It's after 10 p.m. on a Thursday -- a school night for most folks -- and Herman's Hideaway is packed with nearly 500 people being worked into a frenzy by a brand-new act. Near the end of the set, the tattooed freak show behind the mike says, "Let me clear something up, y'all: I ain't been in California. I ain't been in New York. I've been in the muthafuckin' basement with Alien Pimp, working. We been working, muthafucka."
The human canvas is none other than Mike Villano -- better known to local scenesters in the mid- to late '90s as Mike V, the flamboyant frontman of Chaos Theory. This appearance by his new band-- made up of Mike V, Ben Martinez, Toby Santisteven, Benji Garcia, Kenny Ortiz and DJ Kemo -- marks the first time many people have seen Villano since his former quartet imploded. After that, he seemed to vanish. And for the past few years, the rumor mill has run rampant.
"Mike V? I heard he died a few years ago."
"Nah, man, I heard he's living on the East Coast."
At Chaos's peak, many fans believed the rap-metal outfit was on the verge of becoming the next big thing -- you know, the act that would finally put Denver on the map. The group would sell out venues like the Gothic and the Ogden on a regular basis -- pretty unheard of for a local band. So what happened? It's a question Villano has been asked, and has answered, many times.
"People are like, 'Why'd you guys break up?' You know, especially with me -- they'd be like, 'Why'd you break up with Chaos Theory? Are you fuckin' crazy? You guys were about to blow up,'" says Villano. "We weren't about to blow up. We were never going to blow up, because there was too much bullshit going on. And it took so much effort just to get done with what we were doing.
"The reason we broke up, there wasn't enough support, too much hatin'," he adds. "This has happened many times to me. People are always trying hard to stop the person that's trying to go, 'cause they don't have the energy. They want to bring you down to their level instead of helping and saying, 'Hey, take me with you. Let's go. Let's do this.' Yeah, there was definitely a lot of internal conflict."
Villano would much rather discuss Alien Pimp. He's in love with this new band, and when he talks about it, he can barely contain his excitement. One of the act's offerings, "A Love Would Last," is the first love song that Villano has ever written. It's probably not about the band, but it could be. "It's cool to have my bandmembers, for once in my life, say, 'God, I'm so fuckin' proud of you, dude, for what you've come up with and what you're doing,'" he says. He's quick to point out that he doesn't write any of the arrangements --"I would never pat myself on the back for the music," he insists, "'cause I cannot play an instrument"-- although he does produce and co-produce a lot of the songs.
After Chaos Theory broke up, Villano dumped all of his time, energy and "loot" into a solo effort titled Gameface Vision. "My love for hip-hop goes way back," he explains. "I was listening to Rodney O and Joe Cooley, Ice T's first album, Public Enemy's first album.... Years ago, I was listening to hip-hop. Before it fell off and came back, I was listening to hip-hop. So when we broke up, I said, 'Fuck it. I like rap. I'm going to go the solo route, you know. I can't get support; I can't get help. Why drag other people with me? I'm gonna do it by myself.'"
While he didn't exactly do it by himself -- former Disciples of Bass skinsman Count D produced and spent some money on the project -- he did deliver exactly what he had intended: a bangin' hip-hop album. Ten thousand dollars later, though, Villano discovered that without a band, the material didn't translate live.
Disillusioned with the process - but not necessarily the music -- Villano dropped out of the scene.
You might not know Villano by name, but I can guarantee you'd never forget the dude if you saw him. He's one scary-looking mofo, about as scary as they come. Both of his arms are fully sleeved, his bald head and his neck are almost completely covered in ink, and he has flames tattooed in place of eyebrows, and holes in his ears big enough to stick your fingers through.
So how did Villano fly beneath the radar? Easy: He became a doorman at an after-hours club, making "mad loot." Under cover of darkness, this city morphs into a completely different place, which explains why no one had seen Villano all these years: Unless you partied 'til six in the mornin', there's no way you would have.
He thought about giving up, getting a regular job and becoming just another tattooed guy. But music was never far from his mind, because, as he says, "I'm an entertainer before anything." Villano is the first to admit that he's not the best vocalist; in Chaos Theory, he couldn't find pitch on a baseball diamond. Yet on the Alien Pimp material, his voice has never been better. On "Be That Way" and a few of the other tracks, he's actually singing -- not rapping -- and sounds damn good!
Villano's right, though: He's an entertainer, a mouthpiece. He has the gift of gab and an unbelievable presence both on and off stage, which pisses quite a few people off. A few years ago, he was nearly beaten to death at the now-defunct Skyline Cafe. All he remembers is that he was celebrating his birthday -- dancing on pool tables, drunk as hell, freestyling with the band -- and the next thing he knew, he woke up in the hospital. Several unknown assailants had delivered the beatdown of a lifetime. And six months ago, he was sucker-punched by some random guy in a bar and ended up with a broken nose.
"It's like this: Everybody knows that anybody who is anybody has got people that like them, people that love them and people that dislike them and people that hate them," he says. "For the thousand people out there that hate me, there's a million people that know and love me."
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I'm fairly certain there's not a million people who love him, but given the turnout at Herman's for Pimp's debut, the numbers are up there. As for the haters, they don't know Mike Villano; they only think they do. They don't see him busting his ass at his job. They don't see him working on songs until 4 a.m. They just don't know.
Love him or hate him, Villano remains steadfast. "It's like Tupac says," he insists: "You don't have to bump this, but please respect it."
Respect it Thursday, August, 21, when Villano and his crew return to Herman's, this time as headliners. Better arrive early, though. Now that the word is out, the show just might be a sellout. And if any haters are thinking about taking a shot at Mike V, be advised: Alien Pimp is a posse, and the members have each other's backs.
As one of the band's songs suggests, they'll be "rolling 'til the muthafuckin' wheels fall off."