CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
Kool Keith was already the breakout star of Ultramagnetic MCs when the Bronx rhymer with a penchant for scatalogical and surrealist imagery decided to strike out on his own. He moved to Los Angeles and moved into an apartment with DJ Kutmasta Kurt. It was there that the seeds were sown for one of rap's most unique classics.
Released in the U.S. on May 7, 1996, via Bulk Recordings, the debut album from Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon is one of the weirder masterpieces in the Hip-Hop canon. The Dr. Octagon persona first appeared on the Ultramagnetic MC's demo "Smoking Dust," and after recording two tracks ("Technical Difficulties" and "Dr. Octagon") with Kutmasta Kurt, the bizarre wordplay and surrealist approach of Dr. Octagon came into full form as Dan the Automator came onboard to produce a full-fledged album.
And what an album. Keith's legacy as rap's oddest oddball is largely cemented here. So without further ado, Stereo Williams and LeMayne James break down the weirdass genius of Dr. Octagonecologyst.
Stereo: It lets you know from jump that this is going to be a strange trip. I love albums that invite you into the conceptualism of it all. LeMayne: I'm sure we could go on at length about great rap concept albums, but Dr. Octagonecologyst is one of the best. It set the gold mark for storytelling and themes. But, like, who puts porno clips on their album?!
Stereo: I still remember hearing this in the car of an art major back when I was in college. I only kind of knew Kool Keith back then and this was really my true intro. Appropriate that it's the first proper song on the album. LeMayne: The unapologetic eccentricity is what gets your attention, but what keeps it is the craft. Dan the Automator is a superproducer when it comes to left-leaning, "alternative" rap classics. He's like the Pete Rock of oddballs.
I Got To Tell You
LeMayne: A skit that sort of explains the character for you. Stereo: Yeah, in case you weren't already convinced that this was going to be a surreal trip. Here's an "ad' for Dr. Octagon.
Stereo: The art major who loved Kool Keith put me on to this one, too. We played the hell out of this and it's the perfect song for someone who's never heard this album before. It's the only time I've ever heard "space doo-doo pistols' referenced...anywhere. LeMayne: It's one of the album's definitive moments and it's so damn Kool Keith. But that ominous synth line is fucking perfect. It sums up a lot about the album: murky, kinda dark, oddly funny.
LeMayne: The production is perfect here; this almost evokes a sorta 3 Feet High and Rising vibe with the intro, before Keith takes it into super strange territory. Stereo: I never heard De La in this, but that's a good call. The whimsy disappears and that trademark murkiness comes in. It's one of the best songs on the album.
Stereo: If you had to explain to someone what stream-of-consciousness rhyming is, this is the best song to use as an example. Love lines like "Space connected while you listen to Keith Sweat" and "Zapp like Roger."LeMayne: Now this was my first intro to this album. He name-drops Jimmy Castor and Pepto Bismol in the same verse. What the fuck is there to not like?
LeMayne: I hate that the streaming era kind of marginalizes skits. I know that for some people they became tedious, but on albums like this, you need them. Stereo: The conceptualism is what drives the whole album and yes, there are lots of albums where you need the skits tying themes together. This is one of those albums.
LeMayne: The best song here. Hands down. DJ Qbert's scratching on the outro is one of the greatest things in the history of things. Stereo: So fucking hazy. So fucking surreal. I won't get into what kinds of refreshments I used to partake in, but let's just say this song brings back a lot of (blurry) memories.
A Visit To The Gynecologist
LeMayne: Hmmm. This would be received...um...how...if it came out today? Stereo: I rarely, if ever, like to play that game. Keith is going for weirdness and creepiness-as-a-conceit, not endorsing creepiness as a lifestyle. It's all for the concept.
LeMayne: Shoutout to DJ Qbert! He really nails the fuck outta this. Such a banger. Stereo: It's one of the best DJ tracks of the 1990s, IMO. Qbert really is the third brain of the album. The chemistry these guys had when they were really clicking -- it's staggering.
LeMayne: If you need a theme song for a time-traveling gynecologist from outer space, this is definitely the song for that. Stereo: My favorite track on the album. I know there's always been some back-and-forth as to who produced what, but the soundscape used here is brilliant. It sorta seems to set the stage for what Automator would do with Del years later.
Girl Let Me Touch You
LeMayne: It's a love song - right? LOL It references STDs, cunnilingus, bondage and all types of other stuff. Stereo: It's like a spoof of a love song. Even with the raunchy focus, it never feels all that sincere. It's still on some stream-of-consciousness shit, even if it's horny as hell. It sounds like the "Doctor" is a nymphomaniac, too.
LeMayne: It's the most Ultramags sounding track here, like a throwback to Critical Beatdown. Stereo: "Bash in your head with ten full cans of Campbell's soup/I'm on the roof, I'm not another pigeon out the chicken coop." This shit is perfect.
Wild & Crazy
Stereo: So, to me, this is the most Ultramagnetic MCs-sounding moment on the album. Right down to the "Ego Trippin'" sample/reference. LeMayne: Oh yeah this is definitely a callback to the legacy of the Ultramags. It still has the haziness of Dr. Octagon to me, though, but I definitely feel you.
Stereo: The skits are so perfect, man. LeMayne: "You have bees flying around your rectum."
Stereo: Someone argued me down once that this is not a stoner album. LeMayne: Don't incriminate yourself! But that's a strange position to take, considering tracks like this sound like, well...y'know.
LeMayne: Shoutout to DJ Shadow. Stereo: "Watching people vomit green, my potent, my list of pills/My office in Burbank, I hide the bodies in Beverly Hills/Seeking kibbles 'n bits, a girl with small tits/Talking to herself, her dog, and having rabid fits..." The imagery! The ever-lovin' imagery!
LeMayne: Mr. Gerbik is another weird character. "People think I'm mixed with shark, drinking gasoline."Stereo: "In my raw world, orangutans dance for Thanksgiving/With skeleton bones and skunk tails is my mission..." Nuff said.