The legacy of Dr. Octagon, the deliriously bent time-traveling gynecologist who blew open the space hatch for the next 20 years of underground hip-hop, is being celebrated with a deluxe reissue of the 1996 landmark Dr. Octagonecologyst.
Re-released by whimsical hip-hop deluxe edition specialists Get On Down, the new version features a massive octagon-shaped box, three pieces of vinyl and a 40-page liner note history, all at the nice price of $69.69. The project, originally released on producer Dan “the Automator” Nakamura’s Bulk Recordings before being picked up by a young DreamWorks, exposed alt-rock audiences to golden-age avant-gardist Kool Keith and established the musical careers of both Automator and turntable mutilator DJ Qbert.
The track list of the reissue appends the 20-track DreamWorks version with an entire disc of rarities and remixes, including vintage Prince Paul and Automator interpretations and three previously unreleased tracks from the Octagonecologyst sessions.
“Essentially, they’re tracks done at the time that didn’t make the record,” Nakamura tells Rolling Stone of the tracks “Astro Embalming Fluid,” “Redeye” and “I’ll Be There For You.” “Actually one of ’em probably should’ve been on the record. The record was long enough.”
The project was revisited after Automator converted a pile of ADAT tapes from his old studio, the Glue Factory (a.k.a., his parent’s basement), into ProTools. One of the tracks, “Redeye,” which you can hear below, bumps with the same synth-noise and stream-of-consciousness raps that made Octagonecologyst an instant art-rap classic.
“Well, the reason it wasn’t on the album was because I think it brought down the futuristic level,” says Automator. “But what was cool about it was the chaos. I equate that one with Airplane! the movie. I don’t know why.”
The Dr. Octagon project began after the then-unknown Automator started constructing a pastiche of sci-fi burbles to expand a concept that Kool Keith introduced on two tracks with Kutmasta Kurt (“Dr. Octagon,” “Technical Difficulties”). Automator pitched Keith on the idea of a concept LP and they soon convened in his parents’ San Francisco basement.
“My parents liked Keith. Keith is a very nice guy. He’s got the sex style porno side of him, but it’s funny, ’cause when we work, he’s a polite guy. When he works, he works really hard. When he ends up going out, especially during that period of that time… it’s like, I learned way more about porno than I ever thought I would,” says Automator. “I learned about new release day. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those porno stores [in the] Nineties, with just boxes of VHS and DVD, and everything looks the fuckin’ same after about five minutes. But somehow for a discerning connoisseur, you can spend hours in there.”
“I learned way more about porno than I ever thought I would” – Dan the Automator
For cuts, Automator recruited DJ Qbert, a San Francisco cut specialist who was already a co-winner of a DMC world championship and is still regarded as the Eddie Van Halen of the turntables.
“This is a skills record and Q is obviously, when it comes to skills, top of the pile for scratching,” says Automator. “When I met Qbert, I was DJing a party in Stockton. And when I DJed this party, I was like, ‘I’m a hotshot DJ.’ I’m in high school. I thought I was really good. In the middle of the party, they had this little DJ battle. These two guys went up and started scratching and cutting and doing all this stuff. And I seen them and I was like, ‘Man, these local kids, man, they’re crazy. I’ll never be this good.’ At that moment, I realized I should really focus on making beats a little bit more. Because these local kids are just rippin’ it. And, of course, it turns out that these two local kids were Qbert and Mixmaster Mike.”
Dr. Octagonecologyst had far-reaching implications for the genre, establishing the commercial demand for leftfield “underground” hip-hop that would fuel labels like Rawkus and Stones Throw. Kool Keith would rocket to a ridiculously prolific post-Ultramagnetic MC’s solo career and ended up the favorite rapper of alterna-types for years, appearing on records by the Prodigy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom. Qbert became one of the most famous faces of press/MTV obsession with turntablism that would emerge at the latter part of the Nineties. For about four years, Automator became one of the most in-demand producers in the world, recording a slew of pastiches for Gorillaz, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cornershop and his own Handsome Boy Modeling School. He recently did the theme song to Moshe Kasher’s Comedy Central show Problematic.
The trio recently reunited in Los Angeles for their first live shows ever, and will be hitting the road for more, including Minneapolis’ Soundset Festival and San Fransisco’s Outside Lands. Twenty-one years later, people are still clamoring for the Doc.
“[A unique reaction to Octagonecologyst] doesn’t surprise me any more because from the beginning, the weirdest people came out of the woodwork and were like ‘I like this record,’ says Automator. Girls from the Go-Gos, alt-rock people. When that record came out is when I started going to New York and the whole Lower East Side was into that record, all the Blues Explosion guys, the Beasties, Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto, that whole side really liked that record.
“To me the real impact was white skater culture,” he adds. “Dr. Octagon is the skaters’ record. Like Shepard Fairey, he’s an old friend of mine from years and years. He’s like, ‘How many records did that sell?’ I’m like, ‘Eh, it sold a bunch of records.’ He’d like, “Man, I thought it sold millions ’cause every one of us were just bumping that on every skate.”