With that album title and cover art, I imagine you two will be quickly scrolling down the screen, so as not to catch the eye of someone behind you wondering just what the fuck it is you're looking at during work hours. Either that, or you're reading this in the employee bathroom. Regardless, it's just an album cover: as we all know, "Kool" Keith Thornton has lots of interests, only one of them being porn, but man oh man, does he love his porn.
Spankmaster (a title that really lays it all out on the table) is Keith's sixth solo album in a career that has seen just as many mood swings as it has label changes. It was released two years after his lone major label effort, Black Elvis / Lost In Space, and one year after what he considered to be his most personal album at the time, Matthew, dropped on his friend Kutmasta Kurt's imprint, Funky Ass Records. But if there's one thing Kool Keith loves, it's porn. If there are two things, it's porn, and then torching bridges with the zeal of a caffeinated arsonist, since he and Kurt had a falling-out shortly after Matthew dropped. Which is how Keith ended up on the underground label Gothom Records after receiving multiple offers for his specific brand of eccentric, hedonistic shit-talking.
Gothom Records was a rebranding of Reel Life Productions, a label ran by Michigan-based, self-described "acid rapper" Esham and his brother. Esham was in the process of signing acts to help expand his reach outside of just his home state, and apparently felt Kool Keith would fit the bill, and also Keith agreed to sign the contract, so that was that. Recording on Spankmaster followed immediately, with production primarily handled by Esham and his brother, Keith's longtime jizz mopper Jacky Jasper, and Keith himself, and, given the abruptness of most of the songs on here, I imagine many of these tracks were recorded in single takes.
That production bit is important to note, not just because Keith aided in the production of his own shit (he produced Black Elvis / Lost In Space, after all), but because, in the liner notes of Spankmaster not occupied by a photograph of a big ass, he takes Kutmasta Kurt to task for not really producing as much of Keith's stuff as album credits would lead listeners to believe. (This is also probably why frequent collaborator Motion Man fails to appear on Spankmaster, since he is Kurt's right-hand man.) But, if there's one thing Kool Keith loves, it's porn. If there are two things, it's porn, and then torching bridges with the zeal of a caffeinated arsonist. However, if there are three things, it's porn first, then torching bridges with the zeal of a caffeinated arsonist, and then kissing and making up, as Keith and Kurt enjoy a fruitful music relationship today, even if they don't collaborate quite as often as they used to. (Keith has reunited with Motion Man and the other members of his original crew, the Ultramagnetic MCs, as well: all that's missing is his Dr. Octagon partner Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, although given Nakamura's past history, that beef might be more Automator and not so much Kool Keith.)
As all Kool Keith albums do, Spankmaster tanked on the charts while still continuing to exaggerate the Kool Keith mythos. There are fans of his that swear on this album as though it was their holy book of choice, and there are fans of his that don't really give this project a second thought. I fall into the latter category, or at least I did before I forced myself to pull this album out and give it a spin for journalistic purposes.
1. CONCERT INTRO
Highly ridiculous, but still kind of funny today. A show with the lineup described here (I wonder if Barbra Streisand knows that she's apparently one of the headliners), with tickets available at Ticketmaster and P.F. Chang's? I can dig it.
2. I WANNA PLAY
I feel it's important to note that Spankmaster is what Black Elvis / Lost In Space would have sounded like without Columbia's deep pockets paying for polished production, and without the quality control Kutmasta Kurt provided. Released from the shackles of a major label, Kool Keith indulges all of his urges, which, unfortunately, combine his penchant for goofy non-sequiturs with crappy three-dollar beats (made up of audio burps and fake drums, at least in this case) and anonymous female voices singing a shitty, unnecessary hook and performing phone sex, which is weird, since at no point does Keith introduce a phone into the equation. Nearly impossible to actually sit through today, which is why I haven't actually written about Kool Keith since 2011, if you're keeping track, which I always assume everyone is.
3. I'M A TELL-U
Keith's go-to is tearing anonymous rappers to shreds, with explanations about how he's light years beyond all of his competitors (creatively, musically, pornographically, whatever) being a close second. “I'm A Tell-U” has a terrible “hook”, as pretty much all Kool Keith songs do (why, oh why does he feel the need to sing?), but the beat was actually not bad, and our host's rhymes that don't always rhyme the way you would expect at least stick to a cohesive theme, that being, “I'm better than you”. Well, one doesn't purchase a Kool Keith album to not hear Kool Keith sound cocky as shit.
