by Andrew Matson & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & K & lt;/span & ool Keith is like Woody Allen. Both have made absolutely crucial contributions to the modern canons of hip-hop and filmmaking, respectively, and heralded as lovably enigmatic geniuses, bold pioneers who reinvented bounds of structure and content. They've subsequently faced large-scale public backlashes against the quality and relevance of their art. They've been called immoral and insane. Their favorite subject matter is the mind, and both made their names exploring the darker, socially unspeakable regions of psychosexuality, the weight of which they undercut with absurd and comedic flourishes. Today, both resist resignation to mere anachronism and remain resilient, prickly progressives.
Woody Allen always made a point of letting the world know he was painfully aware of his own neuroses; he always met with -- constantly questioned, but still met with -- psychoanalysts. His own tortured self-examination, coupled with ever more tortured examinations of other people's examinations, served as his primary artistic impetus. He often pointed out that even his neuroses were neurotic, frequently implying, by way of humorous self-deprecation, he was beyond clinical help. He talked around this psychological impasse with such precise intelligence that his audience took it for a literary tool. Still, the message was always the same: "Either I'm crazy or everyone else is." For a long time, everyone seemed OK with that. Then he married his daughter.
Likewise, Kool Keith has always publicly displayed his psychological health (or lack thereof) and willfully explored the fearful places it might go. His early work in the Golden-era (late '80s) group Ultramagnetic MCs showcased a sci-fi-obsessed weirdo who would rather use words he didn't understand than rap the norm, while also revealing he'd been hospitalized at New York City's famous Bellevue Hospital Center's psych wing. He's since said he faked the stay. He's rapped as Dr. Octagon (The Octagonecologist), Dr. Dooom, Mr. Nogatco, Black Elvis, Matthew, and a bevy of other "personalities." His rapping has always circled the theme that he's crazy like a fox, intentionally throwing curveballs because it's too easy to rap normal, an unforgivable sin he's too advanced to commit. For a while, people believed him.
The Automator-produced Dr. Octagonecologist LP of 1996 served as the high-water mark of Keith's evolution toward the creepy side of weird. As Dr. Octagon, Keith let his imagination run as he created imagistic surgical nightmares, blending the fantastic with the all-too-real as he gave a disturbingly graphic voice to those who cannot separate what is sexy from what is sick. Automator's virtuosic soundscapes lent Keith an air of post-apocalyptic dirt-bag psychedelia that sounds every bit as jarring today. Garnering universal acclaim, the disc was without precedent, and remains a psychotic, scary rap landmark. He followed it by -- save for his always engaging work with Kutmasta Kurt and Motion Man -- a swift descent into audience-alienating porn-rap, the nadir of which suggested Keith had gone completely off his rocker and would continue rapping about anal sex forever.
Now, he's back with a flurry of albums: Project Polaroid, Nogatco Rd. (with video footage of Keith performing an alien autopsy), and the soon-to-be-released Return of Dr. Octagon.
Like Woody Allen, Kool Keith is weird, told us he was weird, got famous for being weird, and was then deemed "too weird." Also like Woody Allen, there's one thing Keith won't do -- stop.
Kool Keith at the Big Easy with Diesel Truckers, RA The Rugged Man and Pirate Sygnl on Monday, June 12, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $17.50. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.