[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, May 4.]
LOS ANGELES For Kool Keith, a new beginning sometimes requires a gruesome end.
That's why his former alter-ego, Dr. Octagon, is shot to death in the first 37 seconds of First Come, First Served the chameleonlike rapper's new independently released album, which he recorded under the pseudonym "Dr. Dooom."
"Emergency, Dr. Octagon. Please go to room 109. You got a patient with rabies waiting," a voice calls out on the opening track, "Who Killed Dr. Octagon?"
"You that Dr. Octagon-ass motherfucker," says another, more ominous voice.
"I'll tell you what. Take this, motherfucker! [Gunshots]. Take this! I'm Dr. Dooom."
And so one alter-ego buys the farm and a new one rises the vengeful but comical serial killer/cannibal Dr. Dooom. But even he is a transitory character in the Kool Keith catalog: This master of multiple identities will release another album this summer in which he personifies a character he calls "Black Elvis." That album, Black Elvis/Lost In Space, is due on Columbia Records on July 13.
Kool Keith (born Keith Thornton) who formerly led the pioneering New York rap crew Ultramagnetic MC's said developing new personae is just a matter of keeping life interesting for himself and his fans.
"Creating characters is one of my things," he said recently at a photo shoot for his Black Elvis CD cover. The artist was still wearing his plastic Black Elvis wig, soccer garb and shin guards as he ruminated over his numerous character creations.
"I want each album I do to have a significant person to remember," he said, "so the fans [can identify with a specific] person ... like a comic book. You know, you bought Spiderman, you bought Dr. Octopus, you bought Captain America there's variety. You don't want to buy one thing. It gets boring."
Released April 27 by Kool Keith's own Funky Ass Records, First Come, First Served is a 20-cut recording featuring the rapper's indignant, funny rhymes spouted over a dark, eerie backdrop of sampled bass and keyboards. DJ/producer Kut Masta Kurt said he and Kool Keith wanted to make sure the album appealed to the orthodox hip-hoppers who might have been less enthusiastic about Dr. Octagon's customized trip-hop style. At the same time, Kut Masta Kurt said the creative partners wanted to retain the interest of "the alternative kids" who were drawn to the Octagon sound.
Kut Masta Kurt (born Kurt Matlin) said First Come was an important album for Kool Keith to make. "The basis of this record is [Kool] Keith was mad, and we made evil, mean-sounding stuff," Kut Masta Kurt said. "The album was basically driven by his emotions and what was happening in his life at the time.
There was record-label stuff and ... certain circumstances around him that pissed him off.
"I think it was actually good motivation for him," Kut Masta Kurt continued. "Creatively, it sparked something. He was like, 'I'm so pissed off right now, I just want to do some crazy sh--.' So I was like, 'Let's just put it down then.' "
Highlights of the Dr. Dooom album include the belligerent "No Chorus," which features Keith rapping a mile a minute about the monotony and lack of individuality in the music industry and taking a stance against those who suggest he conform.
"Ninety percent of the industry has a certain familiar sound that they using," Keith said. "No one's getting creative anymore, and that goes for the rock groups as well ... and R&B.
"I'm not scared to hop in the big ocean by myself. There's sharks out there, but I'm going with my own stuff. I'm not jumping on anyone who's hot right now; I'm not riding anybody; I'm not paying the top producer in the industry to go do the record for me."
The album also includes several skits, including the disturbing but
hilarious "Mr. Ratt" (RealAudio
excerpt), on which Dr. Dooom feeds peanut butter to a willing
rodent. "Here little ratty, ratty," Kool Keith calls. "Come over here.
Michael Jackson had one, and he named him John."
"Neighbors Next Door" (RealAudio
excerpt), featuring Jacky Jasper, is perhaps the most revealing song about the Dr. Dooom character.
"Dr. Dooom's like a guy who lives in the projects, but he's a serial killer," Kut Masta Kurt explained. "His neighbors don't really know what's going on. They see him in the hallway and think he's just the guy next door. But he's got body parts in his house and stuff.
"It's kind of like when they catch a serial killer, they'll ask the neighbors about the guy and they're always like, 'He was cool, he seemed like a regular guy.' [Kool] Keith's take, I think, was that the regular guy next door may not be who you think he is."
Other standout numbers include the bumping "Leave Me Alone" and the character's anthem, "Dr. Dooom's in the Room"
Though First Come, First Served seemed to arrive out of nowhere,
the project actually began last fall; it was recorded in Kut Masta Kurt's
home studio between September and November. The duo would get together
a couple of days a week and put down two or three songs.
"[Kool] Keith would take an hour at the most to write a song," Kut Masta Kurt said. "Once we got the groove together, he'd just sit on my bed and just write the rhyme."
Kool Keith and Kut Masta Kurt met in San Francisco in 1992 and began working together the following year. Kut Masta Kurt produced the Dr. Octagon album Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996), featuring San Francisco Bay Area DJ Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. He also oversaw Kool Keith's 1997 solo album, Sex Style, an album that saw Kool Keith "recognizing and getting deep into his fetishes and perversions," Kut Masta Kurt said.
While Dr. Octagonecologyst was a successful album, Kool Keith said the dream project turned into "nightmares," which is why Dr. Octagon had to die.
"I killed Dr. Octagon, because I was going through nightmares," said Kool Keith, who plans to reunite with his former group, the Ultramagnetic MC's, this summer. "[There was] criticism of Dr. Octagon, [but] a lot of people wanted me to do another Dr. Octagon record.
"I was dissatisfied with the character; the whole circumference of the project the money, the business of it. That whole Octagon thing was a nightmare."
Kut Masta Kurt agreed that the homicide had to be perpetrated. "It was pretty important that [Kool] Keith did that, because it was kind of haunting him," he said. "He didn't have a good experience with the project.
"We were talking about it, and we were just like, 'Hey, let's just kill him. But how do we kill Dr. Octagon? Run over him with a truck?' And [Kool] Keith's like, 'F--- it, I'm just gonna shoot him.' "