On some level, the existence of a new Dr. Octagon album in 2018 can be read as an artistic defeat. The brainchild of rapper Kool Keith and producers Dan the Automator and KutMasta Kurt, Dr. Octagonecologyst was never meant to be a franchise; but its perfect storm of Keith’s hallucinogenic lyrics and the Automator’s left-field production style ensured that it became both a landmark of “alternative” hip-hop and an albatross around the neck of its principal artist. Keith even went so far as to kill the character—twice!—in subsequent projects by his alter-ego Dr. Dooom: first in the opening seconds of 1999’s First Come, First Served, then again on 2008’s Dr. Dooom 2, an album made in direct response to the unauthorized 2006 release The Return of Dr. Octagon.

But in today’s zombie media landscape, no IP is ever truly dead; and so Dr. Octagon has risen again, this time with the full participation of Keith, the Automator and turntablist DJ Q-Bert (KutMasta Kurt, who sued over unpaid royalties for his work on Dr. Octagonecologyst, is conspicuous in his absence). Much of Moosebumps, named after one of Keith’s more iconic neologisms on the original album, is a sequel in the most conservative sense: approximating Dr. Octagonecologyst’s sci-fi beats and word-salad rhymes while inevitably failing to replicate its sense of surprise. The plaintive violin the Automator plays on “Operation Zero” is an obvious callback to his similar hook from “Blue Flowers”; the same goes for the porno sample at the beginning of “Area 54” and its antecedent on Octagonecologyst’s “Intro.” On opening track “Octagon Octagon,” the doctor even samples himself, creating a hook (of sorts) out of “Earth People”’s nonsense line “Octagon oxygen, aluminum intoxicants.”

Fortunately, Moosebumps finds time for more than just retreading its predecessor’s past glories. The organic psychedelic soul textures of “Flying Waterbed” are a welcome departure from the Octagonecologyst formula, and the song featuring Del the Funky Homosapien—in character as his Automator-produced alter-ego Deltron 3030—is brilliantly opportunistic, like an alt-rap version of a superhero crossover. Not all such sonic departures are created equally: the grinding nu-metal guitars on “Karma Sutra,” for example, could have been safely left in the late ‘90s. But it’s in these moments, when the album allows itself to stray a bit from the Octagon template, that it most effectively reminds listeners of what they liked about Dr. Octagonecologyst in the first place.

In fact, one wonders whether Moosebumps might have been more interesting as a spiritual successor than it is as a proper sequel. The appeal of a “Dr. Octagon” project now is less about Keith’s ludicrous alien-gynecologist character than it is about the creative interplay of its artistic team. Certainly that seems to be the case for Keith, who spends the aforementioned “Octagon Octagon” simply listing off Octagon-branded products and sounding a little bored: “Octagon, to everybody so familiar/ Octagon condoms with Octagon tampons for women/ Became a frenzy/ Octagon gasoline, people use it when their motors go empty.” Even the song’s repetitive title can be interpreted as a wry comment on its own perfunctory nature. There is, of course, a clear economic reason why a new Kool Keith/Dan the Automator/DJ Q-Bert project would be released under the Octagon moniker; to be frank, all three artists’ commercial heydays are behind them. But hearing them reunited after 20 years, it’s hard not to wish they had done something more unhinged and unfettered by expectations—something, in other words, more like Dr. Octagonecologyst was in 1996, and less like it is in 2018.

  • Holy Hell! Dr. Octagonecologyst Turns 20

    Dr. Octagonecologyst represents the work of an iconoclastic performer who followed his own…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Bargain Bin Babylon: Herbie Hancock: Lite Me Up

Lite Me Up may not be a buried gem, but for fans of this era of R&B it’s a surprisingly go…