You don't have to be a resident of an insane asylum to understand Kool Keith, but it probably doesn't hurt. From his pioneering days in the 1980's as a member of the Ultramagnetic M.C.'s, to his turn as the demented but charming Dr. Octagon, to his infatuation with pornography (and unfortunately fecophilia) Keith Thornton has constantly evolved as a rapper. In the process of this journey, he has spawned more alter-ego personalities as an entertainer than Mick Foley. In fact it's probably no coincidence that his contribution to the "WWF Aggression" album was a duet with Ol' Dirty Bastard dedicated to Mankind. Keith is obviously a highly intelligent man, but given he actually spent time in Bellevue it can be hard to tell where the act ends and the real insanity begins. Combined with his own inability to reign in his bizarre impulses, his career careens wildly down a mountain road at over a hundred miles per hour, just barely staying on track. He can be brilliantly self-parodying on albums like "First Come, First Served" or he can produce albums like "Spankmaster" where listening is clearly an act of self-flagellation.
Needless to say Kool Keith is always interesting - sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad ones. It's both charming and perplexing. Whenever Keith adopts a new gimmick, there's always the possiblity that car will fly over the guardrail and come crashing down the mountainside in a flaming heap, but just when you think he's done he pulls one more Evel Kneivel out of his bag of tricks and miraculously survives. Looking at the title and artwork of Keith's latest project "Thee Undatakerz" both possibilities spring instantly to mind. His new crew of proteges seem to have all pulled their names out of a really bad comic book: Al Bury-U (ha ha), M-Balmer (oh that's a riot), The Funeral Director (tolerable) and Keith himself resurrects (no pun) one of his old rap gimmicks - Reverand Tom. It's a motley crew, to say the least. Production is co-chaired by Keith, Havoc Razor, and Money D. At 15 tracks and well over an hour of music total, "Kool Keith Presents Thee Undatakerz" is sure to be one wild ride for better or for worse.
Things start out fairly well. After skipping over a video track designed for DVD players, the first actual song is "Reverand Tom" where Keith doesn't really rap per se, just talks a lot of confusing verbiage. It's really just an excuse to reintroduce us to his character, and the beat is tolerable, so one can let it slide. Besides the album's real starting point is the first single "Party in Tha Morgue," with Keith opening the song in the role of a mack daddy who can't be denied:
"First name Gino, Valentino
Take her to the patio, park the spot, slut you're hot
You're nothin you're not, leavin the spot
That's right yo, what is not when we come to come through
When you want to, that's when he touched you
Touched two, touched three touched four and
See the score and we pourin
With Johnny Donny in a Mazeratti
Slick Rick playin 'La-Di-Da-Di'"
Keith's as fly ever, but the female rapper M-Balmer is the real surprise:
"Up in the morgue, jump in the hottub and get a backrub
Surrounded by some bad niggaz and a pound of bombudd
They like my love, that's all I'm thinkin of
Give it to me now, here we go, put 'em under
Somehow I make it thunder
Shake my back and then they wonder
Sippin on Cristal, slidin through the morgue
They hear me cumin..."
Like a cross between Mia X and the skills of MC Lyte, M-Balmer is a sassy mixture of attitude and tongue dexterity saddled with an unbearably stupid name. Despite the bad gimmick, she still gets over thanks to her skills. That really can't be said of the group's other members, because it's hard to even tell when and who is rapping other than M-Balmer and Keith. They prove they can carry the album well enough on their own on the song "Midnite Madness" anyway, as the first Undataker kicks a weirdly Satanic rap which ends with the line "don't nobody know the time, so throw your Rolex to the floor" (ha ha, HA). It's no surprise that Keith (or if you prefer Reverand Tom) immediately steals the show:
"Popeye and Brutus was supposed to smuggle Barney's work
but the Teletubbies waitin by the Greyhound bus station
Big Bird wanted to kill Oscar
But Minute Mouse was runnin the East coast with Bat Mike and Gazoo
On Harley Davidson bikes, Kermit the Frog was the project guard
Mr. Slate and Barney Rubble drivin a Cadillac Escalade
Donald Duck walkin across the street with Link from Mod Squad
Davey and Goliath in the purple 6-4 with mink rugs on the floor"
Once M-Balmer comes through to close, the game is clearly over:
"I buck one I buck two, could even buck you
Kick back nasty-minded ways to fuck witchu
Cause this is what I do, kill yo' whole crew
Told you I'm incredible game, so fuckin spit and
no compassion is shown to my victims
Each battle I'm winnin cause I'ma get wit it
I'm this Don that strike, get yo' cap peeled tonight
Unbelievable, nobody unpredictable
Hood life queen puttin it down for the S.C.
Before I leave, who they really wanna see
For the rest of the album, Thee Undatakerz veer from one side of the road to the other, never seeming to decide if their gimmick is supposed to be spooky or absurd. "Dark Space" epitomizes the former, sounding grim despite some zany Keith lyrics thanks to a fantastic Havoc Razor beat. "The Funeral Director" though (presumably a self-titled track) is just campy, talking about gnawing on body parts in such a ludicrous fashion that it makes one realize Necro's obsession with death and corpses is credible by comparison. Not to mention, at least Necro can flow to a track, and this guy seems oblivious to the fact he even has one. Keith can't resist taking another potshot at fake women and celebrities on "10-8 = Not a Dime," a subject he has quite literally buried to death (pun definitely intended). "Morgue" is a remix of the first single done to an Ultramagnetic M.C.'s style beat, but it's not the only one - there's also a "Club Mix" of the song at the album's end. In between there are horrible songs like "Help Me - Praise the Lord," a Kool Keith production he should have shelved due to it's crappy piano loop. Thankfully No Name co-produces "The Flesh - Feed Me" and "The Hearse" and saves them from the overly simplstic synthetic production which is often Keith's trademark. The lyrics are still terrible though, as Thee Undertakerz rap an unflattering mixture of Gravediggaz and Esham, not doing either one very well at all.
Though Havoc Razor tries his best to keep this album on track with fine tracks like the majestic and symphonic "For Whom the Bells Toll" (which also features some of Keith's most poignant diatribes and funniest verbals) and the somber Castlevania-esque "6 Feet Unda" (again one can't help notice the biting of the Gravediggaz) it's an album that still sounds like a vanity project which ran as wild as Keith's imagination, and believe me that covers a LOT of ground. M-Balmer shows the potential to rise above this fray and be a dope rapper in her own right, provided she can leave the corny concepts of this album buried where they belong. Keith continues to be one of rap's biggest enigmas, and this album won't really hurt his fanbase since they are already used to his eclectic excesses and loyal through it all. Still the most dissapointing part of "Thee Undatakerz" is that like wrestling's own Undertaker, this gimmick had the potential to be over with his fans if it had been played to the campy hilt by talented workers. It's ironic that because this album can't ever find it's direction, all that careening back and forth actually has them on the safe path down the middle. Never hitting any dangerous highs or risky lows, the only thing that these Undatakerz succeed in burying is their own mediocrity.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: July 13, 2004