When hip-hop's black boho scene and its ebony-and-ivory indie underground trace their roots, the common ground they find is the late-'80s/early-'90s Bronx rap group Ultramagnetic MCs and its idiosyncratic star "Kool" Keith Thornton. For the boho side, the touchstone is the classic 1988 Ultramagnetic MCs debut Critical Beatdown (the group is referenced on the latest albums from Common and the Roots). For the indie scene, the more important record is Kool Keith's 1996 solo debut, Dr. Octagonecologyst, recorded under the pseudonym Dr. Octagon.
Dr. Octagonecologyst mixed stream-of-consciousness lyrics with turntablist production from Dan the Automator, becoming an instant cult classic and one of the most influential hip-hop records in recent memory.
A decade later, Thornton has brought back his Dr. Octagon character, who, on the earlier album, was born on Jupiter, controlled by gamma light, and intent on practicing his love with female patients. The Return of Dr. Octagon isn't as loopily pornographic as its predecessor, but it captures a similarly warped worldview too compellingly weird to be labeled merely "juvenile" or "stoner."
Musically, European production trio One Watt Sun lends the record a more propulsive electrofunk sound over which Dr. Octagon rambles through a new set of concerns, which are more environmental and societal than before. On "Trees" a panicky refrain -- "trees are dying!" -- becomes a vocal hook around the good doctor's litany of topics: "oxygen gone," forest fires, pesticides, etc. The thrilling "Ants" is almost lucid, with Octagon using his outer-space perspective to survey humankind from above: "Ants work together/Jerk together/Do concerts together/Cry and get hurt together."
But despite such heady stuff, The Return of Dr. Octagon can't avoid the sophomore slump. Even at a svelte 35 minutes, it finds time to stray from its strengths. Two songs sound like parodies of white Canadian alt-rapper Buck 65, while the album ends with a sexed-up duet with groaningly untalented female MC Princess Superstar. -- Chris Herrington