Kool Keith w/Spanish Broads, New Optimism, Nine 11 Thesaurus
Saturday, August 13
Better than: Getting eaten by a halfshark alligator.
Hip-hop might seem increasingly shiny and sugar-coated, but the genre’s bizarre and shadowy recesses haven’t been completely abandoned yet. Eminem is back on top of the world despite having to pretend that chip on his shoulder isn’t just a rash from his diamond necklace. Brash younger groups like Odd Future and Das Racist are twisting sardonic humor, goofball hijinks, and grimy storytelling into massive youth appeal. In his video for “Brunch”, food-obsessed MC Action Bronson serves up a dead girl with an exquisite cheese plate and some cornichons before going all Dexter and dumping her body off a boat.
But they could all still learn a thing or two from Kool Keith, who has countless pseudonyms and infinitely more chutzpah. Keith, coming off his spring release The Legend of Tashan Dorrsett, (a remix-heavy follow-up to 2009’s moody Tashan Dorrsett), remains a peculiar delight. He’s still obsessed with identity, sex, pornography, riffing on excrement, diabolical futuristic science, and endlessly dropping booties and panties. Playing the sweltering 285 Kent Avenue on Saturday night, he more than reveled in all of his favorite, and least favorite, things.
That’s what makes Keith’s music so much more indelible than many of the newer shock-rap enthusiasts; he raps about what he loves, what he hates, what seemingly consumes his thoughts. Like William Burroughs with two turntables and a mic, he graphically and honestly fixates on his condition. It’s not necessarily his onstage ability that distinguishes him. Keith can still stir a crowd into a fervor, but his performance was ramshackle and bewildering—typical Keith. After a blistering start dropping raw Ultramagnetic MCs-era jams like “Ego Trippin,” things got more chaotic as Keith slipped into his alter egos: Dr. Octagon for “Blue Flowers,” Black Elvis for a robotic trip to Graceland with “Livin Astro.” Long medleys of choruses from an endless stream of classics eventually ensued, porn DVDs were handed out to the audience, backing tracks stuttered and changed erratically while Keith calmly kept with whatever beat was beneath him. There was a group dialogue about hotels, a Priceline negotiation for the hood (“Who fucks with that $29.99? What about that $11.30 with the bedbugs in the mattress? What about that one hour… ?”).
Keith was the centerpiece of an equally unconventional event. presented by Babycastles, an independent arcade and video game collective based out of the currently out of commission Silent Barn; if the free X-rated movies and Keith’s crudely erotic storytelling weren’t enough of a turn on, there was an exhibition of “alternative sexuality” games set up. The homemade games, ranging from first-person shooters to Japanese role-playing adventures to Ms. Pac-Man gone extraterrestrial and bi-curious (see Lesbian Spider Queens of Mars), were surprisingly playable and amusing, even if they weren’t as raunchy as Keith’s lyrics. Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto performed with her current project, New Optimism. Ebullient but not without heft, the three piece group mixed downtempo funk, crackling old school hip-hop, and twisted J-pop. Hatori brought much of the crowd on stage for one number that had the energy and stomp of Beck’s “E-Pro,” and even got in on the hornball action with “Pretty Boys,” which was written because “there’s a lot of songs about ladies, but not that many about boys,” Hatori said. “Here’s one for you.”
Finally there was Spanish Broads, a noise set by the aforementioned and always polarizing Das Racist. The rap group brought some of their friends along—Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson sat in, and literally laid down, on guitar—and proceeded to make something that vaguely resembled music. It was completely inexplicable and more than mildly unlistenable at times, for sure. But as the members of Das Racist plinked on single keys, made up names for the different segments of noise they incongruously called songs (“Inappropriate Boner”), and shouted words and phrases over and over (“Play a guitar solo, play a guitar solo…”) while the musicians improvised, it was somehow anarchy at a high level, a sign that they’d maybe heeded some valuable lessons from hip hop’s No. 1 weirdo.
Critical bias: I didn’t fully understand Dr. Octagonecologyst when it first came out, but I kept it close because I figured one day I would. That day will come eventually, but who cares, it still pounds.
Overheard: “Kool Keith is a poet for the 21 Century.”—Miho Hatori
Random notebook dump: He also wears the hell out of a bedazzled scarf.