“I have no limitations.” Kool Keith reflects on a life of roleplay and why you should never rap about cupcakes
Kool Keith is a legendary rapper and founding member of the Ultramagnetic MCs. His voice is instantly recognisable, and has been frequently sampled in mainstream hits by the likes of The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers.
A larger-than-life character who draws his inspiration from the P-Funk era, comic book superheroes and Blowfly’s 70s sex rapping, he’s kept a relatively low profile since the release of his enduringly popular abstract opus Dr Octagon, and subsequent spin-off projects Dr Dooom, Black Elvis, Analog Brothers and Masters Of Illusion to name a few. Keith remains a cult figure amongst hip-hop fans – there’s a familiarity and cartoonish uniqueness to his flow that the years haven’t weathered, and his worldview is truly unique – check the recent video of him rambling about his love of bottled water, aka ’98 Year Old Refrigerator’ for an insight into how lovably nuts this man truly is.
Keith recently popped up for a couple of verses and a brilliant duet with Roc Marciano on the underrated LUV NY album, so FACT seized the chance to have a chat about the life, times and state of mind of this mighty Octagynaecologist. The conversation lasted an hour, as Keith wandered the streets of New York, lecturing down the phone like Kenny Powers dictating his memoirs, explaining why you should never rap about cupcakes, and how psychogeography is at the philosophical core of all great hip-hop music.
“Hi, I’m in New York.”
What are you doing right now?
“I’m just working on records, recording.”
Like you did on this LUV NY project?
“Oh yeah, that’s just a project, you know, with Ray West, OC and AG from DITC, and various other artists. I just provide some verses, and stuff, on one song. It was a pretty good project to do with them. Kurious, Roc Marciano, a variety of different rappers man. Just a Bronx line-up, rappers from the area. It was a pretty cool thing.”
Do you think it’s a good time to be bringing the New York crew back together like that on a record? Some would call that a quality old school line-up.
“Yeah man, it unites rappers. Keeps them from.. [off mike 'Yo you wanna get something to eat? Some pizza slices?'. Sound of car horn in background.] .. You know it keeps everybody sharp. It’s like lyrical sparring, and that’s one thing that I’ve been doing with my team, of course. Not with LUV NY necessarily, but with my record and my guys I work with personally, we always have lyrical gym workouts. Everybody got different gems so we work on different projects. Know what I’m sayin’?”
Did you do any of the production on the record?
“No, no, they did it, I didn’t do much production. It’s a jump off record with different songs by different people. Different artists, changing up the pace.”
“Oh, the funk stuff I liked back in the day? Yeah those were my influences, those were the records I grew up on. [sound of motorbike speeding off] That’s what led to me making records, inspired my music. [sound of hip-hop played through boombox, possibly in park. Keith has off-mike discussion]. The funk records were there for me.
I’m just trying to explore that theme about you, you know…you’re always playing a funky space character, no matter what the record is, whether Dr Octagon, Black Elvis or Dr Doooom. I was wondering if it all goes back to P-Funk, and the mothership connection.
“Well, you know, when I work with other people I can’t be myself, that’s something completely different. I play roles.”
So what happens at the lyrical gym workout? Who are you training?
“I’m working with a guy called Metropolis, different artists, different rappers.” [lengthy police siren in background. Keith is eating pizza slices and largely inaudible].
I’m trying to understand your lifestyle right now.
“What kind of image I’m in?”
Maybe more like what kind of zone you’re in I guess. What kind of space you’re in, mentally.
“I’m doing all kinds of beats. I’m into brand new sounds. Un-regular type of samples that I never thought I would work on. Stuff like that.”
You’ve always been into doing something different, right?
“I’m uncompromising, you know how it is. Working with Ray is different to working with Prince Paul to working with Kutmaster Kurt to working with Dan the Automator to… It’s all different. This is it, as an artist you often work on other stuff instead of your own stuff.” [more loud police siren]
“Yeah, but I was talking about this to Kurt the other day.. When we did ‘Sex Style’, that was then, maybe you can’t do that stuff no more. A lot of producers evolve from an album that they used to do, or a certain sound that they used to do. People try to compromise or do something away from the edgy sounds. Make something mellow, that will catch on to a different or bigger audience, you know. I never compromise on my own stuff.”
Use arrow keys to turn pages (page 1/3)