4. MACK TRUCKS
Keith and Kurt's Diesel Truckers project was partly a response to artists always rhyming about the same materialistic shit, especially when it comes to vehicular transportation: there definitely isn't anyone out there writing about mack trucks. The seeds of that concept were planted on this particular track, but even though trucks are mentioned, Keith ends up rhyming about the same shit that he happens to rhyme about which is either super clever or a cop-out, depending on your personal stance. The beat isn't all bad, and the verses are what you would expect, but the hook is simplistic to a fault.
It's reasonable that one wouldn't look to an album entitled Spankmaster with hope that there would be actual good songs, but you would be wrong, as it includes “Drugs”, a hidden gem that deserves to be on an entirely different project altogether. The instrumental is dark and mystifying, and our host plays the role of a drug addict with oddly specific clarity, albeit in true Keith Thornton fashion, as his bars are still goofy as shit with non-sequiturs for days. The (off-key) singing at the end isn't very good, but it somehow adds to the paranoia that the beat easily personifies (as much as something you listen to can “personify” something, anyway). This held up pretty well.
6. YES YES Y'ALL (FEAT. ESHAM)
This steep drop in quality is about as inconsequential as falling off of a fucking mountain. Sure, it would be difficult to follow “Drugs”, but you're supposed to at least try: instead, Keith presents listeners with this shitty self-produced effort featuring his BFF at the time Esham, and neither artist sounds thrilled to be here. (The recitation of the titular phrase in the chorus was the absolute most lethargic line reading of said phrase I've ever heard.) Esham strays from his norm to simply talk shit, and our host follows suit, but this was such a terrible fucking song that I just don't care.
Features one of the silliest hooks I've ever heard on a rap song. (“Haters come around from downtown / I get surround sound / I get big!”) But “silly” doesn't always equal “good”, and this shit sucks. Which I guess makes me a hater, because I dare to voice an opposing opinion. Seriously, the word “hater” is one of the most immature responses ever uttered in an argument by a human being. Stop being such pussies and accept the fact that not everyone is going to like whatever it is that you do. A lot of you hate my shit, too, and I accept that.
In which a glorified interlude, where Keith makes fun of professional basketball players for being illiterate, immature, and fairly dumb losers who play a sport in a league that is comparable to the relationship between a slave and his master (no, seriously, he goes there, several years before that whole Donald Sterling thing, which means Keith Thornton is clearly a psychic of some sort), is stretched out to song length for no discernible reason. Kool Keith is clearly a hater, folks.
9. JEWELRY SHINE
Keith shifts tempos over a pulsing instrumental that isn't bad. Hell, it's one of the most interesting instrumentals of the entire project. And of course our host pisses it away with random boasts, name-drops, and threats that are all somehow supposed to add up to something about jewelry and the people who wear it. Which is weird, as “Jewelry Shine” isn't especially blinged-out. Not terrible, though.
I've always wondered what Kook Keith's thought process is when he comes up with the hooks for his songs. Is there even a thought process? Or does he string together the first three phrases he finds written down on the myriad legal pads he has laying about his sex dungeon? The world may never know. Unless the world asks him, of course.
11. MAXIN' IN THE SHADE
Possibly the most Kool Keith-esque song on this here Kool Keith album. “Maxin' In The Shade” featured a stream-of-consciousness monologue, broken up into separate verses, on which our host runs through a list of commands, descriptions, non-sequiturs, boasts, threats, and pretty much everything else that makes Keith Thornton unique in our chosen genre. The beat wasn't bad, and the hook isn't so awful that it takes away from the overall experience. Huh.
12. BIG FRANK
Entirely inaccessible for newbies, but if you had never heard of Kool Keith before, methinks you probably wouldn't choose an album called Spankmaster as your gateway drug. But for Keith's actual fans, this is a step in the right direction, at least if you are at all familiar with his songs that make about as much sense as MF Doom's when transcribed. Silly, slight, but not bad, for what it is.
