May 7, 2011

Kool Keith - Matthew (July 25, 2000)


Today my obsession with “Kool” Keith Thornton manifests itself in another write-up for an album you two have (a) likely never heard of, and (b) likely don't give much of a fuck about. So if you're not into the continuing exploits of a guy who once claimed to be an alien gynecologist-slash-serial killer-slash-black Elvis Presley impersonator, then you should try back in a couple of days.

Wait, you're still here? Shit. I guess I have to actually write some opening paragraphs now.

Kool Keith's previous project, Black Elvis / Lost In Space, was his first and only foray into the world of major labels. All of his other work before and since, including his time as a founding member of the Ultramagnetic MCs, has been released through independent distribution, which helps explain why it isn't very easy to find any of his work in your local Best Buy (although it isn't impossible). Columbia Records, his short-term employer, wasn't very satisfied with Black Elvis / Lost In Space's commercial prospects (which leads me to believe that the people who ran the show over there at the time were fucking batshit crazy: you don't sign Kool Keith in order to actually move units), and their overt failure to market the project soured our host on the entire venture. To his credit, Keith did attempt to promote it himself at live shows, and even shot a (cheaply-made) video for the project's lone single, “Livin' Astro”, but Columbia essentially dumped it directly into the clearance bins at your local record store, never to be seen again.

As Keith never travels without several signed record company contracts in his back pocket, he rebounded fairly quickly, returning to his friend Kutmasta Kurt's Funky Ass Records (where he last released First Come, First Served under his Dr. Dooom persona) to craft an album-length venting of his frustration at getting fucked over by Columbia. He titled it Matthew, after his actual middle name, and he elected to produce the majority of it himself. Unfortunately, without the majors backing up his work, Keith didn't have access to the very best studio equipment, and his beats reflected his lack of resources, but in an odd way, the rushed nature of Matthew (it was released less than a year after Black Elvis / Lost In Space) actually expressed his annoyance in a way that a mere press release could never do.

Since Kool Keith is the kind of guy who likes to speak in code, the majority of Matthew comes across as a parody of gangsta rap: in fact, it is the most violent and profane project in Keith's entire catalog, although if you listen closely, you can actually hear the man crossing his fingers and winking. Keith has never had a problem with sounding energetic behind the microphone, but Matthew finds the man severely pissed off, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he threatens pretty much anybody that is unfortunate enough to stand in between him and his massive collection of deviant pornography. He even directly addresses the Columbia Records situation toward the very end of the project, turning in one of the best performances of his solo career.

Still, none of you two will care much anyway, but you should still read this review anyway, if only to help you pass the time at work.

1. F-U M.F.
And the abrasive tone begins: “F-U M.F.”, a secret code Keith came up with that can be easily cracked, features our pissed-off host trying to describe just how horrible our chosen genre has become. In true Kool Keith fashion, only about one quarter of the threats make any sense: “Motherfucker, I'll pull your fucking face off...[and] show you what you look like” is immediately followed up with “Nobody was saying that shit when I was paying for those fucking hot wings”. Huh? So begins yet another journey with our demented host.

2. 27 SHOTS
Why this song is called “27 Shots” is a mystery to me: there are only twenty-three gunshots laid into the passive-aggressive instrumental. (Yes, sadly, I counted.) As the running theme of Matthew is Kool Keith addressing anybody who he feels wronged him, the bile that is spewed on here against inferior rappers is to be expected, but it's already sounding quite tired. I will admit that hearing Keith call himself an “arrogant bastard” was kind of funny, though. I may have to put that on my business card.

3. ERRAND BOY (SKIT)

4. OPERATION EXTORTION
If you don't care for Keith Thornton, then this song will not be the one that changes your mind, but if you are a fan, you'll probably find this track to be fucking hilarious. Keith flat-out threatens to murder absolutely everybody who gets in his way in this goofy send-up of thugged-out rap, managing to drop more than a few humorous jewels in the process. There is absolutely no way that you could take this song seriously, which is the point. The hook is bleh, but you should know how it is by now.

