The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Kool Keith

Last year, when rap legend GZA, founding member of The Wu-Tang Clan, performed at the Harris Center, he seemed lethargic. He half mumbled classic lines while his hype men swarmed around him, jumping excitedly as they waited to for their turn to spit just one verse. His lack of enthusiasm may have been caused by the Harris Center’s ability to dwarf a reasonably large crowd by Grinnell concert’s standards.
Hopefully, when underground hip-hop artist Kool Keith, real name Keith Thornton, takes the stage in the comparatively cramped Gardner Lounge this Friday, Nov. 6 at 9:00 p.m., he will be as encouraged by the intimate setting as much as GZA was disappointed by Harris’ empty space.
The two emcees share more than performing at Grinnell. Both released classic records only six months apart in the mid-nineties, GZA with “Liquid Swords,” and Keith with “Dr. Octagonecologyst.” Keith’s surrealistic lyrics mixed with RZA inspired beats are still echoing through the industry today. If GZA is called the Genius, then Keith should be called the Influence.
Initially, Keith had no stylistic peers, now his content and characteristics have become industry trends. Keith was rapping about being an alien long before Lil Wayne and Andre 3000 were citing their supposed extraterrestrial presence. Similarly, the recent use of fecal wordplay in hip-hop can most immediately be traced to Wayne, but look further back and yet again, Keith is the source. Before MF Doom donned multiple monikers, Thornton had already released albums under the artist names “Dr. Octagon,” “Kool Keith” and “Dr. Dooom.”
Regardless of his place in rap history, recently Keith has aged worse than almost anyone in the industry. Clearly trying to shake his most critically acclaimed alias, twice Thornton has released songs under Dr. Dooom, himself, where he kills Dr. Octagon, also himself. The Return of Dr. Octagon, released in 2006, was filled with spoken word and rants, mixed in with rapping. His most recent album, “Bikinis N Thongs,” released on Oct. 13, settles in his category of albums clearly inspired by his libido. While still far from his highest quality work, it is good to see Keith sticking to rap. Keith is best when he ties seemingly haphazard verses together, something he does only sporadically in later work.
This all leaves the quality of Thornton’s performance in jeopardy, as it is very reliant on the set list he chooses and what mix of old and new it brings. Yet, on a Friday night in Grinnell, when the Velvet Underground of rap comes, you owe it to yourself to see a pioneer of industry perform. This is not to guarantee a bad show, just to mitigate the hype. So take a gamble, and come watch one cool dude doctor the microphone.

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