Kool Keith is a national treasure, unquestionably chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of outsider rap.
You may know him as a member of Ultramagnetic MCs or via gonzo monikers Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, Keith Korg or Number One Producer. His oeuvre is a shrine to ersatz free association and sci-fi sexual phantasmagoria, and his influential shadow has loomed long over several generations of musicians who lean left of center. Kool Keith makes Lil B look like Lil' Bow Wow. Although he's lived most of his life in New York, his most iconic albums – Sex Style and Dr. Octagonecologyst – were cut or conceived in Los Angeles.
In 2000, Keith joined forces with Ice-T, Black Silver, Marc Live and Pimp Rex to lay down a record called Pimp to Eat as Analog Brothers. Produced in L.A., Pimp to Eat was originally part of a limited run, but it was reissued this week via Mello Music Group. Keith also has a new solo album, Tashan Dorrsett – The Preacher, due out July 29 on Junkadelic Music.
I spoke with Keith via his home in the Bronx about compressing your identity into a cellphone, how New York has become a city full of sick people and babies, and high-tech, warp-speed raps.
Why did you think this was worthwhile to re-press this Analog Brothers record?
It’s an album that a lot of people didn’t get then. The distribution back then was different. It’s still basically a brand-new record.
Do you have fond memories of making this record?
Yeah. You know, it was kind of put together with all different kinds of rappers. We went up to Ice’s house, and we did it. It was an enjoyable project, then it started getting serious. Then we made it into an album. It was competitive when we wrote the verses. It was like a verse competition album. Then it turned into a project.
Everybody was rappin' futuristic, even Ice. Everybody came into a different element for the album. Everybody who was used to rapping their normal way made a change. It made everybody go out of their character for a moment. Even Black Silver was more space. At that time I was working on Sex Style, I think. I had been doing Dr. Octagon, Black Elvis, Sex Style. I had no problem going into the element of [Analog Brothers]. You know the element of that album?
What is that element?
For everybody that’s rapping in warp speed … warp speed … warp speed … warp speed thought. That album is about warp speed thought. It’s beyond what every rapper is saying, basically.
Do you have a favorite line from that record?
Warp speed, warp speed to run that ass. Penal code. You know? Stuff we was saying: warp speed, penal codes … bar codes. Swipe that ass like barcodes, you know? Everyone was rapping very high-tech. High-tech. High-tech. The lyrics were ahead of its time.
On the album cover, I know there’s that blurred-out Trix Rabbit. Do you still eat a lot of cereal?
When I was growing up, everybody had all the different cereals, you know Quisp and Cap'n Crunch and all those cereals. Tripped-out boxes. I used to trip out on the boxes. Of course, all that stuff is just psychedelic. Psychedelic.
Do people come up to you and quote your lyrics back to you a lot?
“Earth People.” They’ll be like “Earth People, New York to California.” They’ll say a line off that. “My 7XL is not yet invented.”
Do you use the internet much?
I’ll check out stuff on there. But I’m basically not trying to live through it. I like to live through lives, people, meeting in the real world. I don’t want to think music is all the way through the computer. People are totally into the websites, the phone websites, the website for writing, websites in the studio. I need to go outside to get some natural ideas.
Where do you find inspiration?
Just walkin'. I had a conversation with somebody about unique consciousness of what’s going on right now. You know, a lot of rappers travel. You might have been around the world, but you really didn’t go around the world. You maybe stayed in a hotel every time you went to a city. I was touring with DJ Spooky one time. Every city he gets to, he gets off the tour bus and takes a walk to wherever. He doesn’t go straight to the hotel.
I don’t care where I go. It could be Rome, Spain, France, New York, California … I’ll leave the room and find out what the city is. Some rappers and entertainers stay in the room and look out the window. In their minds, they think they went somewhere. You flew to another city, but you stayed at a Sheraton hotel. I tend to go out and feel out the city, the environment. I have some documentation. Then I could go home and write about the experiences.
As you get older, do you party less?
I like to party, but the socialism is kinda down. If you go out, people are so in one little tiny circle now, like they’re inverted. People don’t really meet as much. A lot of people submit to [the idea that] your phone is your life. Everybody’s taking a selfie at a big giant party. It’s kinda compressed into a small world. They have a small world.
People go out, but socialism has to expand. That’s the thing that makes you wanna stay at home now, because everybody’s level is set to zero. I meet all kinds of interesting people, but they don’t have a high level of communication going on. People are made into a telephone, which controls your life. You compress your whole life into this thing.
Is Dr. Octagon ever coming back? Will he be releasing more material in the future?
Octagon? Octagon, you may hear him again. You might, yeah, maybe.
Are you and the other MCs from Analog like Ice-T, Black Silver and Pimp Rex still buddies?
I still speak to everybody. Hopefully we can do something for the [rerelease] or getting together again on that project. Or a video, with the full potential. Of course.
You've made a lot of videos over the years.
I have my videos. All my videos. I just made a video, ”United.” I have my favorite videos: “Strip Club Husband,” “Las Vegas,” “What Your Life Like?” I have another video coming out called “Rolls Royce White.” I got a video called “Woman You the Best,” “Shopping at the Mall,” “Staples Center,” “Water Fountain.” These are videos that we keep workin’.
A lot of people are so slow with all this technology, they don’t even know what’s going on.
Is there too much noise out there? Too much content?
I don’t know. People need to be a little more currently educational. I think that’s only in New York. New York is improperly fed with the information. So they’re used to being spoonfed whatever’s hot. They don’t take time to browse around and see what’s in the store. They’re gonna buy what the dummy has on in the window.
That’s the way it is musically. People don’t have time no more to see what the real thing is.
“New York lost its identity. In L.A.
Do you think New York is having trouble maintaining any sort of vibe from when you grew up?
New York lost its identity. In L.A., you guys still have a culture, you know? You don’t run away from your culture. Y’all will still make something current. New York doesn’t do that. It’s trying to be another city. If you close your eyes and walk around the Bronx or Manhattan, you think you’re in Atlanta. No disrespect to Atlanta, which is a great city. A lot of people from New York have moved down there. But I think New York lost its originality.
Why is that?
Everybody jumped on the bandwagon of other places. New York doesn’t have its own originality anymore, as far as people and culture. There’s no cultural leadership.
And then the nightlife. People going to bed in the summertime at 7:30. New York used to have great nightlife. New York City should be an adult city. When Giuliani dumbed down 42nd Street and made it Disney World, he took the life out the core of the city — the apple core. He took the adult life out of New York. The adult life turned into a nerdish kind of city. People go home, go to bed. Generic people move here. All the people who came from the generic cities and wanted to be Betty Boop and become a hippie and play the guitar and go to bed early.
New York is now a baby city for everybody to have a baby in. Instead of having a city that is versatile: a city that has time for children, for adults, for music, for nightlife, staying up late, dressing exotic, everything … lingerie nights for ladies and pin the tail on the donkey for the kids. You can’t just do one thing. The whole city turned boring. Everybody has to be a nurse because it’s bad to be a stripper, you know?
Have you thought of moving out of New York?
I travel, so it doesn’t bother me. Imagine a person who’s stuck in [the city]. I’m in Florida. I’m in Rome. I’m in L.A. Other cities have children, and that’s cool. But it’s not bad to be an adult in these cities. To walk into a porn shop and look at a magazine isn’t a crime in other cities. But New Yorkers are looking to have a baby, read a pamphlet, get an apartment. New York sexual life is for money.
[pullquote-2]You’ve got people that are 25 who have [walking] canes. In New York people have a cane. You can’t have a nightlife if people can’t dance. You’ve got all this bad food. All the different races are in bad health. Your average guy or girl from 25 to 30 has a cane. You can’t put lingerie on and walk to the bed with a cane. It’s really bad. New York is overpopulated with sick and boring people.
Jobs don’t make you look good, either. I’m doing some real political talk here, haha. Look at New York Transit workers. They’ve got good jobs. They drive the trains, the buses. They work at Port Authority, airport. For 99 percent of those people, once they get those jobs, they have the poorest health. They have the best benefits at those jobs. But they look the worst. You just drive the train and eat Burger King all day, you eat waffles, you eat two Big Macs every time you get off the bus, you eat two Big Macs every time the train stops, you eat about five Big Macs a day. It’s bad eating habits.
What’s your diet all about?
I walk and sweat. People are so used to riding the elevator up, the escalators. They’ll eat three Big Macs and not take a walk. I drink water, seltzer. I get a few french fries here and there. I eat a lot of salad.
What about fruits and vegetables?
Yeah. If I could put a secret camera in my pocket and film myself at the supermarket, it would just be everybody with Chips Ahoy! piling up to the ceiling. Four or five big cargo bags of rice. Enough to feed a bear. A bear. Bears!
You’ve got all these people with chocolate chip cookies and nonsense … de Blasio is like having no mayor. At least with Bloomberg you felt like you had a mayor. With [de Blasio], you feel like you’re living in The Purge. He has no significance as a mayor. You don’t even know that he’s the mayor. You could have 50 cops get shot in New York. And he would say, “This stuff has gotta stop.” And then it’ll happen again. He’s not gonna go to Smith & Wesson and tell them to stop making guns. He’ll go back home in his suit and come back tomorrow. At least Bloomberg had some kind of solutions. This guy has no solutions at all. How did he get into office? It’s like he don’t exist. I don’t even think he takes walks.
What about the president?
Whoever becomes president needs to make some adjustments. Instead of giving money to buy junk food, they should be buying vegetables. The only thing you should be able to swipe is vegetables. Half of the people today can’t party because they need a new kneecap or something.