5. BADDEST M.C.
One thing that Kool Keith should never do again is sing. A second thing he should consider never doing again: produce his own music. Yet another thing he should try to never do again: construct his own hooks without outside assistance from an actual songwriter. (I hear Diane Warren and The-Dream are available.) I understand that, like all rap artists, Kool Keith considers his work to be of a higher caliber than that of his many competitors, but he doesn't provide anything on this track except for evidence to the contrary. Also, that chorus really fucking sucks, but at least he managed to fit some scratching on here.

6. EXTRAVAGANT TRAVELER
A note to all aspiring emcees: not many rappers can get away with using the sound of an airplane taking off as a suitable replacement for half of their hook. Kool Keith is a rap veteran, and even he can't pull it off. It's best to simply write out an entire chorus. The beat on here wasn't that bad, though, and Keith's random name-dropping comes across as far more interesting than it does normally, but this is still an acquired taste.

7. RECOUPMENT (SKIT)
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Kool Keith doesn't think much of the major label experience. This idea will be explored further later on in the program. Keith's final line was pretty funny, I suppose.

8. I DON'T BELIEVE YOU
There really isn't much to this song: Keith punctuates each statement with the titular declaration (sort of like New Orleans-based rapper Juvenile did with “Ha”, or Black Rob with “Whoa!”), and he doesn't even bother to make each bar rhyme. This will sound hypocritical, but I actually liked this song, as it features our host cutting through all of the bullshit smokescreens that some rappers put up to protect their images from their adoring public. Also, some of these lines are funny, especially the conclusion. Keith revisited this idea with a Kutmasta Kurt-produced remix, which featured all-new insults, in case you give a fuck about that sort of thing.

9. LIVED IN THE PROJECTS
This is in the same vein as Dr. Dooom's “You Live At Home With Your Mom”, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that these lyrics were recycled from the First Come, First Served sessions. (Although he does directly reference wearing an Elvis wig, which would be more of a callback to Black Elvis / Lost In Space, but whatever.) The beat is just the right mixture of goofy and rambling, and Keith doesn't wear out his welcome using what is essentially the same schtick as on “I Don't Believe You”. Not bad.

10. KEITH N BUMPY (FEAT. FREDDIE FOXXX)
This song is confusing, in that it purports to feature Freddie Foxxx (or Bumpy Knuckles, depending on when you first became aware of his presence in hip hop), but the guy who pops up during the second verse doesn't really sound like him. It's not an “Inspectah Deck with a cold”-type of situation either: this guy truly does not sound like Bumpy Knuckles. Since Foxxx allegedly once had beef with the Ultramagnetic MCs back in the day, it's entirely possible that this was intended to be an passive-aggressive dis by Keith, done well after the fact. However, enough time had passed that these two could have worked through their respective issues with each other, and although there are virtually no credits in the liner notes of Matthew, there are a few online interviews with Bumpy where he doesn't deny that he appeared on here, so it could be him, but I'm still suspicious. Mainly because I would have thought that a cameo by Bumpy Knuckles would have caused more of an uproar on the Interweb. Regardless, aside from the weak instrumental (can someone please keep Kool Keith away from the boards? Thanks!), this track features our host and his invited guest straight spittin', and the song is much better for it.

11. THE SET UP (SKIT)

12. SHOES N SUITS
The chorus consists of the following three lines: “Shoes and suits! / Shoes and suits! / Supreme court!” No, I'm being serious. Keith sticks with the courtroom theme in the most idiosyncratic way possible, but to his credit, his attempt at a story is actually fairly compelling, with enough attention paid to the mundane details of life that you could actually picture this shit unfolding in front of you on the big screen. Still, though, that chorus? Really, Keith?

13. DIAMONDS
Meh.

14. SWEET UNIQUE PETE (FEAT. BLACK SILVER)
Keith teams up with his weed carrier Black Silver (who is also a part of Keith's side project, the Analog Brothers) for a collaborative effort that is notable for our host being out-rapped by a subordinate, mainly because he hasn't actually tried to write a coherent song since the Dr. Octagon years (and even that's pushing it). The beat is an afterthought, as if Keith listened to some Neptunes instrumentals and completely missed the point when trying to duplicate them. But this isn't a complete waste of your time, even if we never get to meet the titular character.

