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The YTC podcast can be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/
Readers with keen eyes may have noticed a change in the title of the blog. I have gone from Roman Numerals to regular Western Numbering. This is partly because of a need to be more modern, and even more so because of my own inadequacies at counting in Roman Numerals. Also, let’s face it; if I keep this blog up long enough at some stage I’ll reach episode 40 and will have to title it as ‘XXXX’. This is akin to a rather rude curse- and rudeness will not be condoned on my XXXXing watch!
Actually I started the Roman Numerals purely as a pun. The original six entries are all based on Star Wars jokes. Just as I was due to drop this numbering, a friend and a fully fledged professional writer complimented me on being smart enough to number my Blogs. So naturally I thanked him, quickly confirmed that I was indeed a creative-genius and then decided that I had better keep doing it!
Fortunately today’s YTC Subject is someone also not averse to change. In fact this entry will be dedicated to the rapper Kool Keith, a man with more identities than I have had hot dinners. Perhaps due to these constantly shifting identities Keith is not as known by the world at large as he should be, and hey this is a ‘Cult’ blog, not just a film one.
But if Kool Keith is a Cult figure in rap, than two of his persona’s in particular have developed in truly fascinating ways to reflect this, and these will be the topic in this blog. This is the tale of Dr. Octagon vs Dr. Dooom!!!
Keith’s past is a little tricky to detail here, since he seems to tailor his interviews to entertain himself. What is known is that one of the most innovative Rap groups of the late 1980’s were the Ultramagnetic MC’s. Gaining fame at around the same time as some unknown groups called Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Beastie Boys, Ultramagnetic may never have quite made it as big as their contemporaries. However they were an innovative force to be reckoned with, and just this year celebrated a 25th year Tour of their Debut album, Critical Beatdown.
You don’t get to Internationally tour a 25 year old album without making waves with music fans and critics, and this is where the Ultramagnetic MC’s really succeeded. Keith was an immediate stand out in the band.
On their first single he displayed incredibly unique vocabulary that dissed the success of Run DMC’s ‘simple’ Peter Piper song. In 1986 with only their second Single, ‘Ego Trippin”, Keith rapped the following lines to set the pace for the whole song, if not the whole Critical Beatdown album.
“They use the simple back and forth, the same, old rhythm
That a baby can pick up, and join, right with them
But their rhymes are pathetic, they think they copacetic
Using nursery terms, at least not poetic
On a educated base, intelligent wise
As the record just turn, you learn, plus burn
By the flame of the lyrics which cooks the human brain
Providing overheating knowledge, by means causing pain”
With Keith gaining a reputation as an outstanding wordsmith, he began to develop both within the Ultramagnetic MC’s and as a solo-rapper. A decade later, by 1996 Keith would release an album that would affect his entire career and create his most famous creation. By 1996, Kool Keith appeared as Dr. Octagon on the album Dr. Octagonecologyst.
This persona of Dr. Octagon played out over the backdrop of an album that mixed science fiction, gore, sex and humour. Much like many of the films previously written about in this blog in fact. With music produced by Dan The Automator (also responsible for much of Gorrilaz first album), Keith created an entire galaxy to play in.
The central role of Dr. Octagon is probably best surmised as an alien from Jupiter , who exists as a practicing Surgeon and Gynecologist. Oh and he time travels a fair bit too. Visually the good Doctor is described as having yellow eyes, green and silver skin and a pink/white Afro. Picture that and then go look at the artwork on any Gangster Rap album from 1996 and you can see Kool Keith is certainly a man on his own path.
As the Dr. Octagonecologyst album plays out, the character is shown to be both perverse and inept in equal measure. In fact most of his sick patients die whilst the Dr is distracted by sleeping with his female patients and nurses.
