Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon

kool_keith

Even in a genre where having multiple aliases is practically a job requirement, few hip-hop artists have cycled through characters as frenetically as Kool Keith. Over the course of his 30-odd-year (emphasis on “odd”) career, he’s rapped under the names Black Elvis, Big Willie Smith, Dr. Dooom, Keith Korg, Poppa Large, Mr. Nogatco and (my personal favorite) Underwear Pissy, to name but a few. But his weirdest and most beloved alter ego is the one under which he recorded his now-classic debut solo album, Dr. Octagonecologyst, in 1996: Dr. Octagon.

Produced by Dan the Automator, who would go on to work with everyone from DJ Shadow to Gorillaz to Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom project, and featuring turntable wizardry by DJ Qbert of Invisibl Skratch Piklz fame, Dr. Octagonecologyst sounded like nothing else happening in hip-hop at the time. Over trippy sci-fi beats that were as likely to sample Kraftwerk or Bartok as Whodini or Kurtis Blow, Keith rapped seemingly stream-of-consciousness nonsense that, upon closer examination, revealed the mythology of his Dr. Octagon persona: a shapeshifting alien surgeon and gynecologist from Jupiter, with green and silver skin, sent to Earth to perform medical experiments on humans and bang the occasional nurse. It’s surreal, filthy, funny and as dense with pseudo-scientific jargon as a William Gibson novel.

Ever restless, Keith killed off Dr. Octagon just a few years after Dr. Octagonecologyst with a new, harsher character, a deranged serial killer named Dr. Dooom who murders Doc Ock in the first 40 seconds of his “debut” album, First Come, First Served.  Keith stepped back into the Octagon, so to speak, with the The Return of Dr. Octagon in 2006, but Dan the Automator and Qbert weren’t involved and the good Doctor, unhappy with both the production and his label at the time, disassociated himself with the album before it was even released.

But this week, the dynamic trio behind Dr. Octagon reunite to bring us Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripulation, the first proper Octagon album in 22 years. Are they as unhinged as ever? Damn right they are.

A little more about Kool Keith, for those not familiar: Born Keith Thornton in the Bronx in 1963, he came up in hip-hop’s formative years as part of Ultramagnetic MCs, whose 1988 album Critical Beatdown is one of those records you probably know even if you think you don’t. Even in those early days, he was always considered slightly unhinged — so much so that when he once joked during an interview about spending time in a mental hospital, everyone assumed he was serious. In addition to being a dizzyingly nimble rapper, he’s also a gifted producer and multi-instrumentalist — and of course he does all that under yet another pseudonym, Number One Producer. He allegedly once said that because of all his otherworldly alter egos, “I don’t even feel like I’m a human being any more.”

Speaking of those alter egos, it’s worth noting that Dr. Octagon is hardly Kool Keith’s only outlet for weirdness. He’s also explored sci-fi themes under his own name (for example, on Black Elvis/Lost in Space, his only major label album), dabbled in cannibalism and necrophilia with his horrorcore group Thee Undertakerz, and indulged in some serious scat play as Underwear Pissy — remember him? (“Leave a bag of horse shit on your dresser” has to be one of the greatest, most random threats in all of hip-hop.)

Moosebumps is streaming over at NPR (we’re sure Ira Glass and Terry Gross are big fans) and available for pre-order (or purchase, depending on when you’re reading this) here. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with an amazing video from Keith’s last solo album, 2016’s Feature Magnetic. This track, “Super Hero,” features another brilliantly weird rapper called MF Doom, one of many MCs Keith has influenced over the years (a list that also includes Eminem, Busdriver, Del the Funky Homosapien, Atmosphere and even Insane Clown Posse — and yes, Keith has played the Gathering of the Juggalos).

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Meow the Jewels

Meow the Jewels

We’re cheating a little with this week’s “band,” weirdlings. Meow the Jewels isn’t a band per se; it’s more of a remix project, created hardcore hip-hop duo El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run the Jewels. The weird part? All of the remixes are composed primarily out of cat sounds. Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?

After recruiting such big-name guest rappers and producers for the project as Prince Paul, Just Blaze, Dan the Automator and even Snoop Dogg (who really should’ve been billed as Snoop Catt — missed opportunity, guys), El-P headed down to the animal shelter to enlist some cats to provide sound effects. Then it was off to the studio to flip such Run the Jewels tracks as “Jeopardy” and “All Due Respect” into “Meowpurrdy” and “Paw Due Respect.” The result is perhaps the greatest hip-hop album of all time, cat-themed or otherwise.

That’s neat and all but — I hear you ask — do they have videos? Well, since the Internet is roughly 80% cat memes (the other 20% is equal parts porn and right-wing conspiracy theories), you bet your sweet ass they do. This first one was directed by Jason Goldwatch for Mass Appeal, and somehow manages to cram most of the Internet’s finest cat memes into 3 minutes and 14 seconds.

Then, as if all that weren’t awesome enough, last week Meow the Jewels released a new video for “Meowpurrdy” directed by none other than our favorite digital animation madman, Cyriak. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drop acid in one of those Japanese cat cafés, this is probably your answer.

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Mission Man’s new video just gave us the warm fuzzies

Mission Man

We haven’t been posting as much lately, I know. What can I say? Life shit. But when our old Ohio hip-hop pal Mission Man tweeted us his latest video, we just had to share it with you folks out there in Readerland. (By the way, don’t panic: Mission Man did not die in 2012. That’s just a copyright date range in the above graphic. He’s alive and well and still rockin’ the mic.)

