September 21, 2009

Kool Keith - Sex Style (February 3, 1997)



In 1995, "Kool" Keith Thornton was upset with the direction his career was going. His crew, the Ultramagnetic MC's, had released several albums at this point, each of which lost more fans than the previous one, and Keith was growing impatient. As the breakout force in the crew, he consistently eyeballed a solo career: during the recording sessions for The Four Horsemen, the crew's third effort, Keith was recording tracks for a solo project that ultimately turned into something else entirely: a collaboration with Godfather Don called The Cenobites LP.

Eventually, Keith grew tired of waiting, and after a sort-of falling out with the rest of his crew (over trivial things such as "money", "royalties", and "payment": they later kissed and made up), he moved out west, looking to jump-start his solo career. He quickly connected with Kutmasta Kurt, a producer who would mold Keith's career through the present day, and Dan Nakamura, better known as The Automator: together, these three set the stage for Keith to take on the hip hop genre by storm in the mid-to-late nineties.

Keith actually worked on multiple projects at the same time: the man's work ethic is pretty impressive, even if the songs themselves are always of varying quality. To complicate things, he performed under several different aliases: Big Willie Smith, Dr. Octagon, one-half of the duo Ultra (alongside Tim Dog, Keith took on multiple aliases, including Reverend Tom), Mr. Gerbik, The Phantom, and many others. (It helps that most of these aliases all sounded exactly the same, theme-wise.) Aiding and abetting behind the boards, Kutmasta Kurt and The Automator (who only mixed down the projects in his studio, The Glue Factory in San Francisco, except for Dr. Octagonecologyst, on which he took the reins and co-created a master's piece, production-wise) provided backing tracks, and the occasional guest star (Motion Man, Sir Menelik, Tim Dog) would appear to give the man a chance to breathe, but these projects were pure unadulterated Keith, none more so than the lone one (at the time) that was released under the moniker Kool Keith.

Sex Style, "Kool Keith"'s solo debut, is notable for acknowledging Keith's obsession with pornography and crafting an album around stream-of-consciousness thoughts and masturbatory fantasies, and also some other stuff. (I also seem to remember this album originally being titled Erotic Man, but I could be entirely wrong, and that may just be the title of his autobiography or something.) Kurt produced the bulk of the project, with three songs handled by Keith's former Ultramagnetic MC's bandmate T.R. Love. The subject matter is already enough to make any church-goer blush, but Keith wouldn't be Keith if he didn't speak from his heart.

Or from his dick.

1. INTRO
Not much of a rap album intro (this is simply dialogue swiped from a movie), but at least it's short.

2. SEX STYLE
Almost every Kool Keith solo song features a reference to either bestiality of pissing on somebody: this title track features both. Kutmasta Kurt's beat is appropriately dark and seedy, and one fears that the label had to hire a jizz mopper to clean up the mess after Keith and his entourage left that evening. With this track, Keith ushers in an entirely new sub-genre: pornocore. Fans of the Dr. Octagon persona will actually transition into Sex Style fairly easily: those who prefer Dr. Dooom may have a tougher time connecting the dots, and those of you who only know of Kool Keith because he supplied the theme song for the Adam Sandler-produced flick Grandma's Boy will have their minds break in half. Or not, I don't know.

3. DON'T CRUSH IT
I always thought this song was pretty boring. Good to know that my initial reaction still holds true today.

4. MAKE UP YOUR MIND
The chorus is utterly stupid, but you can't help but get hyped to T.R. Love's bouncy instrumental. Keith himself also wakes up to the challenge, although this song can hardly be considered "pornocore" until the hook kicks in.

5. SLY WE FLY (FEAT NOGGIN NODDERS)
Kool Keith and one of Motion Man's earlier pseudonyms prove, once again, that they work very well together. My favorite line by far is Motion's "We look out windows and stare": his delivery manages to make that shit sound both hilariously esoteric and scary, although the latter interpretation is probably more of a reaction to Kurt's damp dramatic score. To be honest, this comes off as something that might have better fit on a Dr. Dooom project, but this shit is still really good.

6. PLASTIC WORLD
This really has nothing to do with Sex Style's overall theme, but staying on topic has never been Keith's strong suit. Instead, this is more in keeping with Keith's overall disgust with both the New York hip hop scene and the Ultramagnetic MC's fans who don't want to hear him branch out (in typically contradictory style, Keith mimics a supposed fan's argument during the song's intro: "Kool Keith should keep it real/he should rap about space and Mars"). It also justifies why Keith defected to the West Coast (and linked up with Kurt and The Automator). These lyrics were set to a different beat and released under an alternate name on the Interweb: I prefer the music from the retooling to Kurt's instrumental on here.

7. STUCK ON PUSSY DRIVE
Interlude...

8. REGULAR GIRL
Not many rappers would even thing to rhyme the phrases "balls", "Niagara Falls", and "Lou Rawls", but that's just how Keith's demented mind tends to operate. I liked his nonsensical attempt to construct an erotic rap, but Kurt's beat, with its instrumental burps and generic-sounding drums, didn't really work for me.

