Whatever nom de plume he chooses to use, there can be no doubting the impact that Keith Matthew Thornton has had on the sound, and look, of hip-hop.
It’s hard to keep count on the sheer volume of music he has released but some judicious research points to this new album Love & Danger being his eighteenth solo album. Apparently this is also to be his last album according to some of his recent mutterings in the press and online, with perhaps the biggest hint being the last track on the album “Goodbye Rap”. Whether he is to be believed is an entirely different matter though such is the, shall we say, skittish behaviour Keith has displayed over the years.
Right from the off with Ultramagnetic MC’s, Kool Keith has become known for the quality of his flow and idiosyncratic lyrics, and feted as one of the originators, or at least pioneers, and foremost proponents of underground hip-hop and acid rap.
His Dr. Octagon record, Dr.Octagonecologyst, in which he collaborated with Dan ‘the Automator’ Nakamuru and DJ Q-Bert set new levels in sonic and lyrical adventures for hip-hop and gave Kool Keith critical success outside of the hip-hop community, particularly with the more traditional rock press. Kool had other ideas about this new found fame though, achieved via his alter ego Dr. Octagon, and killed him off via a new alter ego, Dr. Dooom, on the album First Come, First Served.
All this is a way of illustrating the complex, bewildering and almost schizophrenic career of Kool Keith, which is also absolutely reflected in his music. And this is what makes him such a compelling artist. The leftfield, sometimes nonsensical lyrics, the beats produced for and by him, the use of turntabilism and scratching to create thought provoking sound colleges — none of this should work (and sometimes it hasn’t) and yet whatever you think of him you always want to hear what his new records will sound like.
The first thing to say about Love & Danger is that it upholds the Kool Keith approach to making an album. There are multiple styles and subject matters scattered across the fifteen tracks. Instrumental opener “The Dangerous Liaisons” has a gravitas, almost a sense of foreboding to it, with a nice drum roll and orchestral strings preparing you for what you feel is going to be an aural sonic onslaught.
Instead next track “You Love That” is almost neo-soul in style and delivery as Keith uses a wide range of metaphors in deriding the physical appearance of a woman called Sarah.
From neo-soul we go south, Deep South. “Cow-Boy Howdy”, featuring Mr Sche aka Big Sche Eastwood (what is it with all these names?), sounds like the Outkast song that got away. I have a feeling this song will be licensed by a number of music supervisors for TV and film such is its appeal. This is just low down and dirty music, there is no other description for it, how can there be when the chorus goes “The cowboy’s in session / The cowboy’s in session”? Bonkers, but brilliant.
“New York” comes back with the neo-soul vibe and is a homage to the city of Kool’s birth, albeit in inimitable Kool Keith style, and name checks the likes of LeBron, Kanye West, Jay Z, Puffy and others in a stream of consciousness and love.
“Vacation Spot” features Kool at his linguistic best, conjuring lines like “All rappers should go on TV and be gong / They stereotype giant monkeys, pose like King Kong / Rap ain’t nothing but dog doo without the butt crusting / Is it me your trustin’ / Hoffman / I could be Dustin.” Such vocal dexterity will be sorely missed if he does bow out of the game.
Keith Murray and Megabone provide guest raps to “Impressions” and “The Game Is Free”. The latter appears to be a treatise against the kiss and tell aspect of modern media and the desire of people for their five minutes of fame, but it is so wrapped up in dense metaphors it could easily be any number of scenarios. Sometimes Kool gets so caught up in the flow, the message gets obscured somewhat.
“Something Special” leaves you in doubt though as to what Kool is talking about: Sex, and the act of dressing up (or should that be down?) for it. This song is in the middle of a number of tracks where the Love of the title is apparent as Kool paints a vivid picture for the listener of one of his favourite pastimes.
But the last track is even starker and seemingly straightforward in its message. “Goodbye Rap” opens with Kool talking the words “Goodbye rap / This song is about everybody involved in hip-hop” before launching into “This song is the last song / I quit rap” over a piano riff. Like the opening track there is a heavy sense of foreboding weighing the song down. As last songs go, it certainly leaves you fearing the worst as Kool lists all the things he dislikes about the current state of music and specifically hip-hop. Each mentioned dislike is followed with a somnolent “Wack” leaving you in doubt as to his feelings and reasons why this time, he just might be getting out of the game.
Time will tell.