Sample lyrics from ‘Girl Let Me Touch You’ are as follows;
“I got the office closed
you ready for the pros
suckers aint no good
sticking coke up in your nose
my style is wild at home
and on the kitchen table
porno flicks and stacks
play good on the TV cable
I’d rather sign my address on your application
you can call late nights for lonely information”
Whereas On ‘Blue Flowers’, examples of lines are
“I come prepared with the white suit and stethoscope
Listen to your heartbeat, delete beep beep BEEP
Your insurance is high, but my price is cheap”
and on ‘Blue Flowers Revisited’…
“Homegrown computer wise on the microphone
Utilizing tracks inverted by animical
High typical force space sex intercourse
You get lost and memorize to the Enterprise
Scotty the Captain Mr. Spock keeps rappin
4212 the shit moves at warp speed
Dynamic 7 navigation of the coppers
Moving in crystals, operating lightspeed”
These are just a few examples of Dr. Octagonecologyst’s mix of Sci-Fi, sex and death. The whole album is a lot of fun for and was highly innovative at its release. Yet it also proved to be somewhat of an albatross around Keith’s neck.
Dropping the persona just as it was getting big sales, Keith would go on to express frustration with the Dr. Octagon moniker, saying in an interview with David Downs for the AV Club in 2009
“Octagon wasn’t my life…I’ve done a lot of things that were totally around different things other than Octagon. Are some people just afraid to venture off into my life and see that I do other things which are great? I think people stuck me with something.”
So just what is a rapper many identities to do when he is tired of one role? Why simply invent another one to kill it off!
In 1999, Keith would team up with different producer, Kutmasta Kurt, to bring life to his new alias; Dr. Dooom.
This 38 second track has Dr. Octagon paged to enter a room, only for Dooom to say “You’re that Dr. Octagon ass-motherfucka, right? I tell you what take this… [cocks shotgun]… Take two of these and call me in the morning!… [Fires gun]… I’m Dr. Dooom.”
This identity was pretty different in tone and style. Dr. Dooom is a serial killer and cannibal. The lyrics on this album focused on the squalor of New York. The focus this time was not on degrading-futurism, but on the darkly comical grimness of a low rent murderer.
Lyrical examples from here show Keith creating what he dubs ‘Horror-Core’ Rap.
So from the song ‘Body Bag’ we have lines like these;
“I ran a meat market behind johnny rocket’s
Paid truckers to haul body pieces from the east to the west
With the devil branded on your chest
I had to step up and the judge wrote confess
Watch the whole arkansas kansas city testify
Against my lies and my alibis, I was suprised
My lawyers dressed in black
And a rolls royce buried in the back
Arms missing, knees cut down to the knubs
All I had was people to grub
Stories to tell to the enquirer
How I set a bunch of people in the nightclub on fire
My intention was to get even like spielberg
Throw like stephen king, children of the corn on a swing
I stuck needles in your face like pinhead
You been dead for eighty hours in a college dorm
With a thunderstorm, lightning with big bolts
I used to hang with jim jones before he started the cults“
The ‘Body Bag’ song mixes horror tropes like storms, slasher icons and dismemberment. Whereas a song like ‘Leave Me Alone’ helps explain why Keith moved away from the success of Dr. Octagon:
“Now it’s time to hurt your feelings as I upsets music industry fan
Hey yo my man, look at my hand, they look human right?
You think I’m a monster? An ill circus clown?
Not a specimen, don’t look at me funny when I come around
A&r been tryin to figure me out for years
Tryin to re-duplicate me but they can’t so they hate me…
I don’t wanna meet insane clown posse and collaborate
I’m tryin to innovate and think quick at a fast rate
Why you mad cause I’m original – you can’t do the material”
So between 1996 and 1999, Keith has created one character in Octagon, gotten sick of being pigeonholed via Octagon, and consequently ditched him publicly for Dr. Dooom.
Now this is where things get complicated.
Over the next decade or so, Keith would take constant jibes at the ongoing requests to revive Octagon across many, many albums under many different guises. I will not even attempt to detail them, but a memorable line from the track ‘I Do What I Want’ from The Personal Album sums it up easily:
“Stuck on Octagon? Oct-is-Gone! You get it…?!?”
But by 2002, Keith seemed to have changed his tune. On July 23 2002, Rolling Stone Magazine reported that a Dr. Octagon 2 album was due to come out by 2003. Apparently Keith had been been working with another new producer, Frantik J, to create a return of Octagon. However at some stage,m the two men are claimed to have fallen out over contract rights. At this stage, the label who had signed for the album owned Keith’s demos. They hired a trio of Producers called One Watt Sun to complete the project.
