Published Jan 01, 2006After more than a decade, Kool Keith remains the most under-rated MC in the game, having single-handedly reinvented hip-hop a number of times. He pioneered the use of alter egos with Ultramagnetic MC's, made space the place with Dr. Octagon, and influenced a new underground of ultra-lyricists on labels like Rawkus and Celestial. He's also become almost as famous for erratic behaviour and repeated disappearing acts. On the eve of his Kool Keith albumBlack Elvis/Lost In Space , the ups and downs of Keith Thornton.
Bronx natives TR Love, Moe Love, Ced Gee (who helped produce BDP'sCriminal Minded ) and Kool Keith start releasing a number of highly creative 12-inches as hip hop's most creative crew, Ultramagnetic MC's.
Ultramagnetic MC's first full-length release, Critical Beatdown changes the face of hip-hop. It's not only one of the best ever, but one of the first to employ samples, putting a stop musicians composing beats by replaying simple instrumental loops from other records.
Moving to a major label meant a nearly four year wait for Ultramagnetic's follow-up,Funk Your Head Up . Not as classic as their debut, it did produce the "Poppa Large" video where Kool Keith sported a straight jacket (imitated most recently in photographs by Eminem and Missy Elliot). Funk Your Head Up marks the appearance of two new Keith aliases, Rhythm X (the battle emcee) and Poppa Large (the pimp-gangsta), which represent different aspects of his character.
A year and new label later, Ultramagnetic drops The Four Horsemen - not as classic asCritical Beatdown , but better thanFunk Your Head Up . True innovators, the band ditched now standard samples, instead playing around with live instruments.
Reportedly, MC Ced Gee sold unfinished Ultramagnetic demo tapes to Tuff City for drug money. The group broke up over it, and the bad blood between Keith and Ced Gee would take more than five years to heal. Kool Keith laters pleads with the public not to buy the stream of basement tape bootlegs.
Keith takes a little rest at Creedmore mental hospital. General consensus is that Keith was truly crazy. Weird rhyme patterns, numerous rap personalities, and constant abstract rhymes seemed was enough evidence for some, but Keith admits he was treated for manic depression. Careful listens to later releases reveal the occasional mention of mental hospitals, but Keith remains secretive about it.
Keith moves to the West Coast, where he hooks up with underground producer Dan The Automator and records his most honest work yet, "It's Over Now," in which he talks candidly about the break up and the move. The song begins a relationship that would create another classic Kool Keith album and another great alter ego, 1996'sDr. Octagon .
Poppa Large morphs into his pimp daddy player Big Willie Smith (aka Willie Biggs) with "Keep It Real ... Represent," a track that breaks down what was wrong with hip-hop by utilizing every rapper's favourite excuse to record bland gang violence tracks. The classic, hard-to-find record was the debut of Keith's Funky Ass label.
Back to NYC to record with producer/MC Godfather Don, and the return of his Bronx battle persona, Rhythm X; it's a small step from the weirdness of L.A. that would later produceDr Octagon . The Cenobites becomes the first release on legendary hip-hop fan and radio personality Bobbito Garcia's Fondle 'Em Records.
Although created by Kool Keith and Sir Menelik with production supplied by Dan The Automator (with help from Kut Master Kurt) and cuts by three time DMC world champion and Invisibl Skratch Pickl DJ Q-Bert, Keith was eventually considered a hired rapper for what became an Automator project. Dr Octagon is sheer brilliance, created by Keith and Sir Menelik, with production by Dan The Automator, Kut Master Kurt and DJ Q-Bert, although Keith has since been dismissed as a hired rapper. Keith wrote and recorded the time-travelling lyrics in 14 hours, and Dr Octagon changed hip-hop once again, crossing over with techno and trip-hop fans with its spaced-out themes and music. Plenty of remixes and an instrumental album (Dr Octagon'sInstrumentalyst ) followed, but more recently, Keith has disowned this pure classic.
Former Ultramagnetic contributor and Bronx MC Tim Dog teams one of the worst MCs (Dog) with one of the best (Keith). As Ultra, their now-rare Big Time album featured a variety of Keith characters including the Devastating Reverend Tom, Mr Green, and No Face, along with classics like Big Willie Smith.
Kool Keith brings it all back to the sex rhyme with help from Kut Master Kurt. Big Willie Smith ups the ante on hip-hop and blatant sex withSex Styles , a funky collection from hip-hop's porno king.
Records a track with Sir Menelik (as Cyclops 4000), for the East Coast's biggest underground label, Rawkus. "So Intelligent" was a good track, mostly starting Menelik's solo career on a good foot.
The Dr. Octagon appearance at Lollapalooza threatened to overshadow the record; orchestrated through Dan The Automator, Keith was given little notice, and no creative input or money so he quit, retreating to Europe to hide from the press, where he recorded with Prodigy ("Diesel Power" onFat of the Land ). The Automator tried to recruit Brand Nubian's Sadat X, but he refused, and Dr. Octagon never played.
Rawkus recruits Menelik and Keith to "host" disc two of the faux-live Lyricist Lounge compilation. Keith channels Reverend Tom, making this a weird experience, that's definitely more interesting than the De La Soul-hosted disc one.
Dr. Octagon surfaces long enough to get murdered by Keith's new incarnation, the down-to-earth Dr. Dooom. A No Limit-style cover and hard funk beats make First Come, First Served the best album Keith has released sinceDr Octagon . The final track, "Leave Me Alone," is an honest plea from Keith for the respect he deserves.
Kool Keith is a no-show at [need venue] and current rhyme partner Motion Man claims Keith was in a mental hospital. This rumour has been refuted by press releases.
Kool Keith unveils another demented doctor, Dr. Ultra is seen in funky hip-hop Sprite commercials.
Keith joins with Shoot2Thrill.com to open a new porn web site that includes samples of unreleased Kool Keith songs along with his personal porn picks, video games and contests. The site is at Smackmybitchup.com.
Only the second release as Kool Keith, Black Elvis/Lost In Space is a funky mesh of sex rhymes, space rhymes, and a few disses, along with Keith's quirky interpretations of commercial hip-hop songs. Although Keith occasionally rhymes about being Black Elvis, most of this record is just plain Kool Keith, still lost in space.