Hip-hoppers have sung the praises of Kool Keith for years, ever since
his work with old school legends Ultramagnetic MCs. But the rest of us
hipsters didn't catch on until Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996), his
mad-scientist collaboration with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. Dr.
Octagon was the quiet lunatic you hoped didn't live next door, and the
combination of Nakamura's cautious, seething grooves and Keith's
rapid-fire strangeness was hard to ignore. Followed by Sex
Style and, more recently, the pseudonymous Octagon-killer Dr. Dooom
(who knocks off his precursor in the first track), Keith was on a roll,
freaking out anyone who cared to listen.
For his Ruffhouse debut, Black Elvis/ Lost in Space, Keith takes
control of the boards and eases off the shtick a bit, falling into more
familiar rhyme schemes and spinning fewer bizarre narratives. So while
Elvis never quite leaves the building -- there's no weird gem
like Octagonecologyst's "Blue Flowers" -- overall, it's a
rock-solid effort, full of off-kilter arrangements plus Keith's clever
techno-babble and signature antisocial commentary.
Beats on Black Elvis range from the spare thump of "Release Date" (RealAudio excerpt)
to the electrofunk of "Livin' Astro," but by and large the record lacks
the atmospherics of Octagonecologyst and instead, like RZA's
Bobby Digital, throws three or four pieces into the pot to see
what makes it to the top. Keith is savvy enough with a riff to make it
work, though, and even manages to pull in a little R&B -- as on the
Zapp-flavored "Master of the Game" (RealAudio except) or "All the Time," which could almost sneak into an En Vogue record (if the engineer wasn't paying attention).
Lyrically, Black Elvis is, believe it or not, a little
restrained. There isn't much of the overt fascination with mass murders
and sexual deviance found on Sex Style and the Dr. Dooom record.
You'll find a bunch of Keith's familiar high-tech riffing ("Flight
704321 red 4, re-expanding to one, moving levers up at seven and decimal
eight ... "?) alongside Keith's take on more mundane topics like office
work ("The Girls Don't Like the Job") and wannabes ("Intro"). Brand Nubian's Sadat X lends a hand on "Static" (RealAudio excerpt), the record's brightest light, but for the most
part the other MCs Keith brings into the studio can't keep up with their
host. It's Keith's world, they're just living in it.
Luckily, though, we aren't -- we just get to visit. On Black
Elvis, Keith finally gives us the guided tour we'd been waiting for.