In 1988 the Ultramagnetic MC’s made quite the first impression with their groundbreaking debut album, Critical Beatdown. Led by Ced Gee’s dope production and Kool Keith’s slick bars and unique rhyme patterns, the four-man crew out of the Bronx were able to sculpt a classic album that still sound as entertaining today as it did over thirty years ago when it was released. Ultramagnetic would follow-up Critical Beatdown with Funk Your Head Up in ‘92 and The Four Horsemen in ‘93, but neither album would live up to or capture the magic of their superb debut. I don’t know if the group ever officially broke up, but it would be another fourteen years before we would get another Ultramagnetic MC’s album. In the in between time, Kool Keith would embark on his solo career, releasing his debut solo project, Dr. Octagonecologyst in 1996.
Dr. Octagonecologyst (who is one of Kool Keith’s alter ego’s) is a collab album that features Keith on the mic, mostly, Dan The Automator behind the boards and DJ Q-Bert on the scratches. The album cover artwork (as you can see above) shows Dr. Octagon donning his full doctor apparel while holding a skull in one hand and a microphone in the other, looking like a whole hip-hop Marvel villain. And if the eye-catching album cover artwork wasn’t enough to gain your attention, the back of the liner notes insert has a pic of a bed covered in blood and “For heavens sake eateth me before I kill more I cannot control myself” plastered in blood on the wall. Sounds like some demented shit to me.
I found a used copy of Dr. Octagon years ago and have never listened to it until now. The dark imagery of the packaging has sparked my interest, but I’m a little apprehensive going into this, as Kool Keith’s lyrical output clearly begin to decline since his legendary performance on Critical Beatdown, which we just discussed a few weeks ago for his dismal cameo on Chino XL’s “The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy“.
Intro – The album opens with semi-evil chords placed over soft drums and a dense bass line, while a clip from, what must be a porno flick, plays over it; all to welcome the listener to Dr. Octagonecologyst.
3000 – The Automator offers up steady drums, a discretely funky bass line, complemented by some well-placed DJ Q-Bert scratches, as Keith uses the backdrop to fire abstract verbal darts at the competition and make awkward boasts of his greatness. I don’t know if Keith’s unorthodox flow will usher hip-hop into the year 3000 as he proclaims, but you will have to listen to this song at least three thousand times to catch all of Keith’s rhymes.
I Got To Tell You – Short interlude that works as a commercial for Dr. Octagon’s practice. He specializes in intestine surgery, rectal rebuilding, relocated saliva glands and my personal favorites, chimpanzee acne and moose bumps. If you suffer from any of these medical issues, you can reach Dr. Oct at 1-800-PP5-1DODO. Hi-larious.
Earth People – This one’s a banger. The Automator creates a dark mood with angry synth chords, orgasmic key taps and slick drums that may have fathered the trap drums so prevalent in hip-hop today (still waiting on the paternity results). Keith goes from the year 3000 to reppin’ for Jupiter as he gets deep into his Dr. Octagon persona. Apparently, Dr. Oct is a green and silver skinned bald headed alien doctor, who will pull out your skull to remove your cancer and is also ready to mix it up with earthlings, as he comes equipped with “four bombs and six fire missiles, armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols.” He also boasts that you can “watch his brain glow” in “five colors: yellow, black and green and red, purple.” You might not dig Keith’s, I mean, Dr. Octagon’s nerdy sci-fi rhymes, but you can’t front on The Automator’s brilliant backdrop.
No Awareness – This one begins with dialogue taken from an old 1930’s flick, Dr. X, which sets the scene for Dr. Octagon and his co-worker, Sir Menelik, to take turns spittin’ verses full of technical jargon, a bunch of numbers and occasional pop culture references. Once again, The Automator delivers with more lovely production to back his partner and friend’s off-kilter antics.
Real Raw – As the title suggests, The Automator slides Dr. Oct a stripped-down very raw instrumental that finds the good doctor sounding lyrically more like the Kool Keith from 1988: “Gnip Gnop, you think you got that real hip-hop? I soar the charts so quickly, watched your album flop, I’m Doctor Octo’, curlin’ weights, tourin’ rhinos, liftin’ horses, throwin’ cows at your fake forces, you know my gold style, rabbit fur coat style, you be freezin’, with the flu watch you keep sneezin’.” This was dope, and it also serves as a reminder to all emcees to not get it twisted. Just because Keith is on some abstract sci-fi shit, don’t mean he can’t come back to planet earth to bust yo’ ass on the mic.
General Hospital – Short interlude to set up the next song…
Blue Flowers – Dr. Oct spews more abstract sci-fi nerd bars, and as great as The Automator’s production has been up to this point, this beautifully callous canvas (built around an amazing eerie violin loop) might be his most masterful moment of the evening.
Technical Difficulties – This is one of two tracks on Dr. Octagon that The Automator didn’t produce. Instead, Kut Masta Kurt (whose Publishing name, Funky Redneck Productions, is hi-larious) gets his first of two production credits on the night. Kurt’s instrumental sounds like blustering wind wrapped around a soothing melody, while Keith continues to spew his nerd bars. The scrambled Spanish-speaking radio transmission placed in between verses (credited to Whoolio E Glacias) was strange, but a perfect match for this song.
