“The music on this compact disc was originally recorded on a thermo nuclear 387-bit, non-linear tracking system dithered down to 20-bit compact disc format. Because of its high resolution, however, limitations can be heard in the compact disc format.” This amusing note appears on the back of most versions of Kool Keith’s debut as Dr. Octagon, including this all-instrumental release which appeared after DreamWorks Records re-issued the original to wide national distribution. That re-issue was both a gift and a curse to a hip-hop fan and archivist like yours truly, as it created confusion by reshuffling the track order of the original Bulk Recordings release and adding new songs that didn’t appear on the original.
“Instrumentalyst” loosely follows the format of the DreamWorks re-issue, but it too rearranges and deletes tracks at will. In one case they renamed a track outright – the original background music from “I Got to Tell You” is changed to “Moosebumps.” Nearly everyone who hears this all-instrumental album will get that joke but for the few who didn’t hear the original Dr. Octagon before purchasing this one “moosebumps” is one of the things Dr. Octagon claims his medical practice can cure along with “chimpanzee acne” when you call his office – the original “I Got to Tell You” was presented as an answering machine message of sorts. True story – I put the song on my OWN answering machine in college after the record was released and got a lot of confused responses on my tape: “Flash, is that you? What the hell was that shit? Did I call a wrong number?” Ahh, good times.
Both the original release and “Instrumentalyst” are produced, mixed and arranged by Automator for the Wide World of Water Sports, although you may know him better by the name Dan the Automator these days. Automator was at least a decade ahead of his time on these tracks, which only scratches the surface of why “Instrumentalyst” is such a good listen even today. Although the bugged out maniacal raps of Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon are fun, with aliens smearing doo doo on walls while Keith fills diapers with peanut butter while forcing women to have sex with giraffes, the album as such would have probably been more like one of his more dismal self-produced efforts without Automator’s beats. If there is a method to Keith’s literal madness, it’s always found when he is paired with a producer capable of channeling that insanity into musical brilliance.
Stripped to their core without the distraction of Keith’s bizarre and entertaining raps, “Instrumentalyst” reveals a major reason why “Dr. Octagon” is still considered a classic to this day. At some point listening to songs like “Girl Let Me Touch You” and “Earth People” you really start to believe these songs were produced on a thermo nuclear 387-bit, non-linear tracking system. There’s no better explanation for where Automator got this kind of funk from, with beats that harken back to the classic 1980’s era of the Ultramagnetic MC’s while pushing that sound far beyond contemporary forms of hip-hop all the way to the year “3000.” The hidden surprise of “Instrumentalyst” is that it doesn’t simply strip away the lyrics to the songs – in several cases such as “No Awareness” and “Blue Flowers” a new melody has been ADDED to the mix; in both of these particular cases a lilting flute which gives the songs a newfound soul-stirring beauty. On “Instrumentalyst” Dr. Octagon reaches beyond its origins and the flower petals open up to reveal something beautiful and wonderful – the power of hip-hop to be a one man orchestra with operatic highs and lows. By turns these instrumentals will relax you, amp you up, cause somber reflection or make you want to get crunker than a motherfucker but the one thing they will never do isBORE you. “Instrumentalyst” is both perfect companion to “Dr. Octagon” and a perfect album in its own right.