15. DO YOU MASTURBATE? (SKIT)
Because this is a Kool Keith album, after all.

16. BACK STAGE PASSES
Listeners will immediately notice that there is much more going on with the beat than anywhere else on Matthew: this is because Kutmasta Kurt had a hand in the track's creation. It still sucks, but Keith sounds relieved that he doesn't have to handle the boards solo, so his lines, directed at anonymous groupies, are actually more pointed than usual.

17. MAD MAN DEPARTURE
Keith announces this track as the outro to Matthew, but to his credit, he spits an actual verse, albeit one that is mind-numbingly violent and annoying (due to the vocal distortion tricks at the end). If you've made it this far, then you're obviously a Kool Keith fan, and you should be rewarded with a better way to end the evening. Luckily, Keith complies.

The following two bonus tracks on Matthew immediately follow “Mad Man Departure” on the same audio track.

TEST PRESS
This was leaked to the Interweb well before Matthew was even a glimmer in our host's eye. On this verbal diatribe against Columbia Records, Keith takes the major label to task for fucking up the release of Black Elvis / Lost In Space. The hook is ass, but I've always liked this track, as it contains one of the most focused performances on Keith Thornton's career, and the beat is both simple and constructive. I would be interested in hearing Keith's original vision for Black Elvis / Lost In Space, since he mentions that he had to re-record the entire project to appease the label heads.

SWEET UNIQUE PETE (CLEAN) (FEAT. BLACK SILVER)
Curiously, Matthew ends with the radio clean edit (as if anything from Keith Thornton would ever earn any radio airplay) of a song that appeared a mere three tracks ago. It is an irreverent way to end the evening, but by “irreverent”, I mean “pointless”. Had Keith concluded the evening with “Test Press”, this could have worked out better.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Kool Keith is a love him-or-hate him proposition, and Matthew won't do anything to turn the tide. Matthew captures our host in the midst of two separate crises: he's pissed at the music industry (meaning both the labels and unnamed artists), and he is still upset that the Dr. Octagon project received so much critical acclaim, causing any project to which he is attached to have a higher profile, even if it's obvious that it was recorded in three hours in a haze of marijuana, Red Bull, and Asian girl-on-girl porn in Kutmasta Kurt's basement while he was out of town on business. Matthew purports to have captured Keith at his angriest, but that aspect is present only in the sheer level of profanity used on here, the most Kool Keith has ever used on record, so if you tire of curse words easily, Matthew isn't for you. Actually, Matthew isn't really for anyone unless you're a Kool Keith fan: I can't imagine that any of the folks that commented on Saigon's The Greatest Story Never Told or Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would ever be interested in this, although stranger things have happened.

BUY OR BURN? Kool Keith fans can burn this one, but everyone else can dismiss it entirely. Nothing on here can be labeled as essential, except maybe “Test Press”, but that's a bonus track, so what does that tell you?

BEST TRACKS: “Test Press”; “Operation Extortion”; “I Don't Believe You”

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Nobody comments on these things anyway, but here's some more on Kool Keith that you can read.

7 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 07, 2011

    I would love to go to a Kool Keith concert he is the David Bowie of hip hop (and Elvis of course). He will drop albums forever with his wide array of personalities

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  2. Commenting for the sake of commenting.

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  3. I love this album, every time I hear someone lie, I always think of this track I don't believe you. When my GF dumped me last year and I posted this line on Facebook, she knew what's up :)

    Dr. Octagon is Keith's master piece

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  4. Only about 20 more left to go.

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  5. Keith, even when he fails, always supplies a unique take on the state of Hip Hop and on the profession of the M.C. He's always stimulating the brain, even at his most silly. On a good day (see: "Poppa Large", "Give The Drummer Some", "Blue Flowers", "Livin' Astro" stc.) very few MCs can match him. Thanks for reviewing his stuff!

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  6. Tile GroutMay 11, 2011

    Max, you have a commenter named "Question Marc"! Nice.

    Kool Keith? His album covers are always interesting. His music, not so much. Just my opinion. I'm all for what Keith stands for in hip hop, just not really a fan in general.

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  7. Love all his stuff. Great reviews.

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