#97: Dr. Octagon, Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
Discussing influence in art can sometimes feel like being in one of those extraordinarily complicated time-travel movies, shifting blades of grass around or stepping on ants and seeing what effect they’ll have on the future. It’s a little bit mind-bending to measure one album’s historical importance against another’s, because who knows which artists may have been affected by which albums and how those artists responded to those albums and how those responses may have affected yet more artists?
All of which still doesn’t deter me from asking: just what would hip-hop look like without Dr. Octagonecologyst
? Of the four albums I’ve reviewed as part of this project thus far, this one strikes me as easily the most important
. “Weird” rap existed before 1996, but never so vividly envisioned; rapper Kool Keith’s full-bore alter ego shtick can almost certainly take credit for the brilliant Madvillainy
(2004), and traces of Dan the Automator’s creepy, industrial-ish beats can be found in the work of El-P throughout the past decade. Lines can probably be drawn as far as Odd Future (especially EARL
) and Death Grips, but the trend is clear: Kool Keith, with this album, gave rappers permission to be genuinely strange, to forge their own path in what seemed an increasingly homogeneous hip-hop landscape.
That’s the good news; here’s the downer paragraph: Dr. Octagonecologyst
, brilliantly bizarre and shocking though it remains, is nonetheless a little long and sometimes homogeneous itself. This is excusable in the face of just how new
-sounding the thing was at the time, and the album actually sustains its potency for a surprising chunk of its 20-track duration (I conk out around “halfsharkalligatorhalfman”). But there’s nonetheless a sense of diminishing returns that permeates the whole act: first proper song “3000” is hilarious and deeply engaging (“You think it’s good / won’t go platinum / or even turn wood”), as is “No Awareness,” (Sir Melenik name-drops drosophila!) but around halfway through I start to get a little tired. The Dr. Octagon alter ego is promising but also lends itself to redundancy: Kool Keith invites a patient into his office and either fu
cks or kills them, the end. What results can be oddly titillating but, as on the self-explanatory “Wild and Crazy,” sometimes slithers into its unintended opposite, just sorta “there,” monotonous in its weirdness.
That might just be an issue of context, as the essence of Kool Keith’s act has been replicated so many times and in so many different ways that even this, the endlessly inventive flashpoint of a million wannabe horrorcore projects, can’t help but feel a little redundant. However true that may be, the album’s cumulative effect is incontrovertible: this is the sound of an immensely talented rapper (seriously, listen to “No Awareness”) exploring genuinely new ground with a producer who seems to know exactly what his partner's up to. Regardless of how receptive you are to the ground being explored, that--and this--is something special.