Kool Keith: SPANKMASTER (Overcore/TVT, 2001)
ARTIST: Kool Keith
REL. DATE: 6/5
RATING: 3 (out of 5)
by Kevin John
Back in the late 80’s with Ultramagnetic MCs, Kool Keith oozed stream-of-consciousness raps about cars and eating brains. But now hip-hop’s premier eccentric has a lot of competition from an entirely viable underground, where eccentricity comes with the territory. On first listen, Spankmaster, the latest disc in Keith’s ultra-prolific post-Ultramagnetic career, appears to be a sour grapes response to this threat. One track is flat-out called “Jealous”, proceeds to blast Funkmaster Flex and MTV for not playing his music.
But for better or worse, Keith can never sustain a boast or a dis without a detour into some truly bizarre material. “Mack Trucks,” for instance, starts out with Keith ripping on “major fake ballers” but his rap gets absorbed into the confusing chorus of “Macks trucks, big wheels roll,” crooned, like every chorus on the album, in a demented loveman falsetto. If it’s a metaphor for Keith’s prowess, well, it’s a bizarre one. “Drugs”, alternates between history (“I used to be up all night in the living room smoking a lot of weed…”) and hallucination (“…with The Four Tops.”). Even his rampant sexism takes a turn for the odd. He clearly has disdain for the woman in “Maxin in the Shade”, whose evil deeds only begin with running up his phone bill talking to drug dealers. But that disdain manifests itself in a trip to McDonald’s so that she can “take a picture with the Cheeseburglar…let him know how you got your hair done.”
It’s be easy to pass this all off as pure psychosis (the man did do well-publicized time at Bellevue) if the music weren’t so madly methodical. Practically every backing track here follows the same pattern: a stark beat with eerie electronic hooks that recall the bleeps of the earliest video game systems and Keith driving right over (like a Mack truck?) instead of working rhythmically against it. When the raps become too opaque, there are real pleasures to be had honing in on this uniquely minimal sound. And it does make you throw your hands in the air – not to wave them like you just don’t care but because you have no idea what to do with yet another one-of-a-kind Kool Keith joint.