GIVEN KOOL KEITH'S er, "spotty" history of professionalism, I wasn't too surprised when he stood me up not once, but twice for a phone interview. After all, if he disappeared off the face of the Earth on the eve of Lollapalooza '97, and allegedly holed up in a Hollywood hotel room blowing his record advance on hookers and porn—there was no reason to realistically expect him to keep our phone date.
In fact, giving up all expectations is perhaps the best way to enter the bizarre, transmogrifying universe of Keith Thornton. After his electrifying debut in the groundbreaking Ultramagnetic MCs, Keith became one of the most fascinating figures in underground hiphop. His personal life always threatened to overshadow his music—Keith was always blunt about his time spent at Bellevue mental hospital, and his porn addiction is well documented. But sonically, Keith always kept his audience on their toes. First came his album as Dr. Octagon (Dr. Octagonecologyst), a nightmarish, gynecological fantasy put on wax with the help of Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. He followed this wildly successful album up with a string of hit-or-miss releases like Sex Style, Black Elvis, and Spankmaster, all of which showed flashes of brilliance.
With syncopated, off-kilter rhymes about orgying with the Seven Dwarves, pissing in other rappers' faces, and leaving dirty diapers in the back of Rolls Royces, Kool Keith made it abundantly clear that his aspirations had nothing to do with the Hot 97 playlist or spots on MTV's Cribs. Whatever you might think about Kool Keith, there's little debate that he's a visionary rather than a commercial product.
This thesis is proven—and possibly negated—by the fate of his most popular persona, Dr. Octagon. Frustrated with the singular attention fans were paying to his gyno-torturer persona, Kool Keith "murdered" Octagon at the outset of Dr. Dooom, an uncommercial move if there ever was one. This summer, however, sees the official release of The Return of Dr. Octagon—feel free to draw your own conclusions about his motive for doing this.
A wellspring of ideas, images, and non-sequitirs (interviews with Kool Keith are long, fascinating, stream-of-consciousness reflections on everything from the pragmatic benefits of drinking seltzer to the scarcity of bunny rabbits in the ghetto), prolificacy has always been part of Keith's game—but not always to his audience's benefit. The past several years have seen one disappointing release after another, culminating in the god-awful self-produced Lost Masters 2. But—as if to keep us on our toes, just as we were about to throw the towel in—he dropped Project Polaroid this year, a surprisingly good collaboration with San Francisco producer TOMC3.
So what to expect from Kool Keith's show at Doug Fir? As you might have surmised, it's a big "who knows?" But one thing's certain: There's going to be a gifted rapper onstage, rhyming about wack subjects, and not giving a singular fuck about Cribs.