Hey hey, quick question: do you all like porno?
I don’t mean to shock or offend. Certainly I’m not interested in drawing this blog into the gutter with such filthy talk. It’s more of a rhetorical question. Because I’m sure in the course of your life, you’ve probably seen some. It’s okay: it’s natural. There’s no shame in it.
Rapper Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Mr. Gerbick, Keith Thornton) understands this. In fact, if you were to ask him “do you like porno?” he answer would be an unqualified thumbs up.
To prove it, I’m going to share a little anecdote told to me by my friend Chris about three or four years ago. At the time, we were both living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a freelance writer while he did Army Reserve work and got extra cash by working at a pharmacy.
During on Chris’ shifts at the pharmacy, an unmistakable figure walked through the door: Dr. Octagon himself. After a few tentative moments, Keith walked up to the counter looking like a man in need of assistance.
Chris: “Hey, you playing a show in town tonight?”
Mr. Gerbick: “Yeah man yeah, listen, you know where I can find the nearest porn shop?”
If that story left any doubt that Keith was a dedicated porno fanatic, his 1997 album “Sex Style” should wipe it away. I can honestly say that, out of the over 10,000 albums I’ve heard in my life, this is one of the most authentically dirty.
Just take a look at the cover for a minute: it looks like something you’d find in a stained cardboard box in a seedy restroom next in the strip club you’re mother has nightmares about you attending.
The back cover is even worse: the snap shots look like outtakes from a never-asked-for Kool Keith sex tape. And the album itself is littered with samples from endless porno films and even features “skits” (if you want to call them that) of dirty phone talk and perhaps even simulated (or real) sexual acts.
Mr. Thornton himself defines the album early on in the title track: porno core. Of course it’s brilliant. Thank you for asking.
If you’ve never heard Kool Keith before, the first time is always shocking. The sheer volume of words that spews from his mouth in an average song is immense: there’s a reason he’s one of the top three rappers by vocabulary. Sometimes his lines follow the beat and meter: sometimes they sprawl all over the place.
But, his imagery and wordplay is inspired, deep and bizarre. Just check out the first few verses of what many consider his signature song “Earth People” from his first album “Dr. Octagonecologyst”:
First patient, pull out the skull, remove the cancer
Breakin’ his back, chisel necks for the answer
Supersonic bionic robot voodoo power
Equator ex my chance to flex skills on Ampex
With power meters and heaters gauze anti-freeze
Octagon oxygen, aluminum intoxicants
More ways to blow blood cells in your face
React with four bombs and six fire missiles
Armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols
You may not believe, livin’ on the earth planet
My skin is green and silver, warhead lookin’ mean
Astronauts get played, tough like the ukulele
As I move in rockets, overriding, levels
Nothing’s aware, same data, same system
The hook for this song is: “Earth People, New York and California, Earth People, I was born on Jupiter” repeated four times. Happily, he uses the word “doo-doo” twice in about 30 seconds. “Doo-doo” is among his many weird humor devices which sees him contrast absolutely impeccable word play and disgusting subject matter with child-like phrases and imagery.
Doo-doo is all over “Sex Style.” The album stinks, but in a good way, in the way that Keith intended. Because Keith isn’t just a pervert: he’s a dedicated pervert on a mission. It’s his third album in a row where he invents a new rap style: “Dr. Octagonecologyst” invented “sci-fi-core” while “First Come, First Served” invented horror core.
Each album is as dedicated to that theme as possible and dedication is what sets this album apart from other “porno rap” acts (like “2 Live Crew”). You see, normally, I’d roll my eyes at an album this gross and dismiss it as a novelty. Not in offense (because I’m no prude) but because albums of this type often seem lazy, slapped together and boring no more than a year or two after their release.
But here, Keith dives in head first and swims among the filth. He bathes in it, drinks it up and lets it inhabit his essence. These aren’t simple “hickory, dickory dock” style dirty rhymes. No, a man this dedicated to pornography obviously has a vast vocabulary of filthy words to slip and he doesn’t let down.
The litany of disgusting and vivid sexual metaphors never stops. They just tumble out of Keith like he’s breathing air or reading the phone book. In the title track, it sounds like nothing could be simpler to him than endlessly describing all the perverted things he is going to do/is doing/has already done to … competing rappers.
While it may seem strange to hear Keith describe these acts, it actually fits in well with the tradition of “battle” rapping. In this style, rappers would come up with creative ways to put down their opponent while showing off their rapping prowess.
On this track, and others (including the appropriately titled “Still the Best”), Keith is constantly throwing down the gauntlet to his competing rappers. He just goes to a pretty severe lyrical extreme. Even stranger is the backing track: Kutmaster Kurt works creates an ominous tone with his squeaky-spacey-horror synth sounds. As a result, it musically sounds like something you’d hear in a horror movie..
Those kinds of wild contrasts are what drive the album to extreme states of confusion. For example, the song “Make Up Your Mind” have a funky groove that’s catchy as hell, but features “tortured” lyrics about a guy trying to get his girl to choose between him and the other guys she’s been seeing.
As the album goes on, one would be tempted to think that the notoriously inconsistent (especially in later years) rapper would start to slip up. And frankly, tracks like “Still the Best” and “Plastic World” don’t adhere to the theme, though both are fine songs.
However, the constantly engaging music and the legitimately wild, complex and disturbing wordplay Keith indulges in creates an atmosphere I’ve never heard in any other album: steamy and wet. If this album was a person, it would walk around all day wearing nothing but a trench coat.
With a rapper less dedicated (and talented) the album would have been a mess. But Keith gives in totally to his perverted side and lets loose with his typically left-field observations and word combinations to create a one-of-a-kind album.