A Visit To The Gynecologyst – Another great interlude, and like the “Intro”, I’m confident the dialogue was taken from a porno flick.
Bear Witness – DJ Q-Bert scratches the shit out of The Automator’s stripped-down but very funky beat that also incorporates a great Chuck D soundbite.
Dr. Octagon – The title track (produced by Kut Masta Kurt) finds our host and Sir Menelik (who uses the alias Chewbacca Uncircumcised for this record) mixing it up again with more leftfield oddball nerd raps. This is definitely one of the weaker tracks on Dr. Octagon.
Girl Let Me Touch You – Over a soulful bop (I love the sexy piano keys sprinkled throughout) Dr. Oct transforms into his full alias, Dr. Octagonecologyst (your orthopedic gynecologist), temporarily putting his scalpel and stethoscope away, so he can chase a little kitty cat: “Girl, what’s wrong? come here let me take a look, you say you got burnt, your man should have wore a rubber, What type of partners you have and who’s your first lover? He never turned you around, showed you doggystyle? We got some things in common, honey, let’s talk awhile, Did he lick you there? Percolate your atmosphere? I got a mask at home, boots and some leather gear.” Keith’s hook is both catchy and creepy, and these type of records, which find him in his sweet spot, are the type of songs I expected Dr. Octagon to be flooded with.
I’m Destructive – This one begins with Dr. Octagon on some psychotic shit, as he encourages a patient to “get in the water and touch the electric wires”, followed by snippets of Geraldo Riviera’s interview with convicted cannibal and murder, Daniel Rakowitz. The Automator is credited for the production, but Andy Boy’s sinister live guitar licks are the heart and soul of the instrumental and set the dark mood for Keith, who’s in his devious class clown bag: “What would you do, if I hit your face with dog doodoo? Smear poopoo flies on your forehead, spit in your salad, vomit on your brother’s breakfast.” Keith’s practical jokes progressively get more diabolical, as he talks about burning your mother’s house down, burning your dog’s legs, cutting your parakeet’s head off with scissors and bashing your head in with ten full cans of Campbell Soup. Yep, that sounds pretty destructive to me.
Wild And Crazy – This one sounds like The Automator tried to recreate the instrumental for the Ultramagnetic MC’s “Ego Trippin'”, putting a dark spin on it, and he succeeds. By the way, I love how Keith spits complex hard to follow rhyme schemes but keeps all his hooks super simple and straightforward.
Elective Surgery – Short interlude to set up the next song.
Halfsharkalligatorhalfman – And just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, Keith introduces yet another one of his alter-egos, Mr. Gerbik. Mr. Gerbik is Dr. Octagon’s two hundred-and eight-year-old uncle, who if you didn’t catch from the song title, is half shark-alligator, half man. The Automator provides spooky chords for Mr. Gerbik to brag about having skin like razor blades, smackin’ gorillas and having sex with mares. I’ve been excepting of most of Keith’s crazy leftfield hijinks to this point, but this is where I draw the line. The back of the Dr. Octagon cd jewel case teases of a Mr. Gerbik album. Thank God that never materialized.
Blue Flower Revisited – This one begins with a somber flute, soft shimmying drums and a nerve wrecking subdued rumbling bass line that’ll make you anxious. Then Keith, I mean, Dr. Octagon, starts to spew more sci-fi space rhetoric, while the instrumental slowly blossoms into the most beautifully eerie music that my ears have ever heard, literally leaving my arms with goosebumps. It sounds like the soundtrack to being abducted by an alien spaceship out in the middle of nowhere. Easily The Automator’s best production work of the night.
Waiting Room – And while still recovering from the mind-boggling brilliancy of the previous instrumental, The Automator (with an assist from DJ Shadow, which I’m sure is just the scratches on the record) comes right back and fucks my head up with another monster mid-tempo groove. Dr. Oct resorts back to old Keith and talks that shit, sounding great in the process.
1977 – The final song of the evening finds Keith crashing all the way back to planet earth, specifically, the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx. Over a basic break beat, Keith pays homage to the old school park jams and honors some of hip-hop’s pioneers, as he adapts a flow reminiscent of the late seventies era, spittin’ his bars into a low-quality microphone. And with that, Dr. Octagon’s a wrap.
Dr. Octagonecologyst is a bizarre ride through the mind and world of Kool Keith’s eccentric, psychotic and slightly perverted alter-ego. The album almost plays like a dark sci-fi comedy on wax, placed over mostly amazing drums and magnificent cold, eerie and melodic instrumentation, all woven together with clever interludes and skits, while great scratches serve as the cherry on top of the superb production. If you listen to Dr. Octagon once, it’s very possible that you won’t enjoy it, but if you live with it like I have for the past three plus weeks, the production sounds grander with each listen and Kool Keith’s unorthodox flow and weirdo space/serial killer raps go from sounding like kooky randomness to, at minimum, mildly intriguing. Then again, it could be The Automator’s production that makes Keith’s rhymes sound more interesting than they really are.
So, is Dr. Octagonecologyst lukewarm experimental nonsense or an elaborately abstract masterpiece? Today, I lean towards the latter, but we may not be able to accurately assess its value until the year 3000.