9. THE MACK IS BACK (FEAT SIR MENELIK)
T.R. Love relies on a distorted dialogue sample to fill out the chorus, making this the second track in a row that does so, which is frustrating. Keith clearly has delusions of grandeur, as evidenced by the intro to this song, but while this song is okay, it won't win him any fans. Sir Menelik, a now-former Kool Keith associate (probably better known today as Scaramanga), is introduced to the audience in a slightly condescending manner, which may help explain why there is hardly a mention of his cameo appearance online, although he is clearly the other rapper on here. This isn't a better collaboration than the one with Motion Man earlier, but Keith and Menelik used to also bounce ideas off of each other effectively.

10. WHAT'S HE LIKE?
Interlude...

11. STILL THE BEST
Keith brings out his Willie Biggs persona (he used to call it his Big Willie Smith character, but he changed it for obvious reasons) for a relatively uneventful stroll down the corners of his mind. Not bad, but not all that good, either. I'm beginning to question exactly why I like Kool Keith so goddamn much. (The answer is as follows: Dr. Octagon.)

12. IN YOUR FACE
The hook is insipid, as moth of Kool Keith's hooks tend to be. T.R. Love's beat is also missing all of the elements it would take to make me give a fuck. Keith drops the "pornocore" in favor of his other favorite pastime: dissing other rappers in an obtuse fashion. Which is to say, the fucker doesn't drop any names, but why should he? Kool Keith apparently hates everybody.

13. LICK MY ASS
Can't have an album titled Sex Style without an interlude featuring some chick having an orgasm. That is all.

14. KEEP IT REAL...REPRESENT
Those of you two who remember (or care about) the write-up for Keith's Ultra project Big Time will recall that I already reviewed this song, albeit in its "original" form. I still don't know what compelled Keith to use the exact same beat for two different tirades: it isn't as if Keith had a major label's censors breathing down his back at that point. This take (which first appeared on the Big Willie Smith EP, released in 1995 on Kurt's Funky Ass Records) is more sexually explicit than Big Time's (Keith brags about jerking off to the mere sound of Foxy Brown's voice - I'm sure she's honored by that sentiment), but it's still only alright.

15. LITTLE GIRLS
The hook is at a pedophile-level of creepiness: maybe Keith wanted to bust listeners out of their comfort zones, but it would help if he had actually made this into a good song. It isn't unheard of: Keith actually has a ton of good songs in his catalog. Almost none of which seem to appear on Sex Style, now that I think about it.

16. AFTER THE CLUB
Interlude...

17. LOVELY LADY
I actually love this goofy-ass song. Kurt used the overused-to-death drum break from "Impeach The President" (by The Honeydrippers) to back Keith's outrageous praise of his unnamed lady friend ("She's got me open like two big scoops of Raisin Bran" - what does that even mean?). I find this to be entertaining as fuck.

Immediately following "Lovely Lady" on the same audio track is a hidden song, one which goes by one of two titles, both of which I'll list below.

CAN I SEE YOUR PANTIES? or, TAKE OFF YOUR PANTIES (PHOTO SESSION)
Writing both of those titles in that manner reminded me of early episodes of The Bullwinkle Show. On this bonus track, Kool Keith jacks EPMD's "Ur Only A Customer" to ill effect. Had Sex Style ended with "Lovely Lady", this would have been a much better album, but Keith has never known how to leave well enough alone. It was kind of weird that he mentioned R. Kelly and pissing on somebody in the same sentence, though: in some circles, Keith Thornton would be considered a prophet.

Reissues of Sex Style have also tacked on an additional bonus track, "Get Off My Elevator", which originally popped up on the soundtrack to Office Space, of all things, as well as enhanced video content. I don't have the reissue, so I can't tell you anything about the video, but "Get Off My Elevator" is decent enough, if not very memorable.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Like most of Kool Keith's early solo work, Sex Style has more than a few flashes of brilliance, but these flashes are sometimes hard to find in the bacteria-filled muddy rivers and lakes that Keith is used to. The punchlines and thinly veiled threats come quickly, but Keith rhymes as if the beat is of absolutely no consequence, which, for most of Sex Style, they aren't. It is commendable that Keith was able to maintain many separate personas while recording this project, with minimal seepage. Save for the tracks listed below, Sex Style isn't a good enough sampler of what non-fans of Kool Keith are missing: a lot of this will fall flat if you're not already buying into the man's eccentricities. This one's for Ultramagnetic MC's fanatics only. Oh, and also for those of you who love porn. Go ahead, raise your hands: I know there are a lot of you two out there: we're all on the Interweb, after all.

BUY OR BURN? Only three of these songs are especially good, and only two of those threes actually deserve their spot in the Kool Keith canon. So this should be a burn (or only a passing glance) for everyone except for fans of Keith's work with Kurt. And even those folks should try it before you buy it, as Kool Keith remains a required taste.

BEST TRACKS: "Lovely Lady"; "Sly We Fly"; "Make Up Your Mind"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Other Kool Keith excursions can be found here.

5 comments:

  1. This came out on my b-day. Dont kno if thats good or bad....

    Anyway, Visit Novablast.blogspot.com.

    ReplyDelete
  2. At the end, did you mean "acquired taste"?

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  3. Kool Keith's albums are down right adventurous and zany like the Police Academy movies (1-3. The hell with the rest.) He's not entirely consistent, but he can keep your attention with that outrageous imagination of his.

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  4. I would just like to point out that the chick on the cover is Spantaneeus Xtasty, the porn star.

    :/

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  5. even though i hate porn,i still like this album, its entertaining

    ReplyDelete