December 21, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Mr. Nogatco (a/k/a Kool Keith) - Nogatco Rd. (April 25, 2006)

Being a Kool Keith fan has always been a relatively weak return on your investment. If his career track had ended with his time as a part of the Ultramagnetic MC's, Keith Thornton may have been known as a hyper-aggressive intellectual rap artist with a penchant toward the multisyllabic, but that's where it would stop, because he was a part of a group, and the other guys (okay, mainly Ced Gee) contributed their fair share as well.

But since Kool Keith dreamed of solo success, he's cemented his place in the hip hop history books as a fucking psychopathic rap artist with ridiculous fetishes, multiple personalities, an amazing work ethic, and the occasional clever song. Unfortunately, rapping under different monikers seems to be more of a business decision than an artistically creative one: perhaps if he refers to himself as Dr. Octagon or Dr. Dooom, he is able to sign contracts with many other record labels without nullifying the terms of what Kool Keith Thornton originally set up for himself.

That's just my theory, anyway.

While Keith makes a tremendous effort to come up with backstories for his many aliases, his rhymes typically devolve into the same old bullshit, regardless of who he's supposed to be rhyming as. I'm fairly certain that Kool Keith has lost a shitload of fans by sticking to his lyrical guns: on one hand, I admire his stubbornness and his need to stay true to himself, but how many different ways can one man talk about sci-fi porn fantasies set to a beat?

Because being a fan of Kool Keith's is disconcerting for another valid reason (due to his work ethic, the motherfucker releases at least eight albums a year, most of which are not available in most parts of the United States due to the poor distribution deals of the many labels he works with), I never got to Nogatco Rd. when it was released in 2006. This new character, Mr. Nogatco, was considered to be a throwback to 1950's sci-fi alien creatures, and the project's primary producer, Iz-Real (whose other major bullet point on his resume was some work on an album for Victor Vaughn, an alter-ego for MF Doom, another rapper who suffers from a Sybil-esque complex), was tasked with creating suitable instrumentals that could serve as the soundtrack to an alien autopsy. The album itself is an enhanced CD that comes with a short film and other goodies that fans will eat up.

The title Nogatco Rd. also has a self-serving purpose for Keith: when spelled in reverse (and when the period is put in a different place, for those of you who are particular to stuff like that), you get Dr. Octagon, Keith's most successful alias, who, naturally, he's been trying to kill off for years.

So is Nogatco Rd. any good?

1. NO HEAD AT ALL
Some old film dialogue is repurposed in an obvious attempt at appealing to the fans of Dr. Octagonecologyst, even though the underlying beat is more raw hip hop than Dan the Automator. At least this rap album intro sounds appropriately unnerving.

2. BIONIC FUSE
Keith's voice sounds slightly altered: it's almost as if he decided that the Mr. Nogatco character should actually sound different than the eight hundred other personalities he inhabits, although Keith may have just been suffering from a cold that day. The beat is too passive to care about, and the rhymes are non-sequiturs, especially the goofy “hook”. Keith has done much better work elsewhere.

3. NIGHT FLYER (FORCE FIELD)
This is the second track in a row to reference the state of Florida, which is strange, considering that Kool Keith is a West Coast transplant from New York. Keith sounds much more focused in his verses, which center around his status as a space traveler with “green fans”. Even though I've been a fan of his for quite a while, I've always hated Keith's choruses, which typically consist of four unrelated phrases chanted ad nauseum, and this track is no exception. The instrumental wasn't that bad, though.

4. DARK SPACE
I'm sure that Mr. Nogatco was originally intended to be an alien (probably “from the future”, as that's usually how Keith Thornton operates) visiting Earth briefly before searching for intergalactic tail in other dimensions, but he ends up sounding like an insane astronaut trapped in space on a vessel that is turning on him, not unlike Event Horizon or Solaris (or possibly Pandorum: I'll admit, I've only seen the trailer for that particular flick). The beat fails to offset the claustrophobic flow Keith exhibits. However, Even though Keith takes some roundabout shots at Dr. Octagon, this was an odd misfire.

5. HELLO SPACE MAN (INTERLUDE)
At least it sets the tone properly.

6. CELESTIAL
I have to give Keith credit for sticking to the script, at least thus far: I haven't heard a single reference to the mating habits of insects of the wonderful world of taxidermy. (I may have just missed them, though: sometimes the best response to Keith's lyrics is to gloss over them, even though that occasionally leads to missing something important.) Let's just assume that, unless I say otherwise, the hooks on all of Keith's songs suck balls, okay? But besides that, this wasn't bad, and the track shakes you alert in a creepy fashion right before he begins his final verse, which was an unexpected touch that was appreciated.

7. ALPHA OMEGA (THE BEGINNING)
Iz-Real is no Automator or Kutmasta Kurt, so it's no surprise that Keith dominates the beat: it sounds as if it were originally crafted for someone less eccentric anyway. The lyrics on here range wildly from fictional autobiography to Keith calling out an eight hundred pound woman for hiding behind her computer. Yep, you guessed it, this is typical Kool Keith.

