Victor Vazquez, known to the rap world as Kool A.D., has written a 250-page stream of (elevated) consciousness that reads like a political manifesto, spiritual doctrine, and a Hunter S. Thompson book all at once.
Divided into 100 short and easily digestible chapters, Vazquez released O.K. in November, as a complement to a 100-track mixtape of the same name. Like The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the novel and mixtape align to create an interactive experience that will have you switching from your headphones to the written word every few minutes.
The following excerpt is from that introspective, intercontinental, and indelible novel. It’s one of many instances in the narrative where fact and fiction collide, creating a twisted, comical reality that isn’t too far-fetched, considering the sad state of affairs that is our current political and social reality.
“Hola, Muhammad X?”
“Sí, ¿quién es?”
“Soy yo, Enrique Peña Nieto, el presidente de México.”
“¿Prefieres que hablemos en inglés?”
“I call to ask you a favor.”
“I heard you were the best.”
“I need to send you on a Mission of Diplomacy.”
“I’ve chartered you a private flight to the sun to discuss some matters of security with Huitzilopochtli.”
“I can’t say much more. There should be a chauffeur knocking on your door right now.”
Damn, the Mexican government was on point when they wanted to be. And literally only then.
The novel is rife with allusions to the places that a fictional, stylized Muhammad X (fka Victor Vazquez, aka Kool A.D.) visits with an eclectic cast of characters, most notably his new bride Khadija, and their children Fatima, Madonna, and Fausto. Berlin, Miami, Nueva York, Chicago, Seattle, and Planet X (don’t ask) all play small yet impactful roles in the novel, but no locations resonate and breathe life into Vazquez’s work quite like the Bay Area and Santa Sirena, a fictional town in Baja California, Mexico.
Since Das Racist broke up in 2012, the rapper, novelist, and producer returned to his Alameda roots. On the importance of the Bay to art and music of all eras, he says, “The culture in the Bay is hella radical, countercultural, with ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity unlike nearly anywhere else in the States – the Panthers out of Oakland, the Hell’s Angels, the LSD, the hyphy movement, the tech industry…You find yourself with a swaggy aroma for any artist to breathe in and internalize.”
Vazquez has most recently found a new home in Baja California, presumably the inspiration behind Santa Sirena. Described as a beach town housing a sizable number of ex-pats, Santa Sirena can lay claim to some of Vazquez’s most poetic prose, as well as some of his most searing social commentary. The legacy of Latin American magical realism lives on in the Cuban artist’s first novel.
“Earth, Mexico, La Tierra. Rock, sand.
A rattlesnake rattled behind a nearby rock. Lifted its head and whispered, ‘Hola.’
We returned its greeting.
He asked us for 50 pesos. I tapped my pockets: “no lo tengo.”
He slinked off.”
It’s a small moment to be sure, but one of several examples that point to a getaway home filled with characters – old and young, gringo and non-gringo, human and animal – who interact with Muhammad X in his new life in Mexico.
“The culture in the Bay is hella radical, countercultural, with ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity unlike nearly anywhere else in the States.”
“Mexico go hard, Baja in partic,” Vazquez explains. “It’s just the rest of California really. I’m off a lil’ dirt road in the cuts with a private beach and a lot of nature. The vibe is brilliant.”
Readers familiar with Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski will be happy to know that O.K. runs heavy on references to joints, liquor, beer, yayo, and a laundry list of substances the government pays itself to confiscate from the general population. In Vazquez’s book, drugs are treated as a path toward enlightenment – a symptom of a life spent seeking knowledge and inner peace – as opposed to the public health crises of after school specials.
“A lot of the psychedelic family of drogas are in fact beautiful lil’ shortcuts to moments of enlightenment that would take a lot of work to get to via other types of meditation,” Vazquez notes, commenting on the role of drugs in the novel. “The line between recreational and social drug use and therapeutic drug use is slim, if there at all.”
That divergence from the status quo is something that informs much of Kool A.D.’s philosophy. Though it was written before Fidel Castro’s death, the novel includes allusions to the late revolutionary leader of Cuba, which is Vazquez’s ancestral homeland. In the book, Vazquez describes a swim to the island to meet with Castro to discuss baseball and share a coffee together. Speaking to me, Vazquez takes a nuanced, if unpopular, stance on the life and legacy of Fidel. “I don’t see dude as a villain or a hero,” he says. “I see him as a deeply flawed egotist who couldn’t live up to his espoused ideology, noble as that ideology was…As a person born displaced by the ineffectiveness of that revolution, I can’t entirely forgive the mechanics of [it], but I do respect the central ideology of resisting American imperialism and prioritizing human welfare, labor, and resource over capital.”
“I don’t see [Fidel Castro] as a villain or a hero.”
Spoken like a true scholar, Vazquez’s comments, like his music and writing, combine the spirit of the Bay Area’s thought leaders and the discourse of Cuban diasporans who have politics thrust into their lives at every turn.
From Baja California, Kool A.D. can reflect on the perils of imperialism and add to an extensive catalog, all while overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Finding the time to write a novel amidst hours and hours of recording sessions for the 10 projects he released in 2016 is impressive, but writing a novel even the most discerning reader would want to devour is legendary.
That in mind, you’ll have to excuse Vazquez if he keeps things short when he gives his final thoughts about adding novelist to his resume. “Feels good man, the whole thing line up man, hella zany, invites rereads, play it like a bideogame.”