After nearly a full minute of set-up, Kool Keith launches into a missive aimed directly at radio deejays (specifically the New York-based Funkmaster Flex and Angie Martinez) and music video channels (hey, MTV once employed both Funkmaster Flex and Angie Martinez. Hmm...) that refuse to acknowledge that he exists within hip hop unless it benefits them in some way. (The first time I saw the video clip for Dr. Octagon's “Blue Flowers” was during MTV's Buzz Bin, which in no way aired during regular hours, which guaranteed the man the most limited exposure possible at the time, since YouTube was but a twinkle in its father's ball sack.) Which, of course, somehow renders them to be “jealous motherfuckers”. Because that's how this works. Keith, ultimately, is from the old school, so he's simply upset about his current status (hell, he still fills that role of indie darling today, having made appearances on both the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Mosquito and U-God's The Keynote Speaker in 2013), but does anybody really think that having Kool Keith (solo) songs played on the radio could have altered the man's trajectory within the industry all that much? This was as concise a dis that can come from Keith, though, so in that respect, um, well done, I suppose.
14. GIRLS WOULD U FUCK TONIGHT
Now this is the type of track that you were probably expecting when you stared a bit longer than you should have at Spankmaster's album cover above. Surprisingly tame in terms of Kool Keith sex raps (which is to say, still not appropriate for general audiences), “Girls Would U Fuck Tonight” is notable for sounding dull, in turn making sexual intercourse also sound dull. I don't know about you, but I feel that explicit sex raps should be engaging, as though you wish you were participating in some fashion, kind of like good porn, as opposed to sounding clinical and paint-by-numbers.
15. STONEY JACKSON
16. GIRLS IN JAIL
This silly excuse for a rap song ultimately goes nowhere, but “Girls In Jail” is intriguing for a handful of reasons. First off, Keith sticks with the single theme (his girlfriend's, um, in jail), at least as much as he is capable. The beat is also fairly interesting. But the main thing that stuck out for me was the hook, which features our host's singing vocals, some of which are performed with an English accent just because. Which is kind of amusing, really.
17. BLACKULA (FEAT. JACKY JASPER)
“Blackula” features a beat that is most definitely the most contagious on Spankmaster, and the silly-ass hook is catchy as fuck. At its core, this song is a duet, with Kool Keith having invited his bestest weed carrier Jacky Jasper to the party, but neither man brought anything to drink, but Keith is already high as fuck anyway (on life, obviously), so he doesn't even notice that neither man seems to get along with one another. Quite possibly the most enjoyable experience on Spankmaster, if a bit slight.
18. DARK VADAR (FEAT. ESHAM)
Not that he would have ever noticed anyway, but Keith clearly altered the title of “Dark Vadar” in order to not incur the legal wrath of a pre-Disney sale George Lucas. (See also: Luther Campbell's “Luke Skyywalker" persona.) The beat is fairly innovative, in that it plays well today, and Esham and Keith both rhyme ridiculously about a goofy topic, but that isn't meant as an insult. What stops the track dead in its, um, tracks is the extended outro, performed in a distorted vocal that is impossible to sit through. Good job rendering an otherwise good song unlistenable, Keith.
19. CAPTAIN SAVE 'EM
There are no words.
20. SPANK-MASTER (TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES) (FEAT. ESHAM)
Keith plays with a different type of flow on this, the final song of the evening. But the track is so fucking terrible that its overt cheesiness can't come close to compensating. It's been a while since I've been this relieved that an album was finally over.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It's your classic bait-and-switch: even though the album is called Spankmaster, Kool Keith is too abstract of a person to focus solely on sex to get his many points across. (Even Sex Style, which is generally received as one of his best albums, isn't all about that titular topic.) As such, Spankmaster is just your typical Keith album, chock-full of shit-talking, horrific hooks, and many many many references to how much better a person Keith is than you. This is what we've all come to expect from Kool Keith, and in that respect, he doesn't disappoint. However, the beats behind these empty threats and wet dreams fail to impress, for the most part: aside from the few exceptions listed below, the music on Spankmaster sounds cheap as fuck, not just because Esham and company probably didn't have the highest-quality studio to work in, but because everything sounds rushed out by folks who lack talent. A lot of these instrumentals mirror the worst shit you get in your inbox the moment you start up a hip hop blog and an aspiring artist feels that you might be able to provide them some exposure. The audience for Spankmaster is limited anyway, but without music that will hold your attention, the whole exercise is rendered kind of pointless. Kool Keith is the type of artist who thrives when given proper musical backing, and you won't find that on here.
BUY OR BURN? As mentioned, Spankmaster will only appeal to an extremely limited audience, so if you happen to fall into that category, just burn it. Save your money for the better works in Keith Thornton's back catalog.
BEST TRACKS: “Drugs”; “Blackula”; “Maxin' In The Shade”
There's some more Kool Keith weirdness to be found by clicking here.