DR. OCTAGON with SPANK ROCK at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (October 6), 10 pm. $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The extraterrestrial weirdness evident in rapper Kool Keith's abstract rhymes has never been confined to his recordings, so it's not surprising to learn there were some unexpected twists and turns - and an unscheduled detour - over the past decade on the way to completing the follow-up to 96's classic Dr. Octagon debut, Dr. Octagonecologyst (Bulk).
But even by Kool Keith's standards of strangeness, the process that led to the recent appearance of The Return Of Dr. Octagon on the OCD International imprint, a subsidiary of country label CMH, is as bizarre as it gets.
You've probably heard horror stories about artists submitting finished albums, only to have the label return them to be re-recorded. In some cases, the albums get shelved indefinitely. Well, Keith's troubling, Kafkaesque tale is bound to have musicians worrying like crazy about that little remix rights clause in their phonebook-sized recording contract.
Though Kool Keith thought he'd finished The Return Of Dr. Octagon back in 2002, his label had other ideas. The new disc credits the funky disco-dented music as being written, produced and performed by German production trio One Watt Sun, whom Kool Keith claims he's never met.
"Four years ago, I did some recording with this producer/guitarist Fanatik-J, who was going for a rock-type sound," recalls Kool Keith while munching on some chips. "But he had some differences with the record label, and some lawyers got involved. I didn't hear anything more about [the recording] for a couple of years, when I found out the label had sold it or transferred ownership to another entity. That's where those One Watt Sun guys came in to create the music around what I originally rapped. They did that stuff in Germany and Australia, and I had no control. I'm not gonna lie - I didn't do any production at all."
As fucked up as it may seem, The Return Of Dr. Octagon, while nowhere near as sonically adventurous as the Automator-tweaked Dr. Octagonecologyst, isn't quite the "strawberry beats" disaster it could've been. The One Watt Sun boys, who appear on the CD's inner sleeve wearing identity-concealing masks, come up with funky dance grooves that may sound unusual for a contemporary hiphop recording, but a few tracks may actually do some dance floor business - notably Ants, which benefits from the deft touch of the Avalanches' DJ Dexter.
Kool Keith's twisted flow seems more focused than in recent years. Trees could be the first hiphop jam to drive home the catastrophic effects of global warming, a fact that's been overlooked amidst the controversy surrounding album's production.
"I can sometimes write very sensitively about the important issues of the day. Somebody at the label asked me to do a song about trees, so that's what I did, a song about how the trees are dying. I've got all types of different songs. I'm constantly writing new stuff, and I'm a very fast writer, so by the time the audience hear what they think is my latest shit, I might already have a couple more albums' worth of material ready to go."
All those new ideas rattling around his brain must make trying to recall the densely packed rhymes he wrote a decade earlier an enormous challenge over the course of a 90-minute set. Plus, being Kool Keith, he's got the pressure each tour of coming up with more outrageous stagewear and the appropriate antics to go with it.
"I think I'm unfairly judged by my appearance," Kool Keith protests. "Critics seem to have a big magnifying glass on me, like, 'Why isn't he wearing the Elvis wig tonight?' I've seen Moby onstage in a Hanes T-shirt and Wranglers. How creative is that? But everybody leaves his shows saying, 'Ooh, wasn't Moby phenomenal?'
"I'm an established artist now. Do I really need to jump around in a Barney suit for people to have a good time? Why can't I just be who I am?"