Unfortunately for them,. Keith had only finished 3 complete tracks of vocals. The resulting album, The Return Of Dr. Octagon, was made with old tracks that Keith had laying around from some years previously. Keith assumed no album could come out based on the unfinished mess of material he gave the label to get out of the deal, but he was wrong. An album did come out, one surprisingly cohesive, albeit sounding completely different.
As colleague Kutmasta Kurt stated in another interview with David Downs (from 2009 for East Bay Express) that “The Dr. Octagon character was rapping over sounds that were dark and sinister, but they turned the album into this dancey, electro-pop. A lot of it had this Euro-dance feel.”
(Somewhere along the way, some of these demos even leaked out into an unsanctioned mix, called, brilliantly, Dr. Octagon Part II.
This is a terrible listen, with basic lines and beats and nothing more. But it is an interesting listen for early versions of material used by One Watt Sun on The Return Of Dr. Octagon. It certainly shows the difference they made to the final product even if it is not much of a Octagon project).
At any ate, Dr. Octagon was once more back and once more gaining some major attention by music journalists. But since this was without Keith’s direct involvement or blessing, Keith decided it was time to take control again. By killing Octagon. Again. And so Dr. Dooom returned via the album Dr. Dooom 2
The 3rd track is dedicated solely to this. Called ‘R.I.P Dr. Octagon’, the song features multiple murders of Octagon, whilst also addressing his return via tird parties.. The abridged lyrics for the full song are;
“Yo whassup? This is Dr. Dooom
I know I killed Dr. Octagon
Now how they gon’ come back with some type of return?
That’s why I’m back
I’ma put the finishing touches on this guy
You witness the execution, rest in peace
This is a true story, how I put the clamp on Octagon
Drowned him in the water until he was gone
Then he came back alive, I stabbed him over 17 times
But you people out there wouldn’t let him die
Y’all put him on the respirator
The critics that gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation was a hater…
Two weeks later, Dr. Octagon was dead
Electrocuted by electric razor
Octagon is gone, this image was pawned
Every now and then I go visit him in the cemetery on and on
No whack remixes or duplicated copies
(Rest in peace)
Octagon is deceased
Me and Kurt seen him at the hospital yesterday
I pulled the plug out on Dr. Ock…
I beat him to death with rocks in a sock
Left him for dead on some alternative block…
With some bad parents from Germany and Swiss
That wanted him to go candy pop, something called candy hop
The world was forcin’ a nightmare down people’s throats
That had to stop
With all the rock bands offering their condolences
To the producers of ‘The Return’, I had to overshadow their credits
And wait my turn on the worthless, now Dr. Dooom has risen
Octagon is deceased… Octagon is deceased”
So there we have it. In just over a decade, Kool Keith created a character, killed him off via another character, toyed with bringing him back, eventually felt screwed over when the return did happen, and then killed him once more with the same assassin!
To my mind this is the only time a Rap-Battle played out in public has involved the same person!
To anyone who has enjoyed following this creative onslaught of Keith in just these two aliases, believe me they are just a drop in the ocean that is his mind. Keith has 61 aliases to my personal knowledge, whether as fully fledged characters with their own albums or just name-checked characters.
Personally I’m partial to the pun-worthy names of Elvin Presley, Dark Vader and Blackula, but for his best tracks I would recommend his work as Poppa Large and Mr. Gerbik.
Much to Keith’s chagrin, he is almost impossible to escape the Dr. Octagon alias. No matter how many time he kills off the Doctor the sheer impact of the Dr. Octagonecologyst, album will keep it relevant to hip-hop heads for decades to come.
Yet, Keith’s self-professed invention of Horror-Core rap via Dr. Dooom more than proves that Keith is absolutely right to avoid being penned in by any single creation. His creativity leaps far beyond anyone role, whichever one that it may be. In fact, the very way in which Kool Keith has had a rivalry with just himself via two separate persona’s mark him out as one hell of a unique artist across all of music.
I’ll bow out with this number just because it was ‘kool’ for Keith to get some credit on a larger stage when Liam Howlett hired him for this little ditty.
Next Time (if the necessary items have arrived) “Who…Who..Who are you?”.
This will take some time to write as it involves around 15hours of viewing, so it may be a longer interval to the next entry.
As always, thanks for reading,