Photo : Kool Keith aka Black Elvis shot by Ricky Powell (RIP)
Thoughts from Shanghai-based digger/DJ BO
Kool Keith is known as one of the most indefatigable and innovative voices in hip hop. He pushes against the boxed boundaries of the form: rapping without rhyming, engaging in absurd and colorful scheming without apparent reason. At best, he's a stream of psychedelic consciousness, skipping past absurdity and into the sublime.
To give (blue) flowers, as N.O.R.E. would say, we recently put on a Kool Keith tribute night here in Shanghai at local grilled-cheese hang Co. Cheese, appropriately titled the “Kool Keith N Cheese Party.”
Shanghai: we invented the squeeze (Google it), and now we threw the first of a kind party.
Along with a night of Kool Keith cult classics/best sellers being spun, it featured his music video oeuvre on the screen, Doc. Oct (whiskey) syringe shots, and coordinated coloring pages. Natch.
Here’s how we prepped the Shanghai-ren to help move those clueless to familiar.
Top Photo : Doc. Oct (whiskey) syringe shot // Bottom Photo : Guests at the “Kool Keith N Cheese Party”, Shanghai (Photos Courtesy of Co. Cheese Shanghai)
Don't Be A Soft Duck: Bare Witness To The Facts
Keith is from The Bronx, New York, USA, and has been rapping since the mid 1980s. He first emerged as the lead vocalist of golden age hip hop's The Ultramagnetic MCs. The group's main producer and second mic, Ced-Gee, largely ghost-produced the classic Criminal Minded for Boogie Down Productions, released in 1987. That poised Ultramagnetic's own debut, Critical Beatdown, a year later, for success. Alas it's only become a cult classic in more recent years. The group's next album (“Funk Your Head Up”) was another commercial beatdown, although it did spawn a minor music video hit with “Poppa Large,” which features Keith rapping with a birdcage on his head. After line-up changes and other shenanigans, the group disbanded.
Top Photo : Kool Keith sippin' // Bottom Photo : Ultramagnetic MCs
If the title “Critical Beatdown” was a threat, it finally manifested itself nearly a decade into his career when Keith joined with producer Dan “The Automator” Makamura and turntablist (and Shanghai visitor) DJ Qbert to release an album under the moniker Dr. Octagon titled Dr. Octagonecologyst. As Wikipedia dryly, succinctly, and hilariously describes our protagonist, he's: “a homicidal, extraterrestrial, time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon.” And that's just where the party starts: the good doctor also has an uncle named Mr. Gerbik (also vocalized by Keith), who, we learn is: “half-shark, half-man, skin like alligator/Carrying a dead walrus.”
Somewhere, Salvador Dali, bending time and grabbing on his nurse's 3 oversized tits with crab claws, nods approvingly.
The album sold a truckload for an independent release before it was bought up by a major and re-released. Dave Navarro has been quoted praising the album. On a list titled “I don't like hip hop music generally, but…” “Dr. Octagonecologyst” might top it.
Top : Still of Lotion Man from the Kool Keith Show // Bottom : Colored drawing of Dr. Octagon by Unknown Artist from the “Kool Keith N Cheese Party” in Shanghai
Keith, now re-energized down to his monkey green socks, followed up with a barrage of freakiness: the porno-rapped Sex Style, the star-themed/pop-leaning Black Elvis/Lost in Space and countless other efforts.
What Keith lost in traditional hip hop clout, which largely eluded him anyway, he more than made up for with indie cred, despite expressing his chagrin in the extent of his now largely white audience. Then again, he would say this while clearly lying about everything down to his age, with interviewers short of Peter Rosenburg largely being overwhelmed by Keith's Keithness.
In 2010, a precocious/pre Shanghai-scarred DJ BO could find Keith on the second stage at the hippie Harvest of Hope Festival in rural Florida, wearing a “Don't Worry, be crabby – Florida” t-shirt, running through his “hits.” The rapper was credited on the schedule as “Dr. Octagon aka Kool Keith” although he made no efforts to acknowledge this. Elsewhere at the festival, Kimya Dawson sang of tricycles in trees.
Keith still releases a prodigious amount of music, which he largely now produces himself.
Top Photo : Kool Keith - 'Thug Or What' (Rawkus Records) Album Cover // Bottom Photo : Kool Keith - 'Total Orgasm' (Junkadelic Records, Fat Beats) Box Set Cover
The Kool Keith Bare Witness Playlist.
5 songs to get an accessible (as possible) overview of what he's about :
- The Ultramagnetic MCs – Poppa Large [Beatminerz Remix] – Kool Keith's first group's biggest hit (relatively). Keith goes off insane as usual, and this remix is early 90's boom bap goodness. Best served with the accompanying music video.
- Dr. Octagon – Blue Flowers – Dr. Octagon's signature song. It's a rap song that could be played next to “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and not feel out of place. Also best served with the accompanying music video.
- Kool Keith – Supergalactic Lover – The most accessible song on his most accessible album Black Elvis/Lost in Space. With a strolling beat and singalong/sweet female vocal chorus, it's Keith for kids.
- the Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up – The most heard Keith's voice has ever been heard is probably from the sample looped throughout this track. The album sold a zillion copies and the music video is legendary. For a lot of people, they might not know the name Kool Keith, but they know his voice from here.
- Thee Undertakerz – Party in the Morgue [Club Mix] – The track originally appeared on Keith's horror-core project, and then rose again on the “Blade: Trinity” soundtrack. Despite the morbid title, it's a club ready track in any version.
Check in Tuesday Feb. 8, 2022 for PT2!