(To read part 1 about the N8 Van Dyke art show CLICK HERE)
I was surprised to get a call from my friend John telling me that he was having trouble getting tickets, earlier that day. I saw Kool Keith at the exact same location (Neumos) about 5 years ago and I didn’t have any issue buying tickets at the door. Unless everybody went out and bought the “Grandma’s Boy” soundtrack, I’m at a loss as to why Keith‘s popularity would have skyrocketed since then. I did hear that they stepped up the advertising for this show, which would make sense, but the major consensus seemed to be that people just really wanted to see “Kool” Keith Thornton “battle himself on stage“.
Keith‘s latest release, Dr. Dooom 2, is a sequel to 1999′s First Come First Served; also released under the Dr. Dooom Moniker. Rocking a phony strap-on beard and pushing the “Funky Redneck” pseudonym, DJ/Producer Kutmasta Kurt is back to collaborate with his old friend for this follow up, as well. Much like the first Dr. Dooom effort, part 2 has a strong emphasis on killing off Dr. Octagon, arguably Thornton‘s most “successful” persona. The first video released for the album is for a song called “R.I.P. Dr. Octagon” and, like the subsequent video for “Take That Ride“, it has a really nice, grimy 1970s horror film look to it and the track is solid. The tour itself has been promoted as “Dr. Dooom VS Dr. Octagon“, which further helped to fuel the idea that Thornton‘s personas would, somehow, be going head to head in a lyrical battle in front of the crowd that night.
Here’s the part in the article where I want to jump forward but, instead, I pull tough on the breaks to make a concerted effort to avoid assumptions and to fill in the blanks for anyone who may be less familiar with the history of KK and his work. I would be surprised to find out that anyone even remotely interested in reading this has never heard of Dr. Octagon, but I will address its connection to this current project. In 1996, Dr. Octagonecolegyst dropped hard like Timothy Leary. The album blew up like the Challenger and the careers of Dan the Automator (Gorillaz, Handome Boy Modeling School, Deltron 3030) and DJ Q-Bert (Invisibl Skratch Piklz) were launched like Karl Malone in a pair ‘91 La Gear Catapults. Keith and “Kutmasta” Kurt Matlin (also featured on Octagonecololyst) continued to work together and, by 2000 they had put out classics like Sex Styles, Black Elvis/Lost in Space, and, of course, the original Dr. Dooom project. Many who were insistent on hearing another Dr. Octagon release viewed Thornton‘s new directions as a rejection of mainstream status and an attempt to return to a more “underground” position. Keith, on the other hand, didn’t want to pigeon-hole himself himself into one identity or style. He wants to be able to adapt and continue to work on projects and move into directions that he considers to be more “natural”. First Come, First Served was an attempt to kill off Octagon and was created in response to everyone that simply could not let it go and move on. The Dr. Octagon character was resurrected two more times with Dr. Octagon Part 2 (2004) and The Return of Dr. Octagon (2006). The first was released bootleg-style without permission from Keith and after multiple contractual issues. More contract discrepencies came into effect and the disjointed The Return of Dr. Octagon was also released without much involvement from the rap innovator. These albums didn’t even involve Dan the Automator, Kurt, or any of the other creative forces behind the original. 10 years after Octagon first gained popularity, the reputation of the alias had diminished through these poor follow up releases. Now it’s 10 years from the Dr. Dooom release that was originally intended to kill off the Octagon phase once and for all. So… the next logical step is to release a new Dr. Dooom album to officially end his other alias for good. Everyone caught up? Did that all make sense? Fuck it, let’s move on to the show review.
They’re patting people down for this concert, so we get felt up by a guy that takes his job seriously and head to the adjacent Moe Bar. I go out for a smoke, after a couple of drinks and some conversation with a guy who tells me how envious he is that we have tickets, even though he only really just wanted to see the opening act. A lanky bespectacled guy with a handlebar starter moustache, who’s dressed in a suit like a Jack the Ripper suspect, is just drunk enough to tell me that he had plans to mock my cardigan but he just couldn’t pull it together. He inquires about my notebook instead and I tell him that I’m writing about a show that I was asked not to review. “There’s a show tonight, huh? Who’s playing?” he asks. I tell him it’s Kool Keith and he excitedly responds with, “Dr. Octagon!” I get a text that my friend John is out front without tickets and, before we leave, the man grabs my shoulders and tells me that I need to go write this review and give it my all because, apparently, “the republic is in (my) hands!” He cackles and we walk off.
John‘s telling his story about fighting a crackhead in an alley when I hear someone yell, “Who needs a ticket?!” He’s about to sell it to a group of people, but I realize that I know him and call him away from them and over to us. Scott comes over, hooks John up, and let’s us know that Big Steve is inside and that he’s already drunk. Big Steve is an old school homie who is larger than humanly necessary and notorious for getting drunk and rowdy. In recent years, he’s stepped up the danger factor by purchasing a Glock 9 and a monster truck. He was even taken to court once for breaking Les Claypool‘s electric bass stand, mid-concert. He was tackled into it by 5 security guards while pop-locking on stage. Eventually we’re all inside drinking giant $8 Red Stripes out of what looks like giant Oly Stubbies (R.I.P.) By the time the opening acts hits the stage, I’m already pretty soused.
The first group was called Murder Dice and, although I’d like to be able to support local “talent”, I was not a fan. The vocalist was a tall black man in a jacket with Cap’n Crunch tassels on the shoulders. The short caucasian female backing singer also sported non-erotic tassels on her uniform. There was a guitarist with a tie tucked in through the buttons of his shirt, who looked like he spends his time playing beer pong with Zima Gold and navigating night elves through World of Warcraft in a shitty frat house. I was confused as to why this band was even booked for this show. I’m not willing to call this rap, or even hip-hop for that matter. Their set much closer to a synth-pop group with their large 7-piece band, consisting of short white indie rock/scenester girls and multiple keyboards. It was like Luscious Jackson meets TV on the Radio. You know who I blame for this? I blame Gym Class Heroes. It’s too bad because the Gym Class bass player’s brother was a good friend of mine, who used to let me listen to their early tapes and bootlegs, which were actually really good.
The next group, which I’m assuming was The Let Go, was much more fitting for the bill. They were a capable rap crew but, in my opinion, they didn’t pull anything off too memorable, revolutionary, or that could really stand above anything else that already exists in the genre known as “underground” or “back pack” rap. They tried to swing one gimmick by tossing some beach-balls out in the crowd but, in a small enclosed venue with hanging disco balls and lighting fixtures, it wasn’t the greatest of ideas. All I could think about was how much shit Keith talked about his opening acts the last time I saw him at Neumos.
Thornton also left the crowd watching an empty stage for about an hour, before showing up last time. This time Kurt came out in his beard and filled in the gap with a long DJ set which includes the Car Wash Soundtrack. We took a few more trips to the bar. Everyone’s getting anxious when rapper, Denis Deft, takes the stage to finally introduce the man of the hour. Thornton‘s wearing a flannel but he isn’t sporting the Johnny Quest wig from his recent videos. Instead he’s wearing sunglasses and has a sequined scarf wrapped around his head, which he leaves on throughout the entire performance. He also fails to throw out ziplocked bags of fried chicken this time around, but immediately kicks into the old school jams from way back. He starts his set strong with the last thing I expected, Utramagnetic MCs tracks from Critical Beatdown like “Ego Trippin” and “Ease Back“. Everyone is psyched and then some guy squeezes by to stand in front of Big Steve. Steve shoulder checks the guy from behind, causing him to spill his beer onto himself. Steve is easily a foot taller than the guy and can see fine, but he’s drunk and thinks that it’s funny. He continues to check the guy every few seconds, slowly emptying his own drink on him, splash by splash. I move around the other side and up front to see better.
