Kool Keith, the king of avant-garde emcees, delivers an unbalanced, albeit enjoyable, album that shows he's still got it.
Kool Keith, aka Dr. Dooom, aka Dr. Octagon, aka Black Elvis, aka “whatever-he-decides-to-call-himself-next”, is one of hip-hop’s most creative and unstable acts. Since gracing the mic in the 1980s, he has made it his mission to instill his odd view on life into each and every bar he spits. And he continued that streak into the 1990s when he made the phenomenal Dr. Octagon record Dr. Octagonecologyst. Of course, he did not let up when the millennium hit. But to say his output has remained stellar would be a lie. His recent efforts have been mostly hit or miss, just not on par with his previous efforts. But he keeps plugging away, never letting up. On top of that, Keith has collaborated with fellow musical crazies, like Mike Patton on his Peeping Tom project.
To call Keith "weird" would be an understatement. Recently, I was having a discussion about hip-hop with a guy in his late 20s. We touched upon various topics and emcees before finally getting to Keith. The guy, who is heavily involved in the hip-hop scene in my state, said he was at a Keith show a few years back when something appropriately strange took place. Well, technically it was after the concert. Keith had hit it off with a local 20-something female, who went back with the rapper to his hotel room. It can only be assumed that she was thinking this was a night when she would get lucky with an emcee whose history cements him as one of the best to ever do it. But when they got to the room, she was in for one hell of a surprise. Rather than reach for some liquor or make a move for the bed, he went for a duffel bag sitting on the floor. Upon opening it, he picked up some women's shoes out of the bag, looked at her, and asked the young lady to try them on.
Now although it is difficult to prove whether the above story is true or not, there is certainly a strange air circulating around this particular Ultramagnetic MC. And that air continues to swirl on Keith’s followup to First Come, First Served, titled Dr. Dooom 2. At the helm once again is KutMasta Kurt, the evil genius behind the boards on Dooom's debut. So, as you might expect, the sequel is gloomy and drenched in Keith's take on horror, which ranges from stalking ("I Followed You") to straight-up violence ("I'm Creepin'"). And it's on tracks like those where the emcee is at his best and most comfortable. There is the undeniably hilarious "Simon", where he rips apart American Idol and its judge Simon Cowell. Just as odd and intriguing is the strangely catchy "The Countdown", which features one of Kurt's best productions. The piano loop and crunchy drums fit Keith's haunting lyrics like a bloody glove. Other impressive efforts include "R.I.P. Dr. Octagon", in which he finishes off that alter ego once and for all, and "Step-N-Fetchers", a complete departure from his past work that is executed perfectly. Hearing Keith provide insights on the oppression of African-Americans throughout history is like nothing he typically spits on albums of this kind. But, particularly because he sounds at home with the subject matter, Keith kills it.
As pigeonholing as it might seem, Keith's trademark conversational flow truly excels when he is rapping about the familiar, even if it shows that when shoots for the stars, like on the monotonous dud "The God of Rap", he fails. That track, along with "How Sexy" and "Do Not Disturb", are clearly his attempts at achieving something greater, but they are both uninteresting and boring. The problem is that when Keith isn't spitting about what he knows, which seems to be the most messed up shit in the universe, his weakness is on full display. He is not an everyday emcee -- and we have all known that since he first graced the mic -- so when he gets to speaking on what other rappers have covered in spades, like attractive females, it sounds forced. Another problem unearths itself in the album's length. At only 57 minutes, Dr. Dooom 2 should not be a laborious listen. Because of Keith's monotone delivery, though, some tracks, even the best ones, start to drag.
Even if you know Keith by name and reputation only, it's likely that you also know that Dr. Dooom 2 will not be for everyone. Even the most open-minded hip-hop heads might dismiss it simply based on Keith's age and inconsistency over the past few years. But there are still shades of brilliance throughout, both in the raps and Kurt's spacey production, so this one deserves at least a couple of spins before you look elsewhere.