Kool Keith Biography

Keith Thornton, New York, USA. Under his Dr. Octagon pseudonym, hip-hop conceptualist and vocalist Kool Keith brilliantly rejected the genre’s appetite for brutal (supposed) reality, adopting the persona of a colour-shifting alien from Jupiter with a brain that glowed yellow, black, red, green and purple. Although the former member of Ultramagnetic MC’s had created one of hip-hop’s most genuinely intriguing personas on 1996’s Dr. Octagonecologyst, Dr. Octagon was terminated on the opening track of 1999’s First Come, First Served, Kool Keith’s debut under the Dr. Dooom alter ego. The same year’s Black Elvis/Lost In Space introduced a further alter-ego for Thornton: the rapper described the album as ‘a 100% Kool Keith project’ and (his wig-wearing) Black Elvis as Dr. Dooom’s younger brother. The frequent changes of alter egos and personalities (on 1997’s porn-sampling Sex Style, Thornton had adopted the persona of Big Willie Smith) are intended as a means of circumventing stale and predictable hip-hop roles. All the samples on Black Elvis/Lost In Space, meanwhile, were created from scratch because Keith did not want any sonic links from the past: ‘We’re going into 2000 and we’re still listening to old samples from the 70s and 80s’, he announced, incredulously. Surprisingly, after his Dr. Dooom releases, Thornton reverted to his Kool Keith nom de plume for an explicitly unconceptual album. On Matthew, Kool Keith’s concerns were a little more grounded and mundane. A polemic on the state of contemporary hip-hop, Matthew is essentially a stream of disses of ‘fake-ass wannabe hip-hop shit’, pretend drug dealers fantasizing about cars and jewellery, bullshit MCs ‘that even suburban kids can duplicate’, and ‘niggas with pop-ass headsets around their ears like Britney Spears’. Spankmaster, meanwhile, was described by its creator as ‘a strip club album. I just did something different. I got tired of hip-hop.’ Almost by definition, Keith’s creations since his debut are not quite the disruptive, disorientating revelation of his futuristic Dr. Octagon alter ego but still, he could recite shopping lists and make them sound contemporary. He has also collaborated with Kut Masta Kurt, Regular Fries, Hardkiss, the Prodigy and Princess Superstar.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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