The AHH Interview: Kool Keith on "Critical Beatdown," Sex Raps, Eminem, and More


(AllHipHop Features) Kool Keith has staying power. He burst onto the scene in 1988 with the Ultramagnetic MCs, and they dropped their classic debut, Critical Beatdown. While many rappers from the Golden Age remain defined by their work from that era, Kool Keith proved to be an exception and successfully built on his legacy in the years that followed. In the mid-90’s, he even reintroduced himself to listeners as the perverted and demented Dr. Octagon. He has since continued to release material under a variety of aliases and grow a strong following below the contemporary mainstream radar. However, his influence in Hip-Hop, as a solo artist and a member the Ultramagnetic MCs, can clearly be seen in the work of others.

On Halloween night, at 1:30 in the morning at a restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kool Keith chopped it up with about, among other things, the legacy of Critical Beatdown, X-rated rhymes, and getting a shout-out from Eminem recently on his Rihanna-assisted hit “The Monster.”

Whether he’s Dr. Octagon, Black Elvis, or Dr. Dooom, Kool Keith is one of a kind. And in a culture like Hip-Hop where so much is sampled and reinvented, it’s great to see someone like Kool Keith continue to be embraced for being the true original that he is. Congrats on the 25 anniversary of Critical Beatdown. What do you think the most enduring part of that classic album’s legacy is?

Kool Keith: With that album, we went to Europe and toured. You mean recently or just in the past? Just in general, as a whole. Why do you think people are still talking about that album 25 years later?

Kool Keith: It was a different album. And it was unique, the way we [the Ultramagnetic MC’s] laid the tracks down. I mean we came out in the Golden Age of course. Hip-Hop culture moves at warp speed sometimes. You, however, have stayed relevant. What is the secret to longevity?

Kool Keith: Staying young, not looking old, and not calling yourself a “legend.” You’ve also got to stay with the musical times. Have you found it difficult to adapt over the years or is that something that has just come naturally?

Kool Keith: Nah, it’s never been difficult at all. Now jumping into your sexualized raps, how do you think that rappers who came after you did making those types of songs?

Kool Keith: I did it in a lyrical way. They did it in a fun way, but some people made it kind of gross. They took it too far. I did it in a sensuous way, and they turned it into an abusive way. Okay, clear up the rumor once and for all. Did you write the whole first Dr. Octagon album in one night while on acid?

Kool Keith: I wasn’t on acid. I wrote that album one night while I was staying in San Francisco. I was walking on Market Street during the day time and working on the album at night. How did you first react when you heard Eminem name-drop you in his new song, “The Monster”?

Kool Keith: I heard it once, and it was cool to me man. If it has to take a person like that to say something about me to kind of open doors for me, he's great. But a lot of people have talked about me before. I mean Jay Z has mentioned me in magazines. XXL. A lot of people tend to say that I need to blow up, or that I need to be big or large. But I got gold records. I got platinum records in my house. What kind of “large” do they want me to be? I think a lot of people don’t think I should be known as much as I am, so they play on the psychology that I’m not known which is a messed up thing. Do you think that’s just the competitive nature of people trying to keep you down?

Kool Keith: Yeah, exactly. Like if you come on Channel 2 [a major network], they didn’t see it. But if you were on the PBS Channel [a less popular network], they saw it. But when they see another person on there [a major network], they accept it differently. I think that’s the problem. What are your thoughts on the current state of Hip-Hop?

Kool Keith: I like the new kids that are doing songs. I like everybody that’s making records. I don’t hate. The only thing I don’t like about the current state of Hip-Hop is the labeling like “the legend” and “the pioneer” stuff. Everybody uses those stigmas. I don’t like them. It puts an antique and a wear down on you. I didn’t work to be a “legend.” That kind of labels people like they did their last great thing. Well, I didn’t.

What do you think of Kool Keith’s comments? Do you have a favorite alias of his? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!