Every time I think I’ve explored every aspect of Keith Thornton’s musical career, another album pops out of the woodwork. I suspect that “El Dorado Driven” was inspired by Kool Keith’s previous album “Demolition Crash” given both came out in the same year and there was a song called “El Dorado” on that release. Then again knowing Mr. Thornton this could just be a complete coincidence fueled by his love of Cadillac cars. Keith is the kind of person who indulges whatever he currently has a fetish for musically and lyrically, rarely leaving anything to the imagination and often seeming to just bare his soul in a stream-of-consciousness delivery. Today’s subject of review isn’t an exception to this rule.
“The basic man who ruined rap
I put the screw in rap
I’m lyrically doin’ rap
If I was a murderer, I guess I’d have to put two in rap”
By Keith’s standards this is neither the worst nor the most bizarre music of his catalogue, but it’s definitely “Out There.” The entire album is produced by someone named Teddy Bass, but without any other proof I’m going to assume that’s another of Keith’s alter egos, because he’s already got about a hundred. The album certainly has the feel of his other self-produced projects so if Teddy Bass is a real person he obviously knows what Keith likes. These are heavily electronic songs, with a musical range from Daft Punk to Kraftwerk, lacking the identifiable hooks or dance floor grooves you’d find from either. There are times that it works though and when it does it’s quite fun. “Back to the Basics” is an unapologetic 1980’s throwback, even though Keith’s rap delivery was much more conventional back then.
A lot of it is simply an ego fueled rocket heading “Up Into Space” though with no obvious trajectory or plan for how to come back down. He references one of his better alter egos in the lyrics by repeatedly name checking Dr. Dooom, but the stilted delivery and vocoder hooks have none of Dooom’s charm. Dooom came to merk Dr. Octagon so Keith could move on with his life, but he’s not killing anything here other than my eardrums.
The album’s single weirdest moment might be “New York Outfit” featuring Sadat X and Thirstin Howl III. Normally I’d be overjoyed for a collaboration between three long time NY rap veterans, but hearing X try to match his flow to this beat will make you wince in pain. Howl actually pulls it off by rapping extra slow and making the track match him instead of the other way around, but it’s a different kind of pain to hear the charismatic Howl drain himself of emotion in his flow. “Drained” is how Keith seems to be rapping on the song too. He babbles about grape sodas, root beer, Mary’s lopsided wig, and “fake drug dealer emcees.” Do you care? I don’t.
The contradiction of Keith Thornton is that he has a lot to say about how plastic or fake other rappers are, when he may in fact be the most malleable rapper in New York history. There’s no mold he can’t fit, no wig he won’t wear, no format he won’t do. He’ll talk down on fake rappers and then immediately brag about his private jets and girls in bikinis on “Rubdown.” Is it hypocritical? Surprisingly, no. It’s more disappointing that Keith didn’t have a better instrumental to rap on than the topics he raps about. I’m perfectly fine with Kool Keith changing who he is from persona to persona, album to album, and even song to song WITHIN an album. All he needs is the right tracks to do it with and uh… this ain’t it chief.
By the time the album closes with the scratching of Weezl on “Cobra Out” it comes as a relief. “El Dorado Driven” is a wildly uneven album that overstays its welcome at an hour+. As I said earlier it’s not scraping the bottom of Keith’s prolific musical catalogue, but it’s also far from the upper echelons and entirely forgettable. If you took a pass on it I wouldn’t blame you, but if you enjoy Keith being a weirdo it’s more of what you love.