May, 1996; Bulk Recordings
*Track listing for Bulk Recordings release
How bizarre do you like it? Does the idea of a half shark-alligator, half man appeal to you? How about a green, red, blue reindeer copulating with a buffalo-winged baboon? Got chimpanzee acne? Moose bumps? You need to see the doctor, fast.
Released in 1996, Dr. Octagon foretold the dense, challenging and intelligent future of underground and alternative hip hop on a single one-shot album. Dr. Octagon drew primarily on three talents, creating a veritable supergroup of unique talent. Kool Keith’s enigmatic rambling verses embodied the lead character, Dr. Octagon, a pornographic physician of questionable ethics. Supplementing Keith’s schizophrenic rhymes, the Jimi Hendrix of wax, DJ Qbert, who had already spent over ten years redefining the place of the DJ in the world of hip hop. Joining these two experienced talents? A then relatively unknown producing talent going by the name of Dan the Automator.
Having spent a few years in the Bay Area taking as many projects as he could, Dan the Automator finally caught much deserved recognition in his teaming with Keith and Qbert. Octagon marks the lo-fi yet startlingly developed beginning stages of the Automator’s career. His style on Octagon, like much of his work, recalls the experimental, atmospheric trip hop beats pioneered in the U.K. just a few years earlier. Despite the relevant influence, his beats are distinct in their own sci-fi peppered, expansive way, interchanging and co-mingling live instrumentation with futuristic electronic sounds. On tracks like the stoner-dazed “Blue Flowers," Keith supplies a loping bass as Automator throws down a simple beat, accents it with a violin sample and swollen electronica and calls it a day. “I’m Destructive" gets rowdy, welding inflamed guitars to a sweet break beat and another Keith bass line, providing for a perfect background while Keith threatens the listener, “Think about it/If you was there standing looking at me/What would you do, if I hit your face with dog doodoo?"
Already a pioneering innovator in hip hop with the Bronx trio, Ultramagnetic MCs, Keith’s rhymes have always provided a glimpse into the not-quite-sane. Dr. Octagon is no different. As if multiple personalities weren’t daring or demented enough, Keith constantly breaks into free form word play, many times eschewing concepts like narrative and, well, simply making sense. Making sense, however, has never been a necessity in any art form.
Despite jumping all over the place, Keith’s lyricism on Octagon does have one constant: a preoccupation with pornographic tales and weird-science surrealism. Posing as a psychotic Marvin Gaye, Keith goes sexual healing with “Girl Let Me Touch You," a sensual track that asks, “Did he lick you there?/Percolate your atmosphere?" and suggests “boots and some leather gear" might solve all problems. “Waiting List" exposes the graphic and outlandish practices of the good doctor: “I gotta cut off your ear, first behind your neck/Rip out the stomach, and open rectum to dissect." Coupled with the Automator’s ethereal production, the track is particularly disturbing.
Though these and a scattered few other tracks contain a somewhat direct approach, most songs simply featuring Keith saying whatever the hell he pleases at the very moment that it pleases him. On the album’s namesake, Keith is joined by Chewbacca Uncircumcised (Sir Menelik) and Curt Kobane (Kut Masta Kurt) for a stream of consciousness battle session. Sir Menelik and Kool Keith split mic time, fighting each other for the crown "Most Absurd MC," spitting rhymes like “Hidin’ to think/Focus psychosis with Von Blowford/Black lotus releases when life is flailing external/Terminal update" and “Thinking more of what they can't explore/Like the cartoon Donald Duck is giving fellatio on the floor/With Reed Richards, looking at The Thing's naked pictures." As wild and interesting as it all is, it’s easy to get the feeling that either Keith has nothing to say or that he is simply a stark, raving lunatic.
Despite the sophomoric though hilarious segues and the often nonsensical and misogynistic word play, Keith alludes the purpose of Dr. Octagon on the first non-skit track of the, “3000." Keith ends every verse with the phrase, “Rap moves on to the year three thousand," which seemed like the time whence this album had come from when it was first released and still rings true now. Production-wise, the album was a hip hop singularity in the midst of G-Funk and whiny synthesizers. Not only were the Automator’s beats futuristic but DJ Qbert’s work on the tables is like anything else heard beyond his Inivisibl Skratch Piklz DJ collective. Arguably, his scratching can be compared to the works of any great instrumental soloist, the techniques he employs being the culmination of the work of his forebears and his own unique talent. It's a simply skillful display of the turntable as an instrument in and of itself. In a time slightly predating seminal alternative hip hop works like Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus
or DJ Shadow’s Entroducing
as well as the whole underground scene itself really, Dr. Octagon proved to be Keith’s out-there brain child. Another innovation for his resume.
And Dr. Octagon was well received as an innovation. Celebrated as a classic by heads and critics, alike, the album ended up as a cross-over hit much like it’s conceptual follower, Deltron 3030
. However, Keith’s lyricism is also among the most bizarre the genre, or any genre for that matter, has ever produced. It comes in the form of raunchy body humor, blunt sexual advances as well as free flowing poetry. As such, it can pose an obstacle for those uninitiated to hip hop or those expecting or used to less atypical lyricism. It all depends.
How bizarre do you like it?