Vol. 13: Earth People

Now there's a face that inspires trust.


Dr. Octagon – Earth People (1995, Bulk Records)

Why It’s Perfect: Because prolonged exposure to hip-hop this unearthly has been known to cause mutated cattle, crop circles, near-fatal inhalation of psychoactive drugs and an indecent amount of ass-shaking. Well before the one-two punch of Deltron 3030 and the Gorillaz made whacko future rap quasi-mainstream, former mental patient and ex-Ultramagnetic MC “Kool” Keith Thornton dreamed up Dr. Octagon, a time-traveling alien masquerading as a gynaecologist (!) out to save/destroy the earth through questionable elective surgery and unorthodox rhymes. Such inexplicable extraterrestrial devilishness is certainly deserving of a calling card like Earth People, an introduction beamed directly from Octagon’s orbiting Jupiterian saucer to the underground electro clubs of NY, Cali and other environs. The backing track alone is a veritable smorgasbord of geek-funk musical delight, served up special by Keith and ace producer Dan the Automator, highlighted by its gloriously tacky pomp rock synth riff. It’s an arena-sized hook, but the production is lovingly detailed, from the oddly sinister plinking piano melody (of the type sometimes referred to at the Metal Archives as “horror movie clown masturbating”) to scene-setting quirks like the cheery-sounding girl who pipes in from time to time to contribute interstellar weather reports and personnel updates.

Yet for all the strange blinking lights on the exterior, the chassis of the U.S.S. Earth People is pure old school hip-hop not terribly unlike what Kool Keith had been up during the past decade with the Ultramagnetic MCs. The track has a certain physicality to it absent from most commercial rap, largely because it is constructed with a live DJ in mind. The marvellous DJ Qbert contributes some truly blistering manual scratching, while the underlying beat has the charming clackiness of pre-DAT tape turntablism. As for Keith as a rapper, well, the man is still batshit nuts and if you try to follow his flow logically you’ll probably end up crazier than he is. All of the strangeness which percolated under the surface of the old Ultramags records was allowed to surface in the Dr. Octagon project; how else to explain lines like “My nucleus friend, prepare, I return again / My 7XL is not yet invented” or “Astronauts get played / Tough, like a ukulele”? But, as with everything else on Earth People, it works. The bizarre litany of images and descriptions blend and complement the general alien vibe of the tune, and are in themselves often highly entertaining. Certain verses sound like nothing so much as an imaginative kid inventing the rules of a game as he goes along: “I got cosmophonic, pressed a button, changed my face. / You recognized, so what? I turned invisible.” Much of Octagon’s appeal is in his synthesis of naivety and grotesquery; strain that mix out through the lips of a gifted MC, and set it to a production as good as Earth People and, without fail, I am there at aluminum-intoxicant hyperspeed.

Defining Moment: Top three lines, in descending order…

3) “More ways to blow blood cells in your face / React with four bombs and six fire missiles / Armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols”

2) “Now my helmet’s on, you can’t tell me I’m not in space / With the National Guard United States Enterprise / Diplomat of swing, with aliens at my feet”

1) “Face the fact: I fly on planets every day.”

Other Great Songs by Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon: Keith’s put out two records as Dr. Octagon, the first of which is the highly recommended Dr. Octagonecologyst (warning: Earth People might be the least strange thing on it). His catalogue is spotty to say the least, but those craving more of his bent outlook will probably appreciate the incredibly obscene First Come, First Served (released as Dr. Dooom) and Black Elvis (under his own name). Also, those into Run-D.M.C./EPMD-era rap are strongly urged to check out the Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Beatdown, which is one of the finest records of its kind of the ‘80s.

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Filed under 1990s, hip-hop, what the fuck?

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