8. BIG ADVENTURE
The music on here has no elements that signify any sort of “Big Adventure”: all it inspires me to do is to hit the 'skip' button. Keith has sounded pretty good over distorted guitars before, but this is neither the time nor the place. To my disappointment, Keith mostly drops the concept of Nogatco Rd. entirely and goes completely off topic, which isn't too surprising to anybody who has followed his career thus far.

9. BLACK 37
Kudos on maintaining the creepy vibe all throughout Nogatco Rd.; Kool Keith comes across as an intergalactic sexual deviant, stalking women in five-star hotels while planning his next meal. (It wouldn't be Kool Keith without the random sexual deviancy, would it?) The hook is beyond repugnant, but at least he sounds more comfortable over these particular guitars.

10. CAPTURE (BACK TO ME)
Apropos to nothing, the hook consists of Keith repeating the phrase “Back to me” for no discernible reason. The rhymes are typical Keith gibberish: he isn't saying anything, but his use of technical terms will trick critics into thinking that their minds have just been blown six ways from Sunday. The beat is pretty good, though: it certainly deserved better.

11. DIFFERENT
Wait, Mr. Nogatco is supposed to be a fucking superhero? I apparently missed all of the contextual clues: I thought he was just a pervert. The beat is both good and aggravating at the same time: the old school drums are overshadowed by the bizarre sound effects that are, I suppose, intended to sound spacey, but end up grounding the track in an alternate reality consisting of bullshit. I couldn't be bothered to listen to Keith's claptrap on this piffle. The beat takes an interesting turn down drum-and-bass lane midway through, though.

12. LIVE DISSECTION (FEAT XAUL ZAN A/K/A SAGE FRANCIS & SOLE)
This is the only song on Nogatco Rd. that showcases Kool Keith as actively spitting: for the most part, the album featured a lackadaisical I'm-a-weirdo-so-fuck-you flow. My theory is that Keith's shift in focus has to do with the presence of two other rappers on this track: guests can bring out the best in Keith on occasion, especially if their name begins with the word 'Motion'. I'm not sure where the title comes from (it seems to have been inspired by the album cover), but Keith's nonsensical rhymes are trumped by the pseudo-horrorcore images from Sole, who walks away with the track after robbing Keith Thornton in broad daylight. After a slight delay, the track ends with Keith's recorded findings after an alien autopsy that, knowing him, he probably thinks actually happened. I like to look at Kool Keith as hip hop's answer to Gary Busey.

THE LAST WORD: Obviously, Nogatco Rd. is not intended for the general hip hop audience: if you're still reading this review, I have to assume that you're at least somewhat familiar with Kool Keith's creative output. If this is the sort of thing you're into, though, this was surprisingly not crappy. Keith's Mr. Nogatco persona may simply be just an excuse to record an album without the trappings that the name 'Kool Keith' can bring, but Nogatco Rd., confusingly, ends up sounding more grounded than most of the man's other side projects: apparently, picturing Keith as some sort of alien superhero makes perfect fucking sense in my head. This is due to the man's valiant attempt to stay on topic throughout most of the album (key word: “most”). Iz-Real also creates instrumentals which are frequently interesting, if not always the best fit for someone as goofy as Keith. The hooks uniformly suck, which proves that Kool Keith still hasn't mastered the art of actual songwriting (if you look back through his catalog, you'll find that this is a consistent trait). Since all Keith had to worry about was the lyrics, though, and not the production, his focused (albeit nonsensical) rhymes shine through, making Nogatco Rd. a success of sorts. Kool Keith's fans will find themselves pleasantly surprised by this diversion, and everyone else will...oh, who am I kidding? If you're not a Kool Keith fan, you're not reading this anyway. Therefore, bliawahddfa waijliw “dkahduw” aiwhiw gdoo.

-Max

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5 comments:

  1. I won't front, if I crossed this item in the store, I would have picked it up just for the album cover. Other than that, yadda yadda yadda Kool Keith. On to the next one.................

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  2. I read all the way through and I've never listened to a Kool Keith song ever. So I laughed really hard at the end.

    He seems fairly intriguing though, could you recommend me something Max?

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  3. should be some kinda reward for hedz that read all the way thru to the end

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  4. my favourite persona of his is dr octagon with my favourite track being halfsharkalligatorhalf man which lyrically, is madness and the craziest shit i have ever heard, do you know any other dusty crazy tracks like that? not necessarily by kool keith

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  5. I'll have to be a "hip-hop-nazi" here, since Iz-real is not the actual producer of the beats.
    He's indeed credited as producer but I think he moslty get the money to release the album and he was in the studio with Keith to keep him stay on focus (this just my theory but this would explain a lot right?).
    The beats are actually produced by more or less the same team that produced the second Viktor Vaughn album (mostly Carl Kavorkian and DiVinci from Sollilaquists Of Sounds) plus some virtually unknown producers. They're all credited in the liner notes.

    Great review anyway. When this album came out I felt that Kool Keith haven't been that solid since... a while!

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