March 13, 2009

Masters Of Illusion (Kool Keith & Motion Man) - Kutmasta Kurt Presents Masters Of Illusion (November 14, 2000)

I realize this write-up isn't going to quite fulfill the wishes of all of my two readers that are sick and tired of reading about East Coast hip hop, but fuck it, at least this isn't about Wu-Tang; those particular reviews will start up again later, so mark your calendars!

Anybody who has listened to Keith Thornton, better known as Kool Keith, throughout his solo career will have noticed that the man has a general disdain for hip hop from his home state of New York, which is where his original crew, the Ultramagnetic MC's, was based out of. He brags relentlessly about supporting the West Coast, and even moved his ass out there to work with the likes of Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and "Kutmasta" Kurt Matlin, a producer who has collaborated with Keith many times throughout the guy's long and storied career. Keith also linked up with Paul Laster, better known as Motion Man, a Bay Area rapper who, contrary to what I believed, also had a long career in hip hop, rhyming with various crews and making multiple radio show appearances for, apparently, decades, before finding his niche as Kool Keith's go-to wingman.

Kool Keith and Motion Man recorded several duets that oftentimes resulted in being the best track on whatever album it appeared on (Keith usually had multiple projects going at once). There was a palpable chemistry that just did not exist whenever Keith took the mic alongside, say, Jacky Jasper. As such, Kutmasta Kurt put his dream project together, an album-length opus featuring both men, enabling them with the moniker Masters Of Illusion, and released it on Threshold Recordings, his own label.

Kutmasta Kurt Presents Masters Of Illusion (titled as such due to Kurt's involvement in the creation of the concept) was released in 2000 shortly after a different Keith project, Matthew, failed to create a buzz. This disc is generally considered to be one of the more cohesive projects in Keith Thornton's catalog, mostly due to the presence of one producer behind the boards and a collaborator on almost every track, which essentially meant that Keith was unable to become annoying, due to the fact that there had to be enough space for the other guy to also perform.

Which wasn't a bad idea at all.

One of the goofiest rap album intros I've heard in a while. While I have no ill feelings toward the trip hop genre (although I will admit that I should probably delve further than Portishead and Massive Attack; if you two have any suggestions, I'm open to them), I found the commentary (performed by somebody named Scotty Z) hilarious, especially since Kool Keith's Dr. Octagon project was once mislabeled as trip hop by music industry executives that had no fucking clue how to market it.

One song in, and we're already presented with a fine example of why Keith Thornton should never produce his own beats. Whenever Keith does his own thing behind the boards, something inevitably gets lost in translation, and both the beat and his rhymes suffer (hence his usual propensity for writing really shitty hooks). Kurt's musical contribution is the perfect way to start off his pet project, and both Keith and Paul handle themselves well on this title track.

The best thing about the Masters of Illusion project is that there is no real overall theme that either Keith or Motion Man have to adhere to: they're not traveling magicians, superheroes, or alien gynecologists, they're just rappers. This elasticity allows Keith to spin off onto his own tangents, and he takes that liberty frequently throughout the disc. The hook on here can be best described as random phrases strung together, but in its own way, it fits the track. It's kind of odd that Motion Man's verse is censored, though.

A pretty good Motion Man solo track (one could look at the audience for Kutmasta Kurt Presents Masters Of Illusion as a test market of sorts for a potential Motion Man solo album, which came later) that is derailed heavily by a ridiculously quickly-rapped chorus that, for lack of a more eloquent way to put it, does not fucking work. Nice Outkast reference in the second verse, though.

Lest Motion Man hog up all of the spotlight, Kool Keith also gets a solo track to help even out the order of the universe. On here, he simply acts like he always does on his regularly scheduled solo albums, although it should be noted that he manages to rhyme his bars together on here for the most part. It's entertaining enough, but it's too short. I do realize, however, that I have one hundred and seventy-one other albums I could reach for if I really wanted to critique Keith rhyming all by his lonesome, though, so I'll stop complaining and move on.

Kind of majorly disappointing. You're left wishing that Kurt worked more with the instrumental, and the "chorus" (four chopped-up vocal samples combined into a Frankenhook, a la DJ Premier) sounds off: it feels as though the last vocal sample you hear should have been the first one, and so on. Alas, you'll be skipping this track anyway, so chances are that neither of my two readers will know what I'm talking about, so there you go.

I'm not the biggest fan of Kool Keith's singing on some of his hooks, so this track falls the fuck apart for me. Which sucks, because other than the chorus, this song is relatively entertaining. Incorporating forty-five seconds from the source material of the beat's sample is a nice touch, as it aided in helping me feel like I was walking around in an 1970s exploitation flick of some sort.

Kurt's beat sounds like a Dr. Dooom reject, but that's not an entirely bad thing. The lyrics on here are completely ineffective, but while you're listening to the track, you can do any number of important chores around your home, ranging from taking out the garbage that has built up since Fat Tuesday, to clearing out the remains of that dead hooker in your garage, so at least it'll help you feel productive.

Kurt gets in on the fun with a ridiculous skit, and while there is no need for you two to ever listen to this track, it's good to know that it exists.

