PROGENITOR Keith says he’s okay with imitators, so long as “the only person who is ever described as ‘the Kool Keith of the future’ is Kool Keith.”
There's nothing that any rapper has done, is doing, or ever will do that Kool Keith hasn't already done — with a cape on. Space raps: he did 'em. Porn chicks? He did them, too — truckloads of them. Cartoon villains. Elvis wigs. Homages to the open road. Yep. Yup. You betcha.
Keith's ubiquitous props are often trumpeted on rap sites and comment boards, where he's cited as the chief influence behind everyone from Tech N9ne to Tyler, the Creator. It's hard to argue otherwise; he really was the first to spit everything from fast and abstract darts to slow, perverted lullabies.
Trendsetting feats aside, though, Keith's true genius — and what's earned him a place in many-a-non-hip-hop iPod — is the DIY, status-ho-slapping ethos he's employed since his rookie years with Ultramagnetic MCs. He's the genre's standard-bearer of rule-breaking , his dust-fueled post-funk fandangos floating through rap's stream of consciousness like a tugboat full of turds. "I don't abide by album laws, or an industry that says you have to make two albums a year through a record company," Keith says. "I disregarded that procedure a long time ago. . . . I've put out like 70 or 80 albums. Or 40 — I don't even know."
Keith performs at Church in Boston next Monday, August 8. But there's never a lack of good reasons to check in with the cult rap king, since he always has a slew of random projects in the works. I ask about a recent EP that he cut with Canadian producer Paul Sea — The Doctor Is In, off Vancouver label Adhoksaja Records — only for him to tell me that he didn't realize it already dropped. "All I know is I pick beats like shoes," he says, "and a lot of those beats fit."
Though still stationed in New York with his family, Keith is the ultimate underground MC, traveling often to grind with a range of producers. Most famously, his work with Dan the Automator (Dr. Octagonecologyst, A Better Tomorrow) and Kutmasta Kurt (Masters of Illusion, Diesel Truckers) have garnered cult-classic status. But Keith has dozens of efforts that received far less fanfare despite comparable moments of hilarity.
"Everybody does things differently," Keith says of his co-pilots. "If they're into the Dr. Octagon stage, they make stuff like that. Then there are others [producers] who want me to be conceptual, and who want me to write whole songs about dishwashing detergent. . . . It's all fine with me, because I charge more for beats that are hard to rap on."
Unlike some of his fellow Bronx originators, off-record Keith doesn't direct much bitterness at biters, many of whom are thrice removed from his precedent. There were times in the past — most notably during the Lyricist Lounge era — when it felt like he lost the underground crown amidst the post-Puffy pandemonium. Keith says that's why he cut First Come First Served under the alias Dr. Dooom — to persecute the full gamut of imposters. Nowadays, though, he's okay with his status, so long as "the only person who is ever described as 'the Kool Keith of the future' is Kool Keith."