Kool Keith fans are a privileged bunch. Since his early days with legendary Bronx hip hop group Ultramagnetic MC’s, Keith – or one of his countless alter-egos – has cranked out product like a publishing house that specializes in dusted out sci-fi newsletters glazed in bodily fluids before being popped in the mail. Yet even though hip hop heads can continue to count on Keith spoiling them for years to come, they also need to let the maestro indulge a bit and be forgiving of his misguided pet projects (the Tim Dog collaborations and self-produced rush jobs). From Keith’s hiccups arrive great material thereafter, like the Legend Of Tashan Dorrsett – all remixes but enough revamped “newness” to satiate the Keith Kult.
There are four criteria that every Kool Keith project can be judged against. Is the current alter-ego and his accompanying backstory clearly defined? If so would it make a good mini series or at least an interesting rejected TV pilot? How consistent is the production as it pertains to the aforementioned story and character? How filthy, spacey, and bizarre are the rhymes? (Whether they actually “rhyme” isn’t important.) How memorable are the references to regional fast food chains, C-level celebrities, pop culture ephemera and medium-sized American cities?
Use this criteria and you have post-Ultramagnetic masterpieces like 1996’s Dr. Octagon, “the paramedic fetus of the east” who received a backdrop of Dan the Automator’s clogged drainpipe beats so that he could lay down rhymes about “chimpanzee acne,” “transvestites,” “space parasites” and “orangoutangs tappin’ on windows.” Or Dr. Octagon’s murderer Dr. Dooom which from start to finish was just as much about Kutmasta Kurt’s cosmic funk as it was about “frustrating rectums on the night flight” and putting “rappers with panty liners, who rent cars with no recliners” in their place.
A recent alter-ego / project that fell way short of premium Keith was 2009’s Tashan Dorrsett, described by the man himself as “a reality person from New York… with an image of being real and regular, dealing with daily life situations.” (If by “regular New York” you mean “selling bones on Ebay when you’re stuck on the West Side Highway”)
Fast forward to 2011 and Tashan Dorrsett returns with nothing but remixes in the Legend of Tashan Darrsett. Fans can rejoice that Keith’s “regular” New York dude has had his previous plodding electro cha-cha snoozefest exchanged for some New York head-nodders crafted by some of The Big Apple’s best. The Ultramagnetic MC finally gets some Juice Crew bounce on Marley Marl’s take on “Supa Supreme.” Coming off producing last year’s strongest Canibus track, Domingo once again proves with remixes of the title track and “Black Lagoon” that straight down the middle bangers elevate the game of lyricists who prefer to stay lost in space. Even Purple City’s Agallah Don Bishop gives “Above The Sea Level” an underwater remake with gurgling synths straight out of a 1970’s Goblin soundtrack.
While The Legend of Tashan… is a remarkable anomaly of a remix album that pretty much slays its original in all regards, it still has its missteps and letdowns. Keith shares tracks best with other larger than life emcees or rappers with at least an equally idiosyncratic worldview (MF Doom, Motion Man, Prince Po). On The Legend the guest shots feel tacked on and oddly prudish. How can you have Marc Live follow Keith’s riffing on piss, nitroglycerine and Quiznos with a story about banging a model after a night of clubbing? And while the Ced Gee and TR Love contributions on Tashan’s remix album are an improvement from 2007’s Ultramagnetic reunion “Best Kept Secret,” they still keep us waiting for the real return of The Horsemen .
Some artists make a habit of letting fans down and making them wait years before redeeming themselves. Then there are artists like Kool Keith. Give the halfsharkhalfalligatorhalfman a few months and before you can say “green elephants” he’ll have you back in his orbit.