Master of the Game 

Kool Keith of the no-rule school

Wednesday, Aug 18 1999
KOOL KEITH Black Elvis/Lost in Space (Ruffhouse/Columbia)

Imagine a world where a rap album didn't come chock-full o' stereotypical skits, 187 "special guest" appearances -- 'cause the guy whose name is on the cover couldn't hold his own mama's attention for more than 15 minutes -- crossover-minded pop samples, the words bitches, ho's and fuck, all that laughing gas about keepin' it real, and none of that kozmik yas-yas about universal anything, either. Kool Keith just made that record.

Who? Born Keith Thornton, Kool Keith's career stretches back to the Ultramagnetic MCs, where his delivery of the line "Smack my bitch up" in "Give the Drummer Some" gave Prodigy the germ of a song and a certain amount of controversy. After recording three Ultramagnetic MCs albums for three different labels in six years (1988­93), Keith exploded into the pop consciousness as the psychosexual protagonist of Dr. Octagon's XXX-rated Dr. Octagonecologyst CD. Earlier this year, Keith's latest persona, Dr. Dooom, unleashed the First Come, First Served album, complete with a greazy, burger-in-your-face parody of the glitzy cover art that spells C-L-I-C-H-É these days. Yeah, he's a funny guy -- and so are all those stories about him blowing his advances on lap dances.

For this, his first album under the Kool Keith moniker, the South Bronx rapper drops the sex talk in favor of Old School braggadocio that spotlights his high-speed, staccato flow. Witness his blazing phrasing, dancing in, out and around the drum-machine breakdowns on "Master of the Game," or his equally swift, let-me-spell-it-out-for-you diss on "Maxi Curl." In keeping with the futuristic Afrolistics of the album's title -- although there's only a passing reference to his being the "Black Elvis" -- Keith sets his jet stream of unusual images and offbeat rhymes to some exceptionally minimalistic electronic funk, adding and subtracting layers of cheesy sci-fi sound effects (oceans of reverb, stereo panning, sonic blips, bleeps, squeaks and skronks, filtered voices and control-tower chatter) from one song to the next. The loop of the girl laughing that keeps undercutting the me-so-macho "Keith Turbo" is more atypical, but no less effective.

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"I'm Seein' Robots" (in the form of gold-digging hootchies) and "The Girls Don't Like the Job" ('cause the boss man -- guess who? -- is a tyrant whose schemes include establishing a new NBA team, "the Baldwin Hills Spacemen") are weirder than Spock's beard, but Kool Keith cracks wisest on the industry beat-downs, "Release Date" and "Intro." No joke.

Union 13

"WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC Running With Scissors (Volcano)

Like a defiant accordionist ready to break out of the Palm Springs bar mitzvah circuit, "Weird Al" Yankovic first sauntered onto the scene in 1979 clad in Hawaiian shirts and Vans sneakers. Though he lacked Michael Jackson's chic dance moves, he would storm MTV like a Polish Ricky Martin. His unique career began with "My Bologna" and "Another One Rides the Bus," two hits first heard on Dr. Demento's radio show. Subsequent masterworks included the video to "Smells Like Nirvana"; the Kinks' "Lola," which he turned into "Yoda"; the Devoesque "Dare To Be Stupid"; "I Want a New Duck," his parody of Huey Lewis and the News' "I Want a New Drug"; and "Amish Paradise," his spoof of Coolio's overblown "Gangsta's Paradise."

On his new Running With Scissors, Yankovic's "It's All About the Pentiums," a takeoff on Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins," is among the funniest songs he's ever written. "Paying the bills" with his "mad programming skills," Yankovic boasts, "I'm down with Bill Gates/I call him Money for short/I phone him up at home/and make him do my tech support," and brags, "While your computer's crashin'/mine's multitaskin'/It does all my work without me even askin'/Got a flat-screen monitor 40 inches wide/I believe that yours says Etch-A-Sketch on the side." The surreal opus "Albuquerque" is about snorkels, glazed doughnuts, calligraphy and nothing in particular, while "The Weird Al Show Theme" encompasses Tater Tot farms, vats of sour cream and nasal-decongestant factories.

Though Nine Inch Nails' dark, erotic silliness is ripe for parody, Yankovic's "Germs" isn't pompous enough, while "The Saga Begins" is a straightforward ode to The Phantom Menace set to Don McLean's "American Pie" -- George Lucas liked it, proving it's overly kind and inoffensive. But even when Yankovic misses his mark, which he rarely does, he's still funnier than almost anyone else making records. (Adam Bregman)


UNION 13 Why Are We Destroying Ourselves? (Epitaph)

Since the title of Union 13's sophomore effort is posited in the form of a question, it seems fitting to ask just when exactly did punk rock become a superficial fashion statement, or a knee-jerk series of musical dogmas lacking passion or conviction? While that question may remain unanswered, Union 13 addresses it obliquely with Why Are We Destroying Ourselves?

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