Is He Weird?: Dr. Octagon at 25
A quarter century later, hip-hop is still trying to keep up with this Kool Keith-sired psych rap classic
Dr. Octagon isn’t a doctor. He’s not even a person. The bizarre alter-ego of Ultramagnetic MCs co-founder and rapper Kool Keith was a three-man effort created with producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and turntablist DJ Q-Bert for his debut album, Dr. Octagonacologyst.
The album, which is considered a “cult classic” and a staple of alternative hip-hop in the 90s, was initially released as simply Dr. Octagon in May 1996 and was renamed a year later when it was reissued with additional tracks, which included “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” and others.
Similar to a “B” rated grindhouse movie, there is not much of a plot. It takes a lot of its influence from sci-fi and horror films and is littered with all the pornographic and surrealistic overtones of a low-budget exploitation film.
Keith’s twisted sense of humor and nonsensical lyrics combined with his portrayal of deranged psycho surgeon/ gynecologist time-traveler from Jupiter would make Dr. Octagon the most famous of his many different personas.
He made his first appearance as Dr. Octagon on the Ultramagnetic MCs demo track, “Smoke Dust,” a drug-addled precursor of things to come, which was released following the group’s 1993 studio album, The Four Horsemen.
AUDIO: The Ultramagnetic MCs “Smoke Dust”
Kut Masta Kurt recorded and produced the tracks, “Dr. Octagon,” and “Technical Difficulties,” which they mailed out to radio stations and DJs as the album’s first demos. In an interview with The AV Club, Kurt said that he was the one who sent the track to his former friend, Nakamura, whose career blossomed as a result of the album’s success.
“I recorded that song and mailed it to radio stations like a teaser track, and was giving it out to DJs. I sent it to Dan [The Automator] because he was a friend of mine, we were music friends,” Kurt said. “I got the whole thing started and really got nothing out of it. He ran with it, but he never gave credit to the person who threw the ball.”
Keith also insisted that his role in the production of the album was just as critical. Providing all of the different voices and characters behind the story, he told MTV that he felt his role attributed just as much to the success of the album as Automator or Kurt.
Automator gained national attention as a result of the album’s success. His instrumentals, relied heavily on the use of his Moog synthesizer and a selection of samples that included sound effects from the sci-fi series Star Trek, the theme song from The Jetsons, Orson Welles’ interpretation of “War of the Worlds,” and a clip from the 1994 film, Cabin Boy.
VIDEO: The Cabin Boy Dance
“Hip-hop was always inventive,” Nakamura said in an online interview back from ‘97. “Then the ’90s hit and everyone wants to be Dr. Dre. No one wants to be their own thing anymore. Everyone now wants to have the Lexus and deal pounds of drugs. We don’t do that. That’s not our lifestyle. You don’t see us coming out with the fur coat. There’s more to music than that.”
There is certainly more to Dr. Octagon than fancy cars and jewels. The lead single, “Earth People” combined the skilled scratches of world champion turntablist DJ Q-Bert with the difficultly nuanced lyrics of Kool Keith.
His use of non-sequiturs to paint a picture is something worth studying in a textbook. Lines such as “more ways to blow blood cells in your face,” “economic vomit, I save re-store food,” and “diplomat of swing with aliens at my feet,” all have a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface.
For instance, when Keith uses the line “tough like a ukelele,” he’s actually saying that the task is simple. The ukelele is considered one of the easiest string instruments to learn.
“Blue Flowers” is another of the album’s main attractions, a tripped-out tune that tackles the medical industry by criticizing self-interested practitioners, who Keith feels pretend to act in the best interest of their patients in order to make a buck.
Keith wrote online that he envisioned the song as more of a “euphoric record, for rave children in the field” when he composed it. “I had a psychedelic Woodstock thing in mind when I wrote that song. It was made for people in dreamland. The video was the same way and I liked it.”
VIDEO: Dr. Octagon “Blue Flowers”
Eventually Keith decided to put Octagon on ice with his 1999 album, First Come First Served, in which he used a new alias, Dr. Dooom, to finish off Octagon once and for all.
Unfortunately, due to the shenanigans with his record label, two more “illegitimate” follow-ups were released, Dr. Octagon, Pt. II (2004), and The Return of Dr. Octagon (2006), which were comprised of recording sessions that he abandoned when the label took creative control.
Despite the aforementioned personal discrepancies and the release of two unofficial sequels, Keith reunited with Automator and Q-Bert in 2018 to revive Dr. Octagon for the long-awaited sequel, Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation – their first collaboration in over two decades.
The album was a breath of fresh air for those forced to endure other incarnations of Dr. Octagon, which came complete with callbacks to Dr. Octagonacologyst, and the first-ever alternate reality crossover featuring Deltron 3030.
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