Kool Keith conducted by Hugo Lunny  

Kool Keith Interview

March 2004

Described differently depending on who you ask in the music industry, and amongst Hip Hop fans worldwide, Kool Keith is definitely an intriguing and interesting character. Currently touring, as always, Keith is working on new material including a collaborative effort ("Diesel Truckers") and another solo album.

MVRemix: I've interviewed many artists, but when I interviewed you back in 2000, you had the sexiest groupie I've ever met. What is your opinion on groupies?

Kool Keith: I don't know. They're not like they used to be. They all try to act all different now. My opinion of groupies, a groupie is cool. I think some of them don't realize they're groupies, though they want to be. They're cool.

MVRemix: What are your thoughts on Canadian Hip Hop?

Kool Keith: It reminds me of Europe. It's not like in the states, but a branch off growth to rap of other countries. But it's its own thing. Not quite inner city, like New York. You can feel the distance of that.

MVRemix: Are there any artists you listen to from Canada?

Kool Keith: I listen to a lot of bands from Canada. But, they're bands it's a different thing.

MVRemix: Can you remember, and if so, describe the thoughts and feelings surrounding the first time a stranger praised/commented on your work?

Kool Keith: Ah yes. I felt something about the audacity to... The funny thing is, you have a lot of bands that are not appreciative of a person that's creative and innovative. Of a person that's around the making of some different things that nobody else does. I think people don't value that, that much. I did have that type of situation before because of a person saying something. But they get real personal.

MVRemix: What makes Kool Keith a rap legend?

Kool Keith: My whole character. Me being one of the original rappers of the Bronx. I think my unicity comes with that. Every guy I work with whether from out of town, other states, and other places. I think just the essence of where I grew up and just the whole background I have. Even with Ultramagnetic. We came up in a different time zone. Everyone was distinctive; we didn't have to do what everyone else did. We were a distinctive band. I think it's more like "Whoa, he's where Hip Hop originally came from." It's not like I was born in San Francisco. I wasn't born and bred in Boston. I came from the urban streets in general. I went to regular schools... Just that whole scenario of me there in the streets. We never rapped about street stuff but I grew up in New York, I grew up in the projects.

MVRemix: The media doesn't favour you like it once did, but you're still more than able to travel the world touring. Why do you believe this is?

Kool Keith: Well people see me as something like a cartoon. Or some act, made up over night that has happened with a big machine behind him. I think people think more like "Wow, this guy has been on major's and independents and he stuck with the same thing. He mixes what he likes to mix, he does what he likes to do. He's not born by the rules. He's making records the way he wants to and he don't care." They want to give me that Marvin Barnes appeal. I'm more in a rapping sense, more compared to Latrell Spreewell or Allen Iverson. People want to say I don't show up to shows. I'm always there. I'm late for studio time. I'm gonna rhyme on somebody's song and at the time not be booked at the studio to be there. From that whole thing, it built a whole stigma even from "Octagon," that I was an un-sufficient guy. That I wasn't dependable. I got a weird reputation. Same thing with those guys. They play basketball, and they score points. They've got a reputation and they can't say nothin' (The League).

It's like what happened to me when Automator said that I wouldn't show up to Lollapalooza, that took a big eclipse on my career. When him and his manager were trying to go behind my back. Not so much Automator, but I think Tony Isabella turned into a person that was so unprofessional. They tried to do so much stuff without me when Octagon was signed, and I wasn't officially a signed artist. I was a "Work for Hire" artist. I rhymed on the Octagon, did a few songs on it. Like the bass line of "Blue Flowers." The record companies listened to what they were saying and they were the lead people going into the office. They look at it like "Keith don't take care of his business. He's not on top of stuff like that." We can get away with this because he won't show up. A lot of people renege on stuff and say Keith won't be there. That created a whole colossal reputation about me. People had this weary look at record companies like Keith was a bad guy, when I really wasn't.

I'm a mystical artist. People see that I don't show up to many parties, and I'm not just there to be there. That bothers them. People want to feel that you're open to invitations for everything. "Hey, I have a baby birthday I want you to come to. Can you come over and say a rhyme?" "Stop by and sing "Poppa Large" for the baby!"

I think people feel that I'm not overly anxious to do anything. I just stay professional and do what I'm supposed to. When it's not out of the norm, they have a problem. I only show up to something when it is professional. A lot of people don't really do research to see why if something went down or there was some malfunction with a show. Or I'm on a rhyme with somebody or to be on time for an interview, I think they think I've done something wrong or made it go that way.

People live off of rumours. It reflects from my past years and experiences, people are "Yeah, we have the transactions to trade with you for your business services..." It's almost like a movie every time, "Okay, we're bringing the money in a suitcase but we've got to make the trade at the same time. Just hold your bag..." Everybody is paying after the show, everybody wants to pay me afterwards. "Can you do it first? We'll have somebody guard the door for when you finish it." I basically feel they want to get everything out of it. It makes you very insecure.

Why are you really working with me if you're scared of me? Why would you deal with me if you feel I'm not worthy of being dealt with? People want to work with me because I'm a very interesting and mysterious artist. They want to feel like I'm Batman or something. Is Adam West really going to come up to your house in a Batmobile? It's a really big charge for some people. But it's not that serious. They put me more on a pedestal.

MVRemix: Coke or Pepsi?

Kool Keith: None of them really. I'm not a caffeine person.

MVRemix: Most rappers I ask answer that, is the caffeine the main reason for you?

Kool Keith: If they had a non-caffeine version. It's the caffeine in soda that gets me too charged.

MVRemix: Which song are you most proud of writing?

Kool Keith: My personal ones. Songs I record for myself. I feel there are different dimensions of my recordings. There are songs that I make for the third outer-world. Songs for the inner-world. My albums are very different. You've got three types of consumers; people that buy all of your stuff, people that buy just one thing that they get stuck with and then you've got people that buy something vintage. Some people want internal, some commercially external.

Some want everything and anything and then you've got me, myself, who wants super-private and secret. Songs I listen to that the world would have never heard. Things that I feel, that I like. I feel I give so much to the world that I make songs for myself and say "Let me enjoy these, let the critics enjