Schizophrenic rap oddballs come no more intriguing than Kool Keith. With a catalogue over 50 different personas and aliases — whether it be the kinky cape-wearing Spankmaster or the very familial John Clayborne Cousin of Jimmy Hicks — the Bronx-born Kool Keith leads the rap world in split-personalities. With his latest identity statement, The Legend Of Tashaan Dorrsett, released today, here are ten great, though far from comprehensive, Kool Keith name japes.
Kool Keith’s most widely-revered persona, Dr. Octagon appeared during the mid-’90s as a freaky member of the medical profession who practices in a brave new world where patients’ symptoms include “bees flying around your rectum” (diagnosis: “You need a bad operation”) and whose bedside manner includes questions like, “Honey let’s talk a while/Did he lick you there, percolate your atmosphere?” Unfortunately, Moog-heavy, extraterrestrial-esque production from Dan The Automator wasn’t enough to stop Keith from letting future character Dr. Dooom kill off Dr. Octagon on 1999’s First Come, First Served, and then again, on Dr. Dooom 2.
When Prince Paul was casting his rap musical A Prince Among Thieves, he called on Kool Keith to play nefarious firearms dealer Crazy Lou. It’s a role Keith took with aplomb, holding court at Weapon World while running through an inventory of “infra-red beams so sharp [they] crease your pant seams,” a “suitcase with missiles stashed with toilet tissues,” and the unwieldy-sounding “bicentennial bombs with leather straps for your arms.” Showing a flagrant disregard for Mayor Bloomberg’s health and hygiene ratings movement, Lou tended to his store while apparently eating Cocoa Puffs. Buyer beware, as they say.
Exotron Geiger Counter One Plus Megatron
Invited onto legendary golden-era rap producer Marley Marl’s In Control radio show in 1989, Kool Keith decided to introduce himself as — deepest of breaths — Exotron Geiger Counter One Plus Megatron, before quickly switching it up to Exotron Geiger Counter One Gamma Plus Sequencer and commandeering the microphone to kick an a capella rhyme. (Skip to the 5:37 and 8:15 minute marks for the nomenclature shenanigans.) Poor Ced Gee, one of Keith’s band-mates in Ultra, could only muster up the moniker Delta Force One by comparison.
The turn of the last millennium saw Kool Keith embark on a particularly rude phase of vanity projects, with 2000’s Matthew and 2001’s Spankmaster preceded by his Black Elvis outing — which at the very least gave him the opportunity to sport a fake black pompadour for a few months. The Lost In Space album is fairly focused for a Kool Keith effort, being largely made up of songs about the astrological wilderness. But even within its ambit, he still managed to get bored of being Black Elvis and so also pitched himself as Keith Televasquez and Keith Turbo. (If you were wondering, Black Elvis is reputedly Dr. Dooom’s twin, although he’s unrelated to deceased Gang Starr rapper Guru’s pal Black Jesus.)
A rapper who has talked about getting his kicks by watching a lady “putting peanut-butter all around her [lingerie wearing] dog’s mouth,” Kool Keith might not be the obvious choice to endorse a clean-cut consumer beverage like Sprite. But for a 1999 TV spot, Keith donned “Asian authentic wear” (according to the press release blurb) to become Dr. Ultra. He then faced off against a cadre of “five deadly women,” whose ranks included female rappers Mia X, Amil, and Roxanne Shante.
For an artist whose creative aliases flit from combining various sportswear brands (Tommy Ellis, Keith’s amalgamation of Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis) to getting super-literal (Fly Ricky The Wine-Taster), one of Keith’s most intriguing personas is simply his God-given middle name, Matthew. At its best, the album of said name showcases Keith in impressively irked mode, as when he vents at rap fantasists on “I Don’t Believe You,” which sees him rolling out an ever more ridiculous list of things he thinks rappers don’t do (including talking to Aaron Hall, selling furniture, and messing with Lauryn Hill). Keith’s pastel-blue cover attire pre-dates Cam’ron’s fuzzy hat era, too.
In classic rap braggadocio terms, Poppa Large is simply “a big shot on the East Coast.” That’s fairly restrained for Kool Keith’s fertile imagination, but the video for the Ultramagnetic MCs’ track of the same name stokes the myth of Keith’s alleged dalliance with Bellevue Hospital’s mental health department by flicking between Keith rapping in a straight-jacket and sporting what resembles low-rent goalie headgear.
One for the vinyl nerds, this promotional-only odd fusion throws Kool Keith and porn star Heather Hunter onto an upbeat house track produced by big beat record label Skint’s Rec Rangers. The song itself is titled “Toot Toot Hey Beep Beep,” which somehow makes Keith’s lecherous Larry Lopez character sound frankly ordinary. If you’re still reading at this point, there’s also a Mantronix remix of the track knocking around out there.
Robbie Analog/Keith Korg
Wu-Tang Clan slang-masters Raekwon and Ghostface may have helped popularize the ridiculous mafia-themed alias trend of the mid-’90s, but when the Wu’s de facto leader, RZA, unveiled his conceptual Bobby Digital project, Kool Keith took offense at the very idea of another rapper stepping into his schizophrenic sphere. So Keith cast himself as Robbie Analog in the artwork to his First Come, First Served album (itself recorded under the name, Dr. Dooom). This was quickly followed by his Analog Brothers collaboration with Ice-T (as Ice Oscillator), which saw Keith himself again flipping his moniker to Keith Korg, the “vocal booth kingpin.” Titled Pimp To Eat, the cover quite brilliantly showcases a pensive Ice and Keith shopping — or shop-lifting — for cereal in a supermarket. RZA didn’t have the heart to respond.
A Kool Keith classic, Mr. Gerbik was introduced on the lauded Dr. Octagon project as “the dangerous 208-year-old uncle of Dr. Octagon” whose genetic make-up is “half-shark, half-man” with “skin like an alligator.” (And who can often be found “carrying a dead walrus” while walking down Hollywood Boulevard.) Gerbik’s soundtrack song, “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman,” also includes possibly the best ever rap reference to the ungulate wildebeest. (Bonus Arts And Crafts Activity: For those with time on their hands, you can buff up on how to make your own Mr. Gerbik mask here.)
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 5, 2011