around school, and I kept it that way until about 7th grade, and I finally revealed it was me. One of my homeboys started calling me Vidge for short. That's one of those things where I can tell who knew me prior to 2006. People who call me Vidge knew me before; whereas people who call me Vig met me after that point."
By the time he began to record, "Vidge" had made an ascent to his throne.
"I was Emporer Vigilante when I started rapping," he says. "When I started my publishing company in the old days, they would give you a sheet and you would list five names you wanted. I picked something still Transformers-related with No One Summons Vigatron Music as a Transformers reference to 'no one summons Megatron.' Jokingly, I thought maybe I'd just use the name when I do production but it made sense to just use it all the time. No one has it."
It's easy to paint such an imposing figure with an imposing name as a bad guy, but Vigatron sees himself as more of a good guy than anything.
"I'm more in the middle, I think," he says. "I'm a hero with some villainous tendencies. Even if I play a game like Grand Theft Auto
where you can have your run of just doing evil stuff to random people, I'm that guy who tries not to do that. If you give me a choice, I'm usually picking someone who's on the hero's side."
Vigatron's latest album, Gargantuan
, represents the most recent in a string of releases that all live by the belief that size undoubtedly matters.
"This is my best released work and the most cohesive that I've released so far," he says. "My first release was From the Ground Up,
and everything I released after that [Pleasure
, Tactical Bastard
] has been a product of a project I was working on called Whorer Stories
. I would pull a few songs off of it and put a few original songs around it and put that out. With Gargantuan
, I was working on a project with someone. It was a 7-song EP. We had completely recorded it, and it was in the midst of being mixed and mastered and all of a sudden this dude stopped rocking with us. It wasn't confrontational or anything, but he must have observed something with us that didn't jibe with the way he does business or his view of hip-hop or something, and he just became unresponsive."
Being the resourceful hero that he is, Vigatron decided to regroup and take things in a different direction. As it turns out, that was for the best after all.
"I'm not the type to let my verses go to waste, so I said I was going to take those verses off and put them on something else," he says. "I got brand new beats from Shawn Charles, Bang Messiah and A-Live and cultivated that new project with a new focus, and it's way more cohesive. The whole thing I've been doing lately has been about proving that lyrically and conceptually I'm one of the best to do it before I hang it up. That's why everything is something big. The last album was Behemoth
, this one is Gargantuan
and the next will be Gigantesque."
On the film side of things, Vigatron and fellow rapper and actor Mark "bka Watts" Watson have held three film festivals dubbed Levels Film Fest, showcasing short films and music videos from local artists and creatives.
"That is a product of me being selfish and trying to create a new thing people hadn't seen before," Vigatron says. "When I started taking acting more seriously and making connections, those people I worked with already had a film festival. This was around 2010 or so. It was just ironic to me that they had rented out this big theater but it was virtually empty. They showed a video I had directed for a guy from Florida and some other stuff that wasn't from here. I told them they might've had a bigger turnout if they invited more local people. They immediately balked. I sat on the idea for all those years and when me and Watts started getting cool, we talked about wanting to do the same thing. It all came from a desire to see ourselves that way and open it up to more locals. Everybody doesn't get an opportunity to see what they do on the big screen. It's also good for networking and meeting new people to get more work done."
On Saturday, Vigatron will be performing at Grog Shop on a bill that includes Detroit's Slum Village along with Joey Aich, Visual 9 and Unknown Phrazes.
"Nothing but hardcore, stinkin' hip-hop that's a little bit (pauses), I don't want to say entertaining but there's always been a bit more inflection of humor into my shows," Vigatron says of what to expect from his set. His performances are often full of theatrics and even some choreography. He attributes some of his showmanship to his elementary school.
"Even though I came up in East Cleveland, they had an offshoot school that was catered to the gifted and talented," Vigatron says. "They taught us a lot about stage presence, eye contact, projecting your voice and articulating a lot of things. It wasn't like a Fame school, but they gave us all these nuggets of things you could carry on in life."
While music plays a role in his life, Vigatron is starting to embrace the world of acting with greater enthusiasm.
"I'm going to continue to push Gargantuan
on the music side but most of the stuff I have coming up though is on the acting side," he says. "I'm in a few webseries that are going to premiere in September, one of them being Nekros Pizza
and another being Connected
. I'm part of another series called Clique
. I filmed a movie last year called We Used to Know Each Other
. That's looking to make the rounds at a few film festivals. We filmed that in Vegas."
Vigatron still plans to release a couple projects, but it's going to be at his own pace and on his own terms.
"The rap stuff is voluntary at this point," he insists. "I like performing, I don't like the process of making projects as much. I'm not overly excited when someone says they want to collab with me. It's not that I'm opposed to doing it. I have a list of people that I said I was going to work with before I quit, because I feel like I owed it to them. It's nothing personal, but I don't get much enjoyment from rapping just to rap these days. If I have something to say, I'll say it. Originally I thought I was just going to do three albums and be done. I never thought the music thing would be infinite, always finite. But acting, that's infinite."