There are visionaries and then there are eccentric visionaries. Neil Young, visionary. John Lennon, eccentric visionary. Kurt Cobain, visionary. Brian Wilson, lunatic visionary. Chuck D., visionary. Kool Keith, eccentric visionary. The difference? Cobain et al. see things how they are and eloquently describe them. Keith et al. see whole different worlds inside their heads and try to let them out. On Keith's latest record, Black Elvis/Lost in Space, it's a whole different universe. The Kool man started his career as a member of the Ultramagnetic M.C.'s, a space-age intergalactic hip-hop crew whose 1988 song "Give the Drummer Some" contained the "smack my bitch up" lyric that Prodigy sampled to some controversy last year. Not content to sit still, Keith has adopted and inhabited characters with aplomb. He's a serial killer on his self-released Dr. Dooom this time around, after being the time-traveling, Jupiter-born gynecologist Dr. Octagon previously. No surgical scrubs this time; Keith puts on a plastic pompadour wig and sticks his neck out by adopting the King's name. Keith may change his look and moniker, but the concepts don't outweigh the music. They just provide different jumping-off points. Keith could rap a medical dictionary (which is kind of what he did as Dr. Octagon) and still make it funky.
The music gives nods to his old-school roots. Instead of sampling a song wholesale (are you paying attention, Will Smith?), simple keyboards and organs, lots of fuzzed Moogs and simple drum patterns keep the mix happenin'. Tunes are built layer by elementary layer, centered on Keith's outlandish rhymes. On "Release Date," Keith/ Black Elvis is anxiously waiting for his record to come out, planning the marketing, touring and demanding that his posters be "big as the Beastie Boys'." Keith's flow is choppy and fast, without losing direction of the track, even as fantasy overtakes reality. Soon he's turning down recording sessions with Prince and drinking beer with Steven Spielberg and Garth Brooks. It's Keith's world; we're just lucky to be hearing about it. (David Simutis)
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Kool Keith performs August 22 with DJ Spooky at Club Waxx, 1601 Leeland, (713)655-WAXX.