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Dr Octagon - The Many Sides Of Dr Octagon

Author: Cyclone
Friday, 11 January 2008
In recent years hip hop has become very straight-up. But before the alt-rap Gnarls Barkley, Kool Keith, aka Dr Octagon, was entertaining those more adventurous hip hoppers with his madcap funk. He’s dabbled in acid rap, horrorcore and weirdo shit. However, Keith is also one of urban music’s best loved identities. Cyclone talked to the man behind the man (behind the man).

Ask the always inventive MC-cum-producer where he fits into the scheme of urban music and he offers a typically enigmatic response. “Me, I fit everywhere. I’m a part of hip hop. I fit kinda everywhere. I’m part of every scene. I think I fit everywhere.”
A product of The Bronx, he was active in the ol’ skool posse Ultramagnetic MCs, with proto gangsta Tim Dog an unofficial member. When Ultramagnetic finally disintegrated, Keith headed for Cali, signing to Capitol. They shelved his album.
He’d soon realise that majors weren’t for him.
As a solo artist, Keith has baffled listeners and media alike with countless aliases. He’s cultivated his own mythology. It’s impossible to tell fact from fiction. And it’s even more difficult to draw out the ‘real’ Keith Thornton. He’s laid back, yes, and affable, yet anything but effusive. The MC is clearly distracted throughout this interview.  Thornton is drowned out by the sound of bustling domesticity, with one, or more, kids yelling in the background.
The last project of Kool Keith’s to get a big media push here was Diesel Truckers, his collaboration with old ally Kutmasta Kurt.
Thornton could have a darker side. He was reportedly once treated for depression at a psychiatric hospital.
Keith never set out to be willfully eccentric with his music. ”I think I was naturally different. I’m not forcing myself to be different. I guess it was a part of myself, in general, not mostly me trying to do it. It was me myself naturally being who I am.
“People took it in different ways, ’cause I evolved from Ultramagnetic when they had an urban audience, and then my career went into different types of genres. I think I’ve done a show with a mixed crowd, I’ve done a show with all-black people, I’ve done a show with different people from different countries...
“I’m just as confused myself!”
In 2006 Keith revived Dr Octagon – and it is under this handle he is touring with Big Day Out.
Originally liaising with Dan Nakamura, aka The Automator, Keith’s first Dr Octagon album, Dr Octagonecologyst, materialised on James Lavelle’s Mo’ Wax in 1996. Dr Octagon was an alien gyno.
Interestingly, Q-Bert contributed scratches to the off-kilter LP. Keith then allegedly fell out with Nakamura and symbolically bumped off Dr Octagon on First Come, First Served, while introducing Dr Dooom.
Keith says he’s deployed myriad monickers for practical reasons. “I had to manoeuvre around the music industry – honestly. Everything had to change because sometimes I could be stuck in something, so I had to do something to evolve myself out of it.”
Thornton enjoys plotting his videos, building characters through costume.
The Return Of Dr Octagon features production from One Watt Sun, members of which are Australian.
There is another Aussie angle – former Avalancher DJ Dexter is on board.
But Keith was unhappy with the album, which was reworked by his label. He’d initially recorded with Fanatik-J. They didn’t favour his beats. “I wrote the album originally to some beats that I physically rapped on,” he told last year. “They had a problem with Fanatik.
“I got caught up into them taking my vocals off and putting them on other songs.
“In the end, I [didn’t] know how bad they changed the music. I was shocked and surprised, but I just think the audacity of doing it was a little uncommon. They could have called me and let me know. The communication was bad.”
Today Keith is noncommittal as to why he’s resurrected Dr Octagon. “It was never out, basically – it was never ‘back’.”
The Return has, noticeably, no flossy guests, apart from Keith’s chum Princess Superstar. Over the years Keith has won the respect of his peers. The Prodigy sought him for The Fat Of The Land. Yet Princess Superstar is a regular cohort. “She’s a cool person. Personality-wise, she’s a very cool person. It’s just more of a friendship thing when you work with people you know. I took a moment to work with her on a lot of tracks, and we’ve done good things together, so we developed a cool relationship – [it’s] just music. We rhyme on stuff. It’s about knowing a person. She was not just ‘overnight’ – she’s not phoney or nothing. She’s a regular person.”
Keith continues to surprise. In 2007 Ultramagnetic MC’s resurfaced with The Best Kept Secret. What’s he working on now- “I have a couple of albums,” he says. “I have a couple of records that I never got to finish. I definitely work on a lot of tracks. I’m always collaborating. I have little acts that I work with [like the recent Project Polaroid with TomC3]. But I’m working on myself in general, on what I’m gonna do – marketing and stuff.”
Keith doesn’t consider himself ambitious. “I didn’t face too many goals, I’ve just been who I was. My goals to achieve are totally opposite from the music – it’s just [to release] a different music.”
Keith’s listening habits are not what you’d expect, either. “I listen to slow jams, I listen to a lot of slow jams and stuff like that. Slow jams - it mellows my mind out.”
The maverick is keeping details of his Big Day Out slot hush. (Kutmasta Kurt, who’s overseen a new Dr Dooom LP, is accompanying him.) “I plan to bring something different to the table. I’m in a moment of research, but I’m gonna do something totally different.”

WHO: Dr Octagon
WHAT: Plays Big Day Out / The Return of Dr Octagon through Shock
WHEN: Friday 25 January / out now