Kool Keith has certainly had his fair share of creative (dis)guises, some successful, some not. Practicing very much in the former was Dr Octagon, a perverse, scatologically obsessed M.D. who gave Keith the perfect persona from which to release extraordinary, stream-of-consciousness, densely layered verses. Bolt those to an early Dan The Automator production job, stick Q-Bert on turntable duty, and lo and behold, you’ve given birth to Dr. Octagonecologyst. Congratulations, it’s an obscene, absurd, utterly unique record.
The past tense inescapably looms over that statement because Dr. Octagon is no longer with us – killed by another one of Keith’s many characters (Dr. Doooom) in one of those skit things that hip-hop artists feel inexplicably drawn to litter perfectly good albums with. Which means that resurrecting perhaps his most successful role now, when his career is hardly at its rosiest, smacks more than a little of commercial desperation.
Of course, that impression would be shattered if The Return Of… was half the record Dr. Octagonecologyst is. But it isn’t. And that’s not all Keith’s fault, but what it does prove the time-worn truth that it’s a thin line between clever and stupid, adding the additional point that the divide will somehow appear even smaller if you’ve spent the last ten years alternating between humping it and defecating on it..
For where Octagonecologyst was a marvel of intricate, if admittedly puerile, wordplay and intergalactic production, The Return Of is just plain dumb. So much so that songs like A Gorilla Driving A Pickup Truck become slightly uncomfortable: is it a joke? Something that sounds like Bon Jovi doing the Young Guns soundtrack behind a rumbling ramble through nonsensville? Or is it what Keith gazing back at his audience, desperately looking for some kind of subtle sign that this is what they think a Dr. Octagon track should be like?
Same with Al Green. Same with Perfect World. The constant cutting and looping in both reduces Keith to the role of muttering madman pushing shopping cart full of cans through the background in scenes which should be entirely his. The personality, and the ability, are too much to be entirely contained though, and Ants and Aliens are a little more like what we might have hoped for. Odd, driven and possessing some kind of other worldly method in their madness.
Compared to what went before, The Return Of… is a massive let down, and leaves Dr. Octagon in severe danger of a whole litany of malpractice suits. However, compared to 90% of the boastful materialistic rap albums that we see today, it really isn’t that bad. Which shows how far the standards of healthcare have slipped in the past ten years.