Keith Thornton, in all his guises, has played a monumental role in the world of hip-hop for over twenty years. From ego trippin’ Ultramagnetic MC, Kool Keith, to time-travelling gynaecologist, Dr. Octagon, and even collaborating with Prodigy on The Fat of The Land, this veteran has seen it all. Circling the globe to relive his famous Dr. Octagonecologyst solo debut, Dr. Octagon takes time out with ACCLAIM to discuss hip-hop in the eighties, the Smack My Bitch Up controversy and saying goodbye to rap forever.
The spectrum of music’s alter-egos span Ziggy Stardust, Sgt. Pepper, Slim Shady, Hannah Montana, Harajuku Barbie and Lady Gaga. Where does Dr. Octagon fit?
I’m in the middle of all of it.
You journey to Australia to perform Dr. Octagonecologyst in its entirety. Can you explain the processes that initiated the tour? Any trepidation?
The guy behind it is named Gareth. He hit me with the idea and I thought it would be dope to give the fans something they have been asking for for years. As long as I have my curtains over my head I don’t get nervous or doubts. I’m excited. I won’t perform this again so fans must come and experience this.
The album was your solo debut and has forever been acknowledged as a record unlike any other. What is it about the album that continues to attract such widespread recognition?
It was different and way before its time. I wanted to take the listener on a weird journey.
Was combining Dr. Octagon, Dan ‘The Automator’ Nakamura, DJ Qbert and Kutmasta Kurt creative fortune or meticulous planning? Looking back, it was one hell of a team.
I would say meticulous planning. Hard to repeat that.
How are you likely to present that eclectic mix live on stage?
I’ve always had a team behind the scenes to help create dope, hour or more, sets. Tell your readers to bring the camera phones and take pictures of history.
Fans, artists and critics have given notable reference to the production value of the record as well as the more traditional hip-hop elements incorporated within. Where does the credit for its uniqueness truly lie?
In myself. Basically.
Dr. Octagonecologyst impacted early trip hop and electronica, especially in the U.K. How does it feel to know that it’s not just Kool Keith’s influence that will stand the test of time?
I always stay light years ahead but it feels good to know that many artists all over the world took the influence of Dr. Octagon to another level.
We’re interested in knowing what drives your numerous alter-egos and the music they spawn. Does the music drive the narrative or are the characters and plot lines pre-conceived before the record button is pushed?
Sometimes it’s the music that gets me in the creative zone and gives me my out of body experience to become someone.
Surely there were some interesting creative influences when it was time for Dr. Octagon to bring his intergalactic clinical prowess to planet Earth. What inspired you during that period?
I watched many sci-fi films during that period.
Kool Keith and the Ultramagnetic MCs made their presence known as early as 1986 with tracks such as Ego Trippin’, they were precursors to a magical era of rap. Describe that period for you and your crew.
We were stars. Felt good at that time. Limousines, girls, money, hit songs. Felt good.
How realistic was the possibility of having a life-long musical career back then? Were you optimistic?
I knew it could happen. Me and Ced use to wake up early mornings searching for deals, so we knew what it would take to have longevity.
Give the Drummer Some is an outright classic. The Prodigy teamed up with you for Smack My Bitch Up, a song which prompted the Beastie Boys to request they avoid performing it during Reading Festival 1998. Do lyrical sentiments such as you’re ‘smack my bitch up like a pimp’ deserve to be challenged?
There are much worse songs than that, so no. RIP MCA.
Kool Keith recently performed at SXSW and released the album, Love and Danger. It ends with a very direct ‘final salute’ with Goodbye Rap. Which direction do you see your musical journey taking?
The way I feel now, I’ll do music I produce, but with major projects, I’m done.
Hip-hop continues to evolve like all cultures and art forms. Who do you see making the greatest contributions to its future?
The younger kids today are creating their own styles that don’t have to be accepted by hi-hop’s imaginary critics. They’re breaking the rules in a dope way. Some people get mad when I bring out new shit but I don’t give a fuck.
With so many personas and a prolific recording history, what’s Keith Thornton’s proudest musical moments?
Making my own records. Music I produce. I got tons of records that I never put out.