"[Dr. Octagonecologyst is] Bordering on something both epic and, to be quite honest, frighteningly fantastic... Destined to become a classic, and not fully appreciated until the next millennium."
- Rap Pages, 1996
"It was sci-fi, science and sex. And cannibalism, mixed. Space, sex and 'Psycho,' all at the same time."
- Kool Keith
By the mid-1990s, the rap game had been through a lot in its two decades of existence: Early-days scraping to get by and be heard; The advent of sampling; The rise of groups ranging from Run-DMC to the Wu-Tang Clanand the sprawl of Dr. Dre's shadow from the West across the globe; and solo juggernauts ranging from MC Hammer to the Notorious B.I.G.
Thankfully, though, with everything that the genre had been through, there was still a lot of room to grow. And in early 1996, a new indie duo appeared that won over a whole new international audience, from hard rocks to skate punks. That pair was Dr. Octagon: Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Kool Keith [Thornton].
By the mid-'90s, renowned lyricist Keith had left his New York home - as well the Ultramagnetic MCs, where his legend began - and shipped off to Los Angeles. Keith tells author Brian Coleman in the set's liner notes, "Being out there in California got me more open-minded, musically. It wasn't challenging for me in New York anymore. I was on Sunset Boulevard and it was wild: the girls, the pimps, the people. Sun, palm trees, going to clubs. It was all so spontaneous, it wasn't like New York. Los Angeles was free-wheeling. Every night seemed like Saturday night."
Up the coast in San Francisco, young producer Dan The Automator had worked as a DJ, as a solo producer, and with DJ Shadow and his Solesidescrew on their earliest releases. And after paying some dues, he was ready for his big break. He knew Keith's LA roommate and producer, Kutmasta Kurt, and met Keith in 1994. Originally, Keith's Dr. Octagon persona was a random one-off track (produced by Kurt), which no one could have predicted would be built into a franchise.
But Dan heard the track and latched onto Octagon immediately, calling upKeith and pitching him on the idea of making an entire album around theOctagon "outerspace gynecologist" theme. "I wanted to create something that had sounds from everywhere, for everyone," Dan says in the set's liners.Keith agreed to Dan's proposal and, by mid-1995, recording for the Dr. Octagonecologyst album had commenced in San Francisco.
There was a mix of live playing and sampling used on the record, with Danhimself playing violin on selected tracks (the instrument is featured prominently on the single 'Blue Flowers'), along with other players brought in for guitar and bass work. And Dan's wide-open mind and push-the-limits production ideas were on display with every new track.
In some ways, the Dr. Octagon album is a solo release. But Keith wasn't the only hand on deck. He brought along a young, New York-based MC with him: Sir Menelik. Menelik was featured on four album tracks, starting with 'Dr. Octagon', and proved to be an excellent super-scientifical, fast-rhyming foil toKeith. And there was one final featured contributor who helped add to the album's next-level sound: San Francisco's DJ Q*Bert, who cuts on half of the album's songs.
The album originally came out on The Automator's Bulk Recordings label in early 1996, with cover art by metal and punk cult hero visual artist Pushead. Pressing numbers weren't huge, but as the year went on, the buzz grew, and a slightly expanded version of the album was released on James Lavelle'sLondon-based Mo' Wax label. Then Dan took an offer from newly-formed major label DreamWorks, to re-release the album with extra tracks in mid-1997. The new domestic pressing allowed for a bigger press push, as well as the group's first and only video, for 'Blue Flowers'.
Beyond 'Blue Flowers', the album is chock-full of mind-bending tracks, like'Earth People'; the wacked-out but sincere love ballad 'Girl Let Me Touch You'; the metal-tinged 'I'm Destructive'; Q-Bert's turntable workout 'Bear Witness'; and, of course, freaky Keith skits like 'Elective Surgery' and'General Hospital'.
Looking back, Dan has nothing but good things to say about his first full-length as a producer and musical mastermind. He states, 'Dr. Octagonecologyst' is a classic record for what it is, but it's not a classic Hip-Hop record. I'm not actually sure if it's considered a Hip-Hop record at all. We had to do a lot just to get that record out there. That in itself was a bit of a monumental achievement. "I mean, we made a record that, ostensibly, there was no market for. A lot of weird people came out of the woodwork and loved it."
Keith says, "Other groups might have needed to be on drugs to attempt a record like Dr. Octagon, but I was eating potato chips when we made it. Yoo-Hoos and donuts. It was one big spaceship and everyone was riding. Me and Automator were Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk."
For this special, ultra deluxe edition, released 20 years after the DreamWorks edition, reissue masters Get On Down have spared no expense and left no design corner unearthed. It is presented on 3-LPs, with one full side consisting of never-before heard songs. Two new remixes ("Wild And Crazy" and "I'm Destructive," both done by Dan The Automator in 2016), as well as three songs recorded during the original Octagon sessions but never released on any other editions of the album: "Astro Embalming Fluid"; "Redeye"; "I'll Be There For You."
All in all, there are 28 tracks of Octagon madness here - an embarrassment of bonus riches, considering that the original Bulk 2-LP had only 19.
The outer package of the set is housed in a custom-made octagonal box, with original front (Pushead) and back cover artwork. Inside, besides the 3-LPs (each housed in their own custom, octagon-shaped sleeve) there is a 40-page liner notes book, with dozens of images - from album artwork to promotional ads - as well as interviews with both Keith and Dan The Automator by author Brian Coleman.
Dr. Octagonecologyst is one of the most unique rap records the genre has ever seen, and this is the perfect way to celebrate it - whether it's the first time you have heard this mind-expanding record, or the three thousandth.