Dr. Octagon A.K.A. Dr. Octo A.K.A. Kool Keith Rocks The House

Surprise guest Ice-T rapped, 'San Francisco got it all decoded, now I'm reloaded.'

It's been a long time since Ice-T served as anyone's second banana. But there he was Friday night, roaming the stage, tossing high-fives, grabbing his nuts and milling around aimlessly during Kool Keith's headlining set at San Francisco's Maritime Hall. Topping the bill as Dr. Octo (a reference to the in-dispute Dr. Octagon moniker), former Ultramagnetic MC's rapper Keith stormed the stage in a black hooded sweatshirt and red hunting cap, earflaps down, pumping up a crowd that was primed for his sex-style rhymes after a few hours of DJing (X-ecutioners), beat-boxing (the Roots' Rahzel) and old-school MCing (Common).

Back to Ice-T, though. The "O.G." rapper, who swept into the venue unexpectedly just moments before Keith hit the stage, a 10-man entourage in his wake, seemed content to merely lend support to Keith, keeping his comments to the odd "oh yeah" and "one two, one two."

Keith kicked off his set with a classic Ultramagnetic tune, "MC Ultra," his signature nasal delivery intertwined with the filler comments of a backup rapper in an orange football jersey and fingerless gloves. He then moved quickly through the UMC's "Ease Back" and a snippet of "Give The Drummer Some," leaving out the infamous "change my pitch up/smack my bitch up" segment that recently caused Prodigy so much trouble

Ice-T was one of four ancillary MCs backing up Keith, holding microphones but not doing much with them. The overcrowded stage looked more like the corona around a backstage deli tray than a performance space with nearly a dozen beefy guys in sports gear and rump-shaking fly girls just hanging around the periphery, adding little to proceedings.

DJ Kut Masta Kurt, who spent more time queuing up DATs than actually cutting up anything on the turntable, tried to keep the flow going by dropping beats in and out, keeping Keith alert on his feet. Keith unveiled some new material a few songs in, looping his signature odd-cadence delivery over some spare, funky tracks, his rapid-fire boasts repeatedly short-circuited by the other babbling MCs hogging the mic.

DJ Judge, 28, of San Francisco's Rainbow Flava Sound System, said at one point he counted 15 people on the stage. "Seemed like half of

them were on the mic and that was just too many," Judge said.

Oakland native Sabrina DuBois, 22, despite giving Keith props for being a "stone cold freak and fucking genius," agreed. "Kool Keith had me going at first, but then he just let too many people on the stage. I mean, after awhile I felt like I was watching a performance at a community center or something."

After a quick run through the raunchy "Sex Style" from the album of the same name, Keith broke into a short tirade against "motherfuckers sayin' I'm not showing up," a reference to his reported no-show for rehearsals for a subsequently canceled Dr. Octagon stint on last summer's Lollapalooza. Showing his vulnerable side, Keith, known perhaps as much for his eccentricity as for his unique microphone skills, then challenged those that think he's a "weird motherfucker on some computer shit," to remember that "I have to go to the store and buy cereal."

An eerie run through a truncated version of "Blue Flowers" was followed by an immediate live remix, in which Keith freestyled some lyrics over a sinister, chest-thumping beat. A goof ball white kid with a T-shirt over his head briefly stole the spotlight with his sloppy break-dancing and generally asinine antics, which segued into the most entertaining sequence of the night. Finally owning up to the out-of-control stage situation, Keith pulled one of the gold-chain-wearing, not-doing-much-but-flexing side men to the front and busted a freestyle rhyme about his fat stomach and silly pimp hat.

Finally, after 40 minutes of cheerleading, Ice-T, dressed in a white hockey jersey, baseball cap with a black "T" logo and his signature gun-shaped medallion on a fat chain, briefly took center-stage and hushed the sweaty crowd with several minutes of raunchy a cappella freestyle rhymes. Hewing to his bread-and-butter O.G. guns and bitches themes, T rhymed that the "ATF is trying to kill me," telling the crowd that "San Francisco got it all decoded, now I'm reloaded."

Despite the somewhat disappointing set from Keith, Common more than made up for any shortcomings with a tight set of positive raps under the "Hotel Common" theme. Bringing the audience through every floor of the imaginary hotel, the Chicago MC and his funky, five-piece live band kept the crowd jumping through Common's effortless flow and positive messages and his band's tight funk/R&B precision.

Referring to one of the other opening acts, New York DJs the X-ecutioners, fan DJ Judge said, "It's like Rollo said during the X-ecutioners set: 'This is hip-hop 2000.' Tonight was about the future of hip-hop. Some day, I'll see a show with six turntables and two MCs and it will blow me away. I saw parts of that tonight."

A hyped Jayson Jackson of Oakland, 25, had to agree. "This was a show for the heads, ya-know-what-I'm-sayin? You had to go way back to the Ultramagnetic MC's shit to feel my man Kool Keith, right? I was glad I came

out early and caught everyone. They were saying all night 'this is what

hip-hop is about' and I'd say that's true. Beat-box, bomb-ass MCs and the

DJs." -- Additional reporting by Randy Reiss.

Color="#720418">[Mon., Feb. 2, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]