Nogatco Rd.

Artist: Mr. Nogatco aka Kool KeithTitle: Nogatco Rd.Rating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Michael Pollock

In the 10 years since he found breakthrough success with Dr. Octagon, his masterful collaboration with Dan the Automator, Kool Keith has seemed bent on obscurity. He’s dodged would-be followers with a rap sheet of head-scratching alter egos and released one-off records on independent labels that appease hardcore fans only (if even they can find his CDs). But with Nogatco Rd. (Insomniac), Keith is finally acknowledging the project that birthed the second leg of his career. And the results, though a bit mixed, are a welcome reminder of his cracked-out charm and impeccable taste in beats.

Under the guise Mr. Nogatco (that’s Octagon spelled backwards), Keith plays a covert operations researcher investigating extraterrestrial life on Earth but who may actually be an alien himself. Who knows how he pitches this stuff to record labels with a straight face, but that’s not really the point. Backed by producer Iz-Real (who oversaw MF Doom’s Venomous Villain album) and a plate of sound that wriggles and crawls like a comic book come to life, Keith spins yarns about astronauts and alternate galaxies with indifference and a super-inflated vocabulary, busting out ridiculous quotables like, “Aliens’ vertebrates, line up for more than four/Broccoli, rice, my index book/Biochemical gloves with Chinese food sitting on the floor,” from “Celestial,” before getting serious one track later with “I’ll continue, my quest for the top words/‘Parental Advisory’ made me a big curser / I only got better, critics thought my career got worser/Creating the stuff no rapper [had] even done/Twenty guys in one,” from “Alpha Omega.” (Like all Keith’s concept albums, the theme doesn’t hold up for too long.)

It takes some sifting to find the better moments (the amazing bubble-ride of “Capture (Back to Me)” being the best), and it starts by skipping the first three tracks, none of them carrying the impact of later songs like “Dark Space,” with its late-night sci-fi movie backdrop, or the above-mentioned “Alpha Omega,” where Iz-Real channels RZA-flavored kung-fu finger-picking while Keith manhandles the beat and compares his previous role in Ultramagnetic to that of Bobby Brown in New Edition. Yeah, it’s a weird stretch, but behind Keith’s oblivious swagger, it’s somehow okay.