Neither artist sounds thrilled to be here, so feel free to skip this one without the guilt setting in on your overwrought conscience.

An interesting throwback to the Ultramagnetic MC's sound of ye olden days, although it should be noted that Motion Man actually sounds more comfortable than Keith, someone who was actually a part of the Ultramagnetic MC's. Weird. Anyway, this song is an entertaining trifle, much like a singing and dancing brownie or a Fig Newton showgirl in a topless revue.

The finest Motion Man solo offering on here, even though he resorts to childish verbal gimmicks a few times (not unlike his rhyme partner). Over some dark fucking production, Paul proves that he's the only artist that Keith has ever linked up with since he left his original crew. And yes, I remember Sir Menelik.

Once again, a Motion Man solo song is immediately followed by a Kool Keith track, all done in the interest of fairness. However, decent Kurt beat aside, this is substandard Kool Keith fare, from the hook, which neither makes grammatical nor mathematical sense, to the lyrics, which feature the same typical Keith Thornton boasts that caused most rap fans to give up on the man in the first place. Oh well.

A good return to form for Keith, on a track that makes a valid argument for Keith to always have a rhyme partner on hand, so as to negate the tediousness that can occur whenever the man delivers one of his esoteric commentaries. The reason this song is good, though, is because of Motion Man's stellar appearance. The goofy, and yet still dramatic, instrumental also aids and abets.

The best track on here, illustrating the best aspects of both Keith and Motion's styles, appears, strangely, towards the end of the album. The beat is, um, upbeat and playful, and the rappers involved have fun with their random boasts and threats. The hook itself is pretty fucking hilarious. Well worth the three minutes and change that it will take you to absorb it.

With a Kurt instrumental that sounds as if it would be a better fit as background music for a 1970s detective program like Columbo or Baretta, it should come as no surprise that both Keith and Paul come off pretty poorly. Moving on...


It wouldn't be a Kool Keith project without an awkwardly inappropriate song created just for the ladies. This time around, Motion Man is roped into the antics, and the result is a song that you won't want to listen to in full the first time around, let alone ever again.

After a short break, Kutmasta Kurt Presents Masters Of Illusion leads you into a bonus track.

There are no words. No words at all. Okay, maybe one word: Meh.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I quite liked the weirdly-titled Kutmasta Kurt Presents Masters Of Illusion, but I realize that it isn't for every audience. The packaging would seem to indicate a more mainstream offering, but this is basically another Kool Keith album, albeit one of the ones with much better production work (for the record, Kurt and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura are the only producers that have collided admirably with Keith's strangeness). The presence of Motion Man helps reign in Keith's stream-of-consciousness boasts, but although Motion is a good rapper in his own right, non-Kool Keith fans should be forewarned that both men are cut from the same lyrical cloth.

BUY OR BURN? Kool Keith fans and those of you who appreciate different aspects of hip hop are encouraged to pick this one up. Everyone else gets a by until the next post.

BEST TRACKS: "Souped Up"; "We All Over"; "Masters Of Illusion"; "Call The National Guard"; "The Bay-Bronx Bridge"; "Partnas Confused"


While I haven't come close to creating a dent in the Kool Keith discography, here are a handful of write-ups for the albums I have managed to get to.


  1. I like east coast Hip Hop, I actually prefer it to the west(I won't even mention The South...fuck, I just did, didn't I?Well, at least it does Outkast some justice) even though I'm a 2pac fan through and through...
    That's why I've asked for a Smif n Wessun review...But noooooo, max goes out and does some Kool Keith shit...oh well, might as well give it a listen...but I'm NOT happy about it...

  2. Thumbs up.

  3. I appreciate different aspects of hip hop as much as the next weirdo that owns the Justin Warfield record. But I don't think this warrants a buy.

    Cos I bought the 12"s that house Bay-Bronx Bridge and Patnas Confused . . .

    Oh and fuck 2Pac.

    Not literally, as I'm not into necrophilia. Or am I homosexual.

  4. I like your reviews and I always seem to end up back here reading your new reviews even tho I'm not going to listen to most of these albums.

    I honestly think you should review more West Coast shit that doesn't have the name Dr Dre anywhere to be found like Dj Quik - Quik is the Name or CMW - Music to Drive-by for example.

  5. Its time for an MF Doom review Max

  6. This shit is on some SOULJABOYTELLEM level mayne. Definetly should not buy this album. Honestly Kool Keith sucks as a rappa anyways

  7. Mr. AquariusMarch 23, 2009

    Good choice. Nice to see you go off on a tangent.

  8. Something about that Magnum Be I beat just hits me perfectly. I absolutely love that beat. That's the one menelik jacked off a kurt beat tape and used for strip club bait as well.

  9. anonymous shut the fuck up, you must be high to compare kool keith with soulja boy

  10. I really really loved the beat to Urban Legends.

  11. kool keith and his momma fartima (minus the f hehe) should make a duo porn noises tape with some samples of kurts adams apple getting removed

  12. Since no one else did anything, I'll recommend ya some trip hop. Tricky's debut solo album Maxinquaye is really dope, and Nightmares on Wax's Smokers Delight is another classic. Can't beat Portishead overall tho