MM’s vid for “Love, Funk and Soul” makes us happy, and not just because it features more cowbell. Mainly, it gives us a case of the warm fuzzies because it proves what we’ve long suspected, but seen precious little evidence of: Mission Man has fans. In the clip, they can be seen taking selfies with him, partying with him, throwing snowballs at him, and, at around the 1:08 mark, getting up onstage and dancing with him. Dude’s grind is definitely starting to pay off. Let this be an inspiration to us all.

Donatan and Cleo are back with more Slavschool awesomeness: “BRAĆ”

Cleo and Donatan

Polish hip-hop duo Donatan and Cleo went back down to the farm for their latest single/video, “BRAĆ,” and you know what that means: More high-sterical combinations of Polish rural life and hip-hop video clichés. Sexy vixens washing an old tractor like it’s a Bentley? Check! Old Polish dudes doing vodka shots like they’re sipping Cristal in the club? Check! Roosters wandering around for no reason? Checkity-check-check, baby. Slavschool in full effect!

The new video also features a new collaborator: A Polish/Ukrainian band called Enej, who bring the requisite Slavic folk flavor to the proceedings by way of a little gypsy-punk accordion and horns. Here’s what they usually sound like, so we gotta say, Donatan does a good job recasting them in a hip-hop context.

Goldilocks terrorizes helpless bears in new MC Frontalot video

MC Frontalot

MC Frontalot‘s new album Question Bedtime mostly features fairy tales unfamiliar to us folks raised on Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm. On those few occasions when the good MC does take on a more well-worn story, he always flips the script on it. Case in point: “Gold Locks,” which imagines what the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears would sound like as a bedtime story told to young bears. Needless to say, from the bears’ perspective, Goldilocks (played by rapper Jean Grae) is a horrible monster who, if you’re not good, will sneak into your house and eat all your food. And you, if you’re not careful.

For now, the video is an Entertainment Weekly exclusive, so you’ll have to cruise over to EW.com to watch it there. It’s OK, boo, you’re allowed to see other websites.

In other Frontalot news: Having just conquered America, he’s off to Europe next. Here are those dates:

9/24 in Southampton, EN @ Talking Heads
9/25 in Newton Abbot, EN @ The Jolly Farmer
9/26 in Perranporth, EN @ Watering Hole
9/28 in Bristol, EN @ Thekla
9/29 in Swansea, Wales @ Sin City
9/30 in Stourbridge, EN @ The River Rooms
10/1 in St. Albans, EN @ The Horn
10/2 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire @ Bucks Student Union
10/3 in Bedford, EN @ Esquires Beford
10/4 in Hatfield, EN @ Forum Hertfordshire
10/8 in Cork, IR @ Cyprus Avenue
10/9 in Dublin, IR @ Café En Sein
10/10 in Newry, UK @ Magnet Young Adult Center
10/11 in Sligo, IR @ 5th on Teeling
10/13 in Holyhead, EN @ Canolfan Ucheldre Centre
10/14 in Liverpool, EN @ East Village Arts Club
10/15 in Manchester, EN @ Manchester Academy
10/16 in Wakefield, EN @ Warehouse 23
10/17 in Cleethorpes, EN @ The Beachcomber
10/18 in Newcastle upon Tyne @ Think Tank in Riverside
10/19 in Glasgow, Scotland @ O2 ABC 2
10/20 in Blackburn, Lancashire @ King Georges Hall
10/21 in Stoke on Trent @ The Sugarmill
10/22 in Guilford, EN @ Boileroom
10/23 in Southend On Sea, EN @ Chinnery’s
10/24 in London, EN @ The Garage
10/25 in Milton Keynes @ The Craufurd Arms

Read my interview with MC Frontalot…on this other site

MC Frontalot

MC Frontalot‘s new album Question Bedtime arrived this week, with its twisted folk tales and hilarious sketches in which Front babysits unruly comedians. (“I’ll go to bed on one condition: Make me a Baked Alaska,” Paul F. Tompkins pleads.) It’s good stuff, but also a major departure for the nerdcore rapper, whose usual subject matter consists of videogames, sci-fi and the occasional stoop sale. We wanted to find out more about why he chose make what is, in essence, a children’s album.

While we sometimes do interviews on this blog, it’s more lucrative if we can convince some other website to pay us to do it. In this case, that website was The Daily Dot, a tech and pop culture site heavy on geek-friendly content. Front’s right in their wheelhouse, so they agreed, perhaps not knowing that we’d spend most of our interview talking about Idries Shah’s World Tales: The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places.

Anyway, to read the interview, go here. And to pick up a copy of Question Bedtime, go here. Just remember that if you play it for your kids, they’ll probably start asking you for Baked Alaska.

Weird of the Day: Afrika Bambaataa, “Renegades of Funk”

Afrika Bambaataa

I’m in the Bay Area today interviewing DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist about their upcoming Renegades of Rhythm tour, for which they’ll be playing all vinyl culled from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000-plus record collection. So I thought it would be a good day to give Bambaataa a little shout-out here on TWBITW. After all, he was in many ways a pretty weird dude.

This 1983 video for “Renegades of Funk” is a nice reminder that, compared to most of the crap on the radio today, early hip-hop could get downright avant-garde. Aside from the Sun Ra/George Clinton Afro-futurist costumes worn by Bambaataa and his Soulsonic Force crew, the track itself is a forward-thinking mix of squiggly synths, stuttering drum machines and Bootsy-style bass. It also name-checks practically every major funk and hip-hop innovator, civil rights activist, and the original gangsta, Sitting Bull. Class is in session!

My DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist interview won’t run here; it’s one of them there paying gigs for another outlet. But we’ll probably link out to it from our Facebook page or something.