Keith was was really on point that night and Denis Deft proved to have some solid lyrical prowess himself, beyond just some typical backing hype man. Between tracks there was a lot of banter from the MC as usual. “I’m not a real rapper” he claimed. “I write my own lyrics.” He busted out Octagonecologyst classics, “Blue Flowers” and “Girl Let Me Touch You” and then turned his attention to Dr. Dooom. He rapped “R.I.P Dr. Octagon” and recited lyrics like “No Whack Remixes and Duplicated copies (rest in peace) Octagon is Deceased“. People often refer to Keith‘s verses as being random and nonsensical, but this track is probably the most lyrically straight forward that I’ve heard in a long time. There’s a point where he says, “Toni Isobel and Dan wanted to adopt him from the hospital“. Sometimes, people don’t get what Keith is saying because who can come so direct with no apologies. I know who Toni Isobel is, in fact, I have her cell phone number. I was talking to her about a year and a half ago when we were trying to work out timing for an interview with Dan The Automator. Keith will attack you directly through his verses and, although I haven’t read any comments where he officially addresses any falling out with Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, he’s clearly pissed off about the attempts that he feels people have made to capitalize off of and tarnish his name. He segued this track into a freestyle that involved lyrics about having to go and get his tapes back from Nakamura because he had fucked them up.
The next track, “How Sexy“, was another track off of Dr. Dooom 2 and featured a full verse from Denis Deft. Right when it began to look like Keith did have a plan to turn the focus of the performance towards his Octagon and Dooom aliases, he switched it up again. He jumps from “Freaks” (Lost Masters), to tracks like “Spankmaster [Take off your clothes]” (Spankmaster), and then over to Black Elvis cuts like “Livin Astro“.
Keith takes a break to address some issues of great importance to him; namely, nudity and pornography. He pulls out a stack of magazines which he claims are from his “personal collection” and asks if anyone is into “cartoon porn”. Then he talks about how “Girls are texting a lot” these days and demands that they “Stop texting“. He then warns the audience that women masturbate when they’re texting you. He does his track “G-Spot” and then goes back to his porn stash. He’s calling out titles like “Purely 18” while he tosses magazines into the audience. After that comes the title track from Sex Styles and then more conversation about porn. “I buy about 75,000 porn magazines a week. Do I have a problem or do I not have a problem?” He then gets the crowd to chant “Keep buying ’em!” over and over again. He tells the women in the crowd that when their men claim that they are going to an “electronic convention” it is really just code for the AVN adult entertainment expo. After apologizing for exposing the secret, the rapper moves on to his off the cuff theories about the future of sex and robots. His speculations include the idea that consumers will be able to purchase a product called “Ass in a box“.
He gets back on track and let’s the crowd know that the following music would be for everyone who has all of the albums. He spit track after track from the various albums in his catalog. “Drugs” (Spankmaster), “Black Elvis“, “White Label Test Press” (Matthew: Bonus Tracks), “Get Off My Elevator” (Sex Style/Office Space Soundtrack), “Apt. 223” (First Come First Served), “Earth People” and “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” (Dr. Octogonecologyst), etc. The songs were delivered quickly, in segments, back to back like a medley, and transitioned through quick table scratches. After the extended mix, Keith announces that the show was being taped and would appear on DVD. He also mentions that he finally just joined myspace by solemnly stating, “Tom is my only friend“. He gets derailed by more rants about the “Octomom” and lingerie before Kutmasta Kurt steps in and gets him back on track, “We have 1 or 2 minutes left“. They do one more song, “I Don’t Believe You” (Matthew), and, as the crowd pours out, Keith remains on stage to sell merchandise and sign ripped out pages of facials and anal penetration.
Sites like Pitchfork have questioned Thornton‘s continued relevance while defending the mainstream rappers that he attacks, but fuck them; they trashed WEEN‘s country album too. I thought the show was great and I’m sure the majority of those in attendance felt the same way. Keith didn’t exactly “battle himself” and he doesn’t even seem to have any plans to cease performing tracks from Dr. Octogonecologyst any time soon, either. So you may be wondering, “What was the point?” and, “Did he really even make one?” My only answer to that is, if you expect anything specific from Kool Keith, you’re most likely going to be surprised, but not necessarily disappointed. The constant advancement, modification, and awareness of your craft should be a right as well as a responsibility for any artist. I think that may have been the point all along and, if so, I definitely believe that it was made.