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Article Jul 27 2017 Written by

Honoring The Best Hip Hop LP’s: Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst

324-1996

Signaling the end of populist Hip Hop and shortsighted coastal rivalries, Dr. Octagonecologyst merged East Coast lyricism and West Coast experimentation, manufacturing an immersive, nebulous atmosphere built from the spare parts of splatter horror cinema, moody electronica and turntable work as staggering and vertiginous as a swarm of locusts. The hallucinatory effect of “Kool” Keith Thornton’s oblique lyrical universe rivals the full-body assault of psychotropic drug use, vivid and transcendental in its ability to burnish a cartoon character (the eponymous Dr. Octagon) into a frighteningly misanthropic and palpable antithesis to literal-minded art.

Conceptually, Thornton intends to merge futurism with a base carnality, twisting unnatural, oft-vulgar word pairings into catchy snatches of technobabble. His speed varies in relation to the content, slow and lumbering when building tension and blisteringly quick when rifling off bits of jargon or playing games of free association (“Equator ex my chance to flex skills on Ampex”). A predilection for the illogical also imparts Keith’s writing with a lively, adolescent humor, brimming with acid-tinged celebrity gibes (“gerbils for rectums, I’ll break you off like Richard Gere”) and a synesthete’s perception of color. Transference between the author and his fictional counterpart has also allowed an obsessive hypochondria and boundless libido to dictate the direction of the narrative, resulting in an unsettling paranoia and compulsiveness that contradicts hip-hop’s passion for inviolable fortitude.

Dr. Octagon’s sexuality reflects the mechanical, impersonal nature of pornography, focusing on body parts solely for their carnal function or capacity for modification. References to circumcision, insertion and butt play abound, though the vagina is suspiciously left out of the festivities, that is, unless it’s in relation to a yeast infection. This sexual arrested development seems to fit the character’s proclivity for anti-social, brutish behavior, merging the compulsive recklessness of a lunatic and the rambunctiousness of a child.

“I’m Destructive” could have been scrawled on a bathroom wall by a hyperactive 10-year-old. Recoil in horror or chuckle in disbelief as Dr. Octagon revels in the mischief of feeding a baby a stick of Bubble Yum and decapitating a parakeet with a pair of scissors. Keith can’t even help himself from snickering at some of the more absurd passages, cracking up at the utterance of “baboon with buffalo wings” during a lengthy stretch of tasteless zoophilia. Indulgent or not, these explicit illustrations are accessories to the performance and Keith has managed to impart nuance and ingenuity, morphing an archetypal horror villain into a three-dimensional character.

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Constructing the laboratory for Keith’s mad scientist, Dan the Automator (nee Dan Nakamura) repackages the clichéd bits of sci-fi cinema into brainwashing, tonal soundscapes. His propensity for Moog keyboard and live bass result in chilly, nocturnal grooves replete with disembodied screams of pleasure and pain and indecipherable electronic whirr. Looped tones and zombified keys lie behind Keith’s vocals like an airy breath of wind, as textural and wrapped in all-encompassing echo as the ambient work of Tetsu Inoue, but frequently broken free from the shell of repetition for aerobic blasts of drum machine and piquant touches of industrial clatter. It’s the startling nature of these shifts in pace that spawns an overwhelming uneasiness, evoking images of darkened hallways and menacing prowlers.

“Blue Flowers” gurgles like stomach acid, churning through waves of coiled synth and lurking bass pluck, subtly contrasted in pitch by a violin passage on pins and needles. The chipped funk lick is brusque enough to be a suggestion, as are the cadaverous, indiscernible backing vocals, which waver between speakers and fade out like a lost radio transmission. Keith’s vocals are just as cryptic and at a glacial pace, but far less delicate, marrying medical fetishism with a psychopath’s delusions of grandeur. Aligning his experiments to a religious rite and mirroring the dehumanizing viciousness of the Schutzstaffel, Dr. Octagon’s procedures befit his lust for power and sexual dominance, often resulting in regurgitated bodily fluids, accidental organ removal and streams of yellow rain.

Maintaining the nauseating leitmotif, DJ Qbert consummates the track with an unsettling segue of record evisceration, dizzying in its rapid-fire sonic depiction of tortured squeals and death rattles. The result is asymmetrical and divisive, nearly as provocative as the lyrical content, striking a rather uncomfortable balance between B-movie camp and shocking, sexualized violence. It’s a corrupt concept, morally speaking, but artistically fruitful, particularly in the “magical realism” of transporting vivid depictions of murder and degradation into a world that was secure in making vague implications. It’s through this disparity that Dr. Octagonecologyst transcends the alter-ego side project and gallantry of comic books and becomes dangerous, transgressive art.

Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst was ranked #5 on Matt Deapo‘s Hip Hop Top 50, a ranking of 50 of the best Hip Hop albums recorded between 1978 and 2006, based on this consideration and these rules.

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Matthew Deapo is a Philadelphia-based arts critic and founding writer for Hip Hop Top 50 (hiphoptop50.blogspot.com) and Kinetoscope Film Journal (www.kinetoscope.org). His essay on Awesome Dré was recently included…

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