Rap's Rogue Gynecologist Dr. Octagon Is Back From Outer Space
After 22 years and with the help of collaborators Qbert and Dan the Automator, Kool Keith has again donned the Dr. Octagon persona for a new album.
Kool Keith is sipping a cup of chamomile tea at Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters while talking about the time he delivered Lady Gaga's baby on board a private jet. Of course, this incident might not have actually happened—but it’s the sort of shenanigan that plays a part in the off-kilter adventures of Dr. Octagon, the sci-fi-styled rogue gynecologist character that Keith, who’s renowned as a cult hip-hop eccentric, created back in the mid-'90s. Assisted by Dan The Automator's deft production and DJ Qbert's scratch wizardry, 1996's Dr. Octagonecologyst album became a fan favorite with its mix of eerie, cinematic beats and lyrics that fused abstract braggadocio lines with references to curious medical conditions like, say, suffering a pesky case of bees buzzing around the rectum. Now the trio has updated the formula for Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation.
"Dr. Octagon took a hiatus for a good point," says Keith, dressed in vivid red corduroy trousers, hefty black boots and a chunky knit Cleveland Cavaliers hat. Addressing the 22 year wait between albums, he says “it’s pretty great because we were so far ahead of our time on that first album.” He’s flanked by Qbert, who’s also drinking tea, while pointing out that this second installment of the Dr. Octagon chronicles “is the same world but expanded to a bigger universe.” While the two of them wait on Dan The Automator, who's running late due to sound-checking duties before a show, they joke that the producer is a chronic hoarder. "He collects lingerie for himself, that's a different side to him," says Qbert, before Keith claims that Automator's San Francisco studio, where they recorded the new album, is home to precisely 3,600 synthesizers. "If he comes in here,” Keith says, motioning around the room, “he'll take anything that looks like a keyboard and take it back home with him.”
When Dan The Automator arrives, he reclines back into a chair and explains that despite the off-kilter aura of Dr. Octagon projects, reuniting for a new album was a smooth process. "I know everyone thinks Keith is wild but he's actually very focussed when we work," he says, adding only that a series of ‘90s porn DVDs began showing up at the studio in tandem with Keith’s visits. "With him, everything is flowing, it flows off the pen, it flows off the rhyme and then it's either good or rejected; there's nothing else, there's no in between. So we can do a lot because we don't stop and correct verses—a verse falls apart when you start to do that, I've learned over the years."
Like its predecessor, Moosebumps creates a universe that seems both futuristic (it's set in the year 3000) and also anchored to the present day. The base comes from Dan The Automator's production, which pulls together drum lines studded with the rugged grit of late-'80s breakbeat-based hip-hop with freakish, spacey synth lines. “Bear Witness IV,” from Moosebumps, sounds like someone broadcasting Uptown’s golden era party starter “Dope On Plastic” from the moon, especially when Qbert enhances the booming beat with warp speed scratches. Over these evocative musical backdrops, Keith’s lyrics start time traveling, taking present day objects and references and propelling them forward into a futuristic fantasy realm.
The new album opens with newspaper reports of Dr. Octagon having gone crazy after amassing a universe-wide brand empire that includes, as Keith puts it, "a frenzy of everything: Octagon tea, Octagon coffee, Octagon cake, Octagon strawberries, Octagon shoes, Octagon ties, it could have went all kinds of ways." (When Qbert suggests he'd like to see an Octagon-branded vibrator "for my friend's wife," Keith inquires, very seriously, "That sounds like a cuckold or something. You do cuckolds?") Moosebumps quickly proceeds to detail Dr. Octagon embarking on missions to places like "Area 54," where Keith invokes his "space dialect" to paint a world populated by both dinosaurs and flying saucers, and "3030 Meets The Doc Pt. 1," which unites the Dr. Octagon and Deltron 3030 worlds with a cameo from Del The Funky Homosapien. As they meet in Octagon’s lab, the Deltron character compliments his host for the way “your scientific discoveries are legendary.”
This faith in the promise of worlds far beyond Earth unites Dr. Octagon’s protagonists. Keith and Qbert both say they believe in the existence of alien life forms. After talking about how he witnessed "three dots and they just started spinning and they went up into outer space" five years ago in a locale just outside San Francisco, Qbert suggests the government is "hiding all the UFO stuff all because of free energy. If people knew about UFOs they'd be like, "How did they get here?" That's the free energy the government's trying to keep from us." For his part, Keith says, "I've seen weird spaceships flying around in the sky but no one will ever believe me." That may be so on Earth—but when these thoughts and theories are presented through the lens of Dr. Octagon, they convey a believable, almost cartoon-styled world.
"I have unlimited writing fantasies," says Keith, swilling the tea bag around in his mug while summing up the way he’s become known for creating these fantastical hip-hop scenarios. "They stretch like bubblegum. I don't mind making people be like, "Damn, did he just say that?" I've been a daring paragraph writer for years."
'Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation' is out now.
Phillip Mlynar is a writer in NYC. He considers himself the world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. His work has appeared in Deadspin, NYLON, RBMA and Catster. You can find him on Twitter.