In 1996, Kool Keith reinvented himself. While most hip-hop aficionados knew of Kool Keith from his ego trippin’ Ultramagnetic days, it wasn’t until the release of the Dr. Octagon album that he became a nationwide underground sensation, soon to be chillin’ on billboards in L.A. He’d always been the weird one, and even back in his Ultra days, he was rhyming under different aliases, such as Rhythm X and Poppa Large. But with the release of Dr. Octagon, he somehow crept from the turntables of underground DJ’s to the clubs of candy ravers to the dorm rooms of Dartmouth College kids to the offices of Dreamworks, where the project landed a major distribution deal.
When it came down to the legal side of things, Dr. Octagon wasn’t just Kool Keith, but was signed to Dreamworks as a group. On production was Dan The Automator Nakumura, who lent spacey beats, laced with vocal samples from old television shows, horror movies and pornos. On the one-and-two’s was the incredible DJ Q-Bert, of the Invisible Skratch Pickles. And of course, the uncredited Kool Keith was on the mic, dodging bad contracts under the alias of Dr. Octagon.
What made this album so special? Perhaps it’s the fact that we will never see anything like it again, from any of these artists. While today, each of them will talk shit about each other, in the back of their minds, they know that the brilliant chemistry that occurred on Dr. Octagon can never be recreated. Keith’s super-scientifical techno-babble was ridiculous enough to make it the most quotable album in years, while Automator’s interplanetary production matched it perfectly, with Q-Bert’s scratches acting as the icing on the cake. Even more fun were the skits, which delved into everything from a horse in the hospital to bees flying around your rectum. While this type of humor is still found on Keith’s releases, the dramatic impact is lost without Automator’s choice cinematic samples.
But like all of Keith’s releases, this album went over the heads of the contemporary hip-hop audience. Fuck New York and California, Keith was from Jupiter. But the underground music audience in general, truly saw this as the classic it was, and it’s impact on independent and underground music, plus the careers of Kool Keith and The Automator, cannot be denied, and this is what deems it worthy of classic status.
Sadly, nobody knows the true story of why the group broke up. Keith said it was because the label tried to put him on a Lollapalooza tour with a back-up band he had met the day before. Other rumors suggested that Automator tried to replace Keith with Sadat X for the tour and a second Dr. Octagon album. Whatever it was that broke the crew up, it’s a shame, but also helps make this project unique and one of a kind. The Dreamworks nightmare had finally lain completely to rest when Kool Keith opened his 1999 Dr. Dooom album, with the murder of Dr. Octagon. Fast-fowarding to today, Automator has resurrected the project on his own independent label, 75 Ark. Does Keith receive money from the release or does it go straight to Automator’s pocket? Is Automator being greedy by re-releasing this album, or should this fine piece of art be available again for all, despite the circumstances? Is H20 a gas or a liquid? Perhaps concepts can not explain.
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