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Kool Keith: Genius or Madman? Examining the evidence on a hip hop legend


Exhibit A: Institutionalization

You're crazy, not me.
  • You're crazy, not me.
You're crazy, not me.In the interest of public safety, we hereby present biographical information on Bronx-based hip hop MC and accused madman, Keith Thornton. The first exhibit in evidence: Reports that Thornton was once a psychiatric patient in the Bellevue mental hospital, New York, New York.

Thornton denies the hospitalization, which reportedly took place shortly before the 1985 debut of his former rap group, Ultramagnetic MCs. He attempted to brush off the widespread reports of the event as mere products of the music industry rumor mill in a recent phone interview with the Source Weekly:

"We did like fifty interviews one day. Me and [Ced Gee] and [DJ Moe Love] was laughin'. And I was just makin' up things. I was like, 'Yeah, I just came out the hospital 'cause I was eatin' rat poison for weeks.'"

Regarding the tenacity of the reports in the public consciousness, Thornton added: "People [are] still kinda like stuck in the myth of the Bigfoot Loch Ness Monster thing."

Exhibit 2: Aliases and Associations

The events of subsequent years cast a measure of doubt upon Thornton's sincerity. Operating first with the Ultramagnetic MCs, then under a number of assumed names (Kool Keith, Rhythm X, Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Mr. Gerbik, Black Elvis and so on), Thornton released dozens of albums of inappropriately artful hip hop material in the public marketplace.

Thornton's known co-conspirators include highly illicit underground producers such as Dan the Automator, DJ Q-Bert, and DJ Shadow. One of his most frequent recent partners in musical mind-crime is Kutmasta Kurt, who appears on Thornton's latest album, Dr. Dooom 2, under the guise of The Funky Redneck.

Exhibit Raccoon

Particularly compelling in the case against Thornton's sanity is the befuddling (indeed, often highly disturbing) nature of his lyrics. Many examples stand out among the recordings on Dr. Dooom 2. They include the following, a passage from the highly aggressive, dis rap-laden track entitled "That Girl is a Monster:"

"Take a picture, "bitcher," / Of D-R Dooom / Come to the Days Inn and see our room / The wicked witch passed by my window on a broom / I'm in the bathtub playin' wit' a raccoon."

Thornton's verses are filled with all manner of such literary oddities - expressions of violent aggression toward fellow musicians, journalists, and music listeners, XXXX-tra nasty forays into hardcore underground porn rap, angry proclamations of the artist's own grandeur, and free association-style verse that yields alarming non sequiturs such as "I watch the bad meat turn gray / Professor from high school, John Shea" - this from Dr. Dooom 2 track "Take That Ride."

The opening track, "Simon," even features personal attacks directed at American Idol's Simon Cowell and his colleague, Paula Abdul.

Kutmasta Kurt's kaleidoscopically rhythmic, horror film-related production on Dr. Dooom 2 doesn't serve to make any of this less unsettling. Indeed, the Kutmaster contributes to the depravity in earnest, with frequent record scratches and shocking sampled audio, the latter of which includes dialogue from children's program Scooby Doo.

Answering unapologetically for his confusing, terror-soaked music, Thornton told us, "People think I'm smokin' somethin' to write the way I write... people see me as a Vincent Price of rap."

Exhibit Ouch: Repeated Imaginary Murduicide

The complex pathology of Keith Thornton's mind presumably includes some form of Multiple Personality Disorder, as evidenced by his repeated imagined killings-off of erstwhile alter-ego Dr. Octagon. Passages from "RIP Dr. Octagon" include descriptions of the drowning, stabbing, and electrocution "by electric razor" of Dr. Octagon by second Thornton persona Dr. Dooom.

Regarding this macabre display of apparent self-loathing, Thornton has told reporters, "I'm playin' two roles of myself against myself, there's no other competition."

A graphically gruesome music video for "RIP Dr. Octagon" is circulating on the Internet, and Thornton's current stage show is ominously billed as "Dr. Dooom vs. Dr. Octagon."

Concerned citizens will be watching, Mr. Thornton.

Kool Keith: Dr. Dooom vs. Dr. Octagon, Kutmasta Kurt, Mosley Wotta
8pm doors, 9pm show. Sunday, Feb 22. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. 317-0318. All ages. $20, $18/advance. Tickets at Ranch Records and

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