July 7, 2007

Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst (May 6, 1996)


I came aboard the Kool Keith bandwagon late. I'll admit, I had never heard any songs by any of the Ultramagnetic MC's until after 1997, which was when I bought Dr. Octagonecologyst, the joint effort by Kool Keith, Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, and DJ Q-Bert. (Keith's frequent collaborator Kutmasta Kurt produces two tracks as well.) I first read about this project in the pages of The Source, where they had just given this album a three-and-a-half mic review, even though the only negative I remember reading about was the beat to "I'm Destructive".

As I'm sure most Source readers did at the time, I dismissed the review, since I had no clue who Keith Thornton was. Later, in 1997, my brother and I were watching Yo!! MTV Raps! late at night (this was around the time that MTV was trying to phase the show out, so it was played only late Friday nights at this point.) They played the video for "Blue Flowers", which I remember to be some truly trippy shit, and my brother and I were enthralled. No other hip hop had ever sounded like this. Sure, the lyrics were borderline ridiculous, a trait which would carry on over to every single Kool keith album ever made, but they were delivered with an unnerving cockiness that was amazing to hear. The beats, which I later found to be The Automator's handiwork, are still among the best hip hop instrumentals ever made by a man who doesn't really make hip hop tracks. (The beats are so good that I also picked up Instrumentalyst, the instrumental companion to Dr. Octagonecologyst; they make for good background music to write to.) Q-Bert's expert scratching throughout (especially on "Bear Witness") was the cherry atop an already-crowded sonic sundae. Which, I suppose, would make the other guests (Kutmasta Kurt, Sir Menelik a/k/a Cyclops 4000, and DJ Shadow) the plastic cup, the spoon, and the sanitary napkin, respectively.

Dr. Octagonecologyst is the product of Keith's defection from New York to the West Coast, thereby filling my quote of West Coast albums for the month. (Kidding!) It was first distributed by Bulk Recordings, an indie label, in 1996; after its semi-popularity on college radio, Dreamworks Records re-released an altered version, deleting some tracks and adding others. Yes, kids, that's right; Steven Spielberg had something to do with releasing Dr. Octagon to the masses. Cue triumphant string section here. The version I picked up in 1997 (on my birthday, no less) is the Dreamworks version, but thanks to the magic of the Internet, I found the deleted tracks, too.

Dr. Octagonecologyst frequently pops up these days on music magazine lists of "Best Albums Ever" and "Motherfucker, You Better Listen To This Shit Before I Kill You" (from Entertainment Weekly). I've read some articles about the underground conspiracy that works in favor of Dr. Octagon; if you like underground hip hop, you have to like Dr. Octagon, or else you don't truly like underground hip hop. I'm here to tell you that is some complete bullshit. You don't have to like a fucking thing if you don't want to. Some of my readers love Wu-Tang and will find this album to be pure crap. Others like the more mainstream reviews I provide (Jay-Z, Nas, etc.), but may actually like Dr. Octagonecologyst, too. Don't let any of the so-called backpackers try to force you into loving this album if you don't like it. That's called peer pressure, and I'm the only guy allowed to force you to like something.

However, don't be a douchebag and hate Dr. Octagon without having ever heard it. That would just make you an asshole.

1. INTRO
Fuck all of those other rap albums with those fake groupie sex skits; Dan Nakumura samples real porn! Does that fact alone make this the best rap album intro I've ever heard? No, but it's up there.
2. 3000
Dr. Octagonecologyst falls into the category of "acid rap", probably due simply to the album's fantastic cover art, provided by Pushead. Don't buy into that bullshit label; Dr. Octagon is simply your average hip hop album about a time-traveling alien gynecologist, whose hobbies include sex and mating between species. Just like that Bobby Digital album.

3. I GOT TO TELL YOU
Skit, over Pachabel's "Canon In D". I shit you not, my wife and I played this song during our wedding ceremony. The instrumental, of course, not this version; I wanted my wife to stick around.

4. EARTH PEOPLE
I wasn't joking about that 'alien' comment.

5. NO AWARENESS (FEAT SIR MENELIK)
I've always wondered what Sir Menelik/Cyclops 4000/Scaramanga Did to piss off Keith, since he was effectively replaced as sidekick/weed carrier by the arguably-better-rapper Motion Man.

6. REAL RAW
As I write this, Kanye West is performing with The Police for that Live Earth telecast thing. That contrived collabo sounds better than this song.

7. GENERAL HOSPITAL
Contains one of the best lines I've ever heard in a hip hop skit: "Oh shit, there's a horse in the hospital". I don't think I can come up with a funny comment that would be more amusing than reading that quote out loud.

8. BLUE FLOWERS
As I mentioned above, the very first Kool Keith song I had ever heard. I'd like to think that I got caught up relatively quickly. This beat still sounds amazing today.

9. TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES
The first Kutmasta song, and it sounds great. The Spanish actually sounds trippy on here, which is a great feat, since Dr. Octagon is from Jupiter and all.

10. A VISIT TO THE GYNECOLOGIST
Great beat for an otherwise creepy-as-shit skit, probably also drawn from a porno. No horses in the hospital here, but your female nurse may be packing a bit more than her bra. Here's a hint: it's a dick. What do you mean, I gave it away?

11. BEAR WITNESS
The DJ mix track, not unlike "Holy Calamity" from The Automator's Handsome Boy Modeling School album So...How's Your Girl? Although I should add that the subtitle of "Holy Calamity" is "Bear Witness II", so of fucking course it would sound like "Bear Witness". Anyway, it's some good stuff.

12. DR. OCTAGON
I never cared much for this song, the other Kutmasta Kurt contribution. He would steer Keith toward greener pastures with their Dr. Dooom CD, though, so don't feel too bad for him.

13. GIRL LET ME TOUCH YOU
One of my favorite songs on this CD. Kool Keith at his most tender and sweet, offering to open his new female acquaintance's eyes to new, varied sexual positions, all on a smoothed-out R&B tip, by way of Bellvue.

14. I'M DESTRUCTIVE
The Source complained about this track, calling the beat "jungle music" (just because it was conceived in the back of a Chevrolet Jungle, I assume), and dismissing it completely. I disagree; this is one of my favorite beats on the album, and the vocal sample of an interview from I don't know where (but was also sampled in Richard Linklater's film Slacker) is creepy as shit. Side note; get Instrumentalyst and listen to this song; without Keith Thornton's lyrics to get in the way, Automator lays the entire interview over this beat, making for an even more nightmareish experience.)

15. WILD AND CRAZY
Possibly the most hip-hop track presented on the album. Still pretty good, though, and the breakbeat is appreciated.

16. ELECTIVE SURGERY
Dr. Octagon is a pretty shitty surgeon. That's the conclusion I draw from this skit.
17. HALFSHARKALLIGATORHALFMAN
Dr. Octagon soon became Keith's most popular alias, and, as most artists would do when presented with sudden success, he promptly killed him off on his Dr. Dooom side project. (For now, we'll pretend that The Return Of Dr. Octagon doesn't exist.) On this track, which is silly as hell but sounds very good, Keith introduces yet another moniker, Mr. Gerbik, who has my vote for "Alias Kool Keith Should Adopt Should Keith And The Automator Settle Their Differences And Work Together Again".

18. BLUE FLOWERS REVISTED
For anyone who was enough of a collector to pick up "Blue Flowers" on vinyl, there is a track called the "Stop Confusing Me" mix, also produced by The Automator, that is damn near exactly like this song, except the vocal sample repeating "Stop confusing me!" has been removed, as has a brief segment of the song itself. Otherwise, I love this song more than the original, which is a pretty damn good song in its own right.
19. WAITING LIST (DJ SHADOW/AUTOMATOR MIX)
As I had heard this track before I bought DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..., I was expecting more of the same. While his album sounds nothing like his production efforts on this song, don't let that deter you; this song knocks.

20. 1977
Compared with the sound of the rest of the album, very meh.

As I mentioned above, I picked up the Dreamworks reissue. The original, distributed by Bulk Recordings, included some different tracks after the "Elective Surgery" skit. (The listing below starts at number16, as "Elective Surgery" was track 15 on the original pressing; "Real Raw" was not included on the first pressing, nor was almost everything following "Elective Surgery".)

16. ON PRODUCTION (FEAT SIR MENELIK)
Actually very boring. It's probably a good thing that it got cut from the re-release. I don't even think Keith appears on this track.

17. BIOLOGY 101 (FEAT SIR MENELIK?)
I assume that the guest emcee is Sir Menelik; however, I don't know for sure. Writing credits online seem to confirm this fact, though. This is the type of rap song that makes your head hurt, not because of its blatant ignorance, but because the rappers are constantly trying to prove that they're smarter than you are. All I can say is, I'm a writer/filmmaker, not a biologist, and that was by choice.
18. EARTH PEOPLE (EARTH PLANET MIX)
Meh.
19. WAITING LIST (DJ SHADOW/AUTOMATOR MIX)
This is actually the same song that appears on my version, but there is a hidden track that appears after the song is over: there is a sample from the film Cabin Boy (showing that the Automator had a soft spot for Chris Elliot well before the Handsome Boy Modeling School project), leading into "halfsharkalligatorhalfman", which is included as a regular track on the reissue.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Dr. Octagonecologyst is one of my favorite hip hop albums of all time, spawning my obsession for all things Automator and Kool Keith, the Keith love being the one that has subsided with time. (Hey, most of Keith's output these days sucks balls, and Dan Nakamura doesn't release enough music these days for me to break a sweat pulling my wallet out.) It's an unsettling listen, though, and it's nowhere near as brilliant as Rolling Stone and Spin would have you believe. If you're looking for a solid, beat-driven album that's off the beaten path, Dr. Octagon is the extraterrestial gynecologist to hit up.

BUY OR BURN? This is a tough one. This is probably the most mainstream underground rap album of all time, and I realize that I just contradicted myself; please, I don't need that now. Curious listeners should give this a buy, though; there's a little something for everyone, even if you hate hip hop but love porn.

BEST TRACKS: "Blue Flowers Revisited"; "Girl Let Me Touch You"; "I'm Destructive"; "Waiting List"
(Disagree with the above review? Leave a comment below! Don't be shy!)

-Max

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15 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 08, 2007

    I don't care for this album. I enjoy the beats but only Ghostface has been able to entertain me by spitting complete nonsense. Your review was good because despite calling it one of your favorite hip hop albums of all time you acknowledged the album's weakness, the rapping. I find this album to be a good barometer of where people stand on the beats<---->rhymes spectrum.

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  2. AlmightyKDJuly 10, 2007

    Good comment felonious. I agree this is actually my first time listening to this album. I always thought that Kool Keith's lyrics even from Ultra were a little to random and erratic for my liking. Although I did enjoy the listen this is no where near one of the greatest albums ever. I love felonious' last comment in terms of this album as barometer for musical tastes. Listen to it and see where you stand.

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 11, 2007

    Thanks AlmightyKD. Keep reading and commenting on this blog. I've noticed that Max seems to do more reviews when he gets more comments.

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  4. Dude, you my mufukkuh. Who else talks about Slacker? I've always had similar feelings about this album. I do, however, absolutely agree that recently my diarrhea has been dropping better lyrics than him. But he got all of his underground cred back when he appeared on The Next White Rapper Show. Good to be back in the blogosphere and I hope you checked my Lovage post at http://treebeats.blogspot.com/2007/05/i-love-to-love-bullfrogs.html
    (That’s a plug people)
    Pace.

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  5. I've never heard this album with this cover, I have the white cover with the green heart on it on Mo Wax. I think it's mixed by Q Bert.
    Not sure how different (if at all) it is.

    PEACE, Nice work

    BULLANT Streets On Beats

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  6. Jonny RoxwellNovember 14, 2008

    Nice review. Just a couple of points about the LP that always amused me:

    Sir Meneliks alias on Biology 101 is Chewbacca Uncircumsised and Gordon Shumway is also credited with playing keyboards on the same track. Y'know, ALF?

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  7. I don't see how you can be an Automator fan, and not have reviewed Deltron 3030's incredibly damtastic album yet. It's absurd.

    About the album... good stuff. SECOND favorite Automator-produced album. I'm sure you know what my first is without me saying it, and you knowing nothing about me.

    (Matter of fact, there's no Del Tha Funkee Homosapien anywhere to be seen in this blog. Or am I over-looking it?)

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  8. While "The Instrumentalyst" does well on its own, I don't think its fair for some people to call Kool Keith the weak link on "Dr. Octagonecologyst". Keith's lyrical style is the only reason for beats like this to exist. Not to mention some of my favorite lyrics come from this album. Kool Keith has always had the ability to throw lines at you that you didn't expect. I can remember how hard I laughed while listening to "Apartment 223" on Dr. Dooom's "First Come First Served", when he says "Cut your abdomen out, stab your fucking leather coat!". That follows a pretty great comedy formula, of throwing out an extreme, followed by what you expected to be another extreme, but wasn't. It's like saying "He was charged with beating the woman, raping her, slitting her throat, dismembering her limbs, and covering her remains with Corn Chex."

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  9. One of the best hip hop albums ever, if not the absolute best.

    Also, Slacker rules indeed.

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  10. Kutmasta Kurt claims in an interview he did nearly ALL the beats on this album. I'm not so sure about that, personally, but this albun rules.

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  11. how can you not like "real raw"? best song on the album.

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  12. AnonymousJune 10, 2013

    Good review.
    It's off topic but as someone mentioned Del is nowhere to be found on this blog.
    Please change that.

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  13. I respect your opinion, and this is one of the best hip hop albums period, mainstream or underground. The lyrics are flat out ORIGINAL, Kool Keith doesn't use the same rhyme patterns as other rappers or the same topics, Kk doesn't sound like anyone and no one sounds like him. If your all about lyrics you may or may not like this album, depending on exactly what type of lyrics you're into. If your into original, comedic, dark and conceptual lyrics, this maybe for you. To those that say Kool Keith is spewing nonsense, keep in mind this is concept album about an alien gynecologist.

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  14. If you want to hear Kool Keith rap in a much more normal manner, check out the cenobites.

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  15. You're a weak person if you can't handle keith's style!!!

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