Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst

Dr. Octagon
Dr. Octagonecologyst

Released 1996 on SKG/Dreamworks
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 18/02/2005ce

1 Intro (skit)
2 3000
3 I Got To Tell You (skit)
4 Earth People
5 No Awareness
6 Real Raw
7 General Hospital (skit)
8 Blue Flowers
9 Technical Difficulties
10 A Visit to the Gynecologist
11 Bear Witness
12 Dr. Octagon
13 Girl Let Me Touch You There
14 I'm Destructive
15 Wild and Crazy
16 Elective Surgery (skit)
17 halfsharkalligatorhalfman
18 Blue Flowers Revisited
19 Waiting List
20 1977

In the 1990's, "GANGSTA" ruled the rap roost, but that particular subgenre seems to have gone the way of Grunge & New Wave & so many other trendy styles before it. From its passing, two new rap styles emerged: "THUG" rap as epitomized by 50 Cent takes the "bad nigga" attitude of gangsta but strips away all the politics, leaving a sadly materialistic focus ("bling bling y'all!") More interesting however is the growing underground genre of "VILLAIN" rap, which takes the "badness" of gangsta to an existential extreme and whose most successful current exemplar is the iron-masked cartoon character MF Doom.

However it was on this 1996 LP by the one-off supergroup known as "Doctor Octagon" where villain rap was invented. The star of the show is one "Kool Keith" Thornton, this being his first full-blown album after the dissolution of his truly Unsung NYC rap crew The Ultramagnetic MC's. "Kool Keith" makes a cameo as himself at the end of the album, but for the most part he is deep in character here portraying the titular Dr. Octo, a practitioner of "bad medicine" who was born on Jupiter and travelled to earth via fax machine -- as well as the Doc's nemesis, the 147 year old "Mr. Gerbik" who is "half shark-alligator, half man." Assisting him on the microphone is one "Chewbacca The Uncircumcised" (aka Sir Menelik), behind the boards the great Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and on the wheels of steel the legendary DJ Q-Bert (DJ Shadow & Kutmasta Kurt also assist on a couple tracks.)

Though to call this record "the blueprint of villain rap" would be unfair, because it is so much more than that. On this album Keith & Dan & cohorts seem to be creating several new subgenres of music all at once: it's alternately been referred to as pornocore, horrorcore, and scificore. It is all of these things, and also a Monty Python parody of a hospital soap opera!

"Convert with probes, green shit is on your earlobes."

If you don't know by now, Kool Keith is a classic "nutter." Legend is that he actually did spend a few months at Bellevue mental hospital, and the one time I got to see him in concert he was definitely one of the weirdest creatures I've ever laid eyes on. Even in his Ultramagnetics days he portrayed himself as a "psycho" and his bent lyrics have always singled him out as "different", but on this record he really outdoes himself (and everyone else in the game) with a dense spray of hallucinatory images, scatology & surrealism that I can only compare to the likes of James Joyce and William S. Burroughs. (And his obsessive-compulsive tendency to list colors, numbers, animals, etc. makes me suspect he really does have a few screws loose, for real. After Dr. Octagon, he proceeded to create a new persona for almost every album -- Big Willy Style, Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, Matthew -- clearly a sign of split-personality disorder!)

But he's also very intelligent and witty. One of the cackiest hiphop gimmicks is to put skits between the songs. This album has the best skits ever on any rap album, all medical in theme and frequently pornographic to boot, but mostly downright hilarious! ("Fuckit he's dead! Oh shit, there's a horse in the hospital!")

Really, the songs themselves are nothing more than the same old battle raps that Keith's always traded in -- though here they are delivered via a series of pseudoscientific medical metaphors that take MC boasting to new levels of surrealism. And if anything his sidekick Chewbacca's raps come off even stranger, using words like "aperture" and "dirigible."

The underlying soundscapes created by Automator are also spectacular, and the high water mark of his excellent career so far as well. The beats tend to be slow & "stoned", with flutes, strings, opera singers, burbling synths, heavy metal guitars and all manner of creepy, spacy textures befitting the villainous SF subject matter. Head music, you bet it is!

This is simply one of those perfect records, all 20 tracks are distinctive and the "flow" from track to track to skit is perfection. And it's not just an album of interest to hiphop fans, but to anyone who likes music that is trippy, music that is funky, or music that is just plain weird or silly. Even if you think you "don't like hiphop" you shouldn't let a genre label keep you from exploring the unique soundworld created by this record.


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