Back in the 1990’s when answering machines were still a thing, I amused myself in college by having snippets from hip-hop albums on my phone when I wasn’t home. De La Soul’s “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” was an obvious choice, but after Dr. Octagon came out I switched it to “I Got to Tell You.” I got a few complaints from people that it was gross but for me that just made it more hilarious.

If you bought the instrumental version of Dr. Octagon this track was renamed to “Moosebumps,” one of the many things the good Doctor offers to fix for you with his questionable medical practice. Obviously the word and the idea both stuck with Kool Keith over the years. When he decided to resurrect his Octagon persona in 2018, “Moosebumps” was the direction he went in. His dedication to this official resurrection was shown by the fact he got the original crew back together — Dan “The Automator” Nakamura on production and DJ Qbert on the turntables. My first impression though was he was eviscerating his alter ego. He’s done that before and “Octagon Octagon” would lead you to think he was doing it again.

“Octagon to everybody so familiar
Octagon condoms with Octagon tampons for women became a frenzy
Octagon gasoline, people use it when their motors go empty
Octagon dog food with Octagon cat food
Did y’all read Octagon news?”

It’s certainly in Kool Keith’s lane to destroy his own creations, and by making more products than Procter & Gamble he makes himself both ubiquitous and unimportant. If everything is Octagon, what’s unique about Octagon? Nothing. I would have been just as amused by a whole Dr. Octagon album being anti-Dr. Octagon as I was by my answering machine back in the day, but “Octagon Octagon” is only the opening salvo of “Moosebumps” and not reflective of the product as a whole. On “Polka Dots” he leans comfortably into the persona again, spitting bars that are closer to spoken word poetry than rapping. He jams cultural references in at a thousand miles a minute, declares himself “the one man Nirvana” and vows to “take a leak on your best designers.” It’s classic Doc Ock — scatological, unconventional, schizophrenic — accompanied by turntablist tricks and bumping Automator beats.

I’m of a mixed mind about this. On one hand it’s fun to hear Keith put on the surgical scrubs and get totally crazy with it again. He sounds motivated on this album, and I’m sure that’s in part because he had great people to work with on it, which has always created better results than he does on his own. I’m not saying Keith Thornton isn’t a genius — just that he can fall into the trap of making something for the sake of making it. He becomes automated (no pun intended) and just churns one lackluster self-produced album after another like a rap assembly line. I want Keith to be at his very best and he clearly wants the same for his comrades. It’s a pleasure to hear Qbert create yet another chapter of his turntablist wizardry on “Bear Witness IV.” Could it really be a Dr. Octagon album if he didn’t?

The downside is that even though Kool Keith is motivated and it shows, he can’t help but retread ground he already covered a quarter of a century ago. “Hollywood Tailswinging” might as well be “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman Part 2.” He mentions his uncle/alter ego Mr. Gerbik repeatedly, he stomps around the city like a monster created by a nuclear accident, and the Automator track thumps on without him when he runs out of things to say. It’s a lackluster finale to a mostly interesting album.

The original Dr. Octagon album was a rap classic in part because there had never been anything like it before. Kool Keith managed to reinvent himself and what hip-hop music could be in one fell swoop. “Moosebumps” is like a nostalgic trip back to those days, but it just doesn’t have the magic of the original. There can only be one first time reinventing the wheel, so if you’re familiar with the original you’ll be left feeling this was a “nice try” but not as fun as it was before. If you’re not familiar with it then “Moosebumps” may hit a little harder for you, but that would only leave you wondering why he was so dead set on mocking himself on the opening track. Keith both needs the context of the first appearance of his persona and finds himself trapped by said same. It’s still a worthwhile listen.

Dr. Octagon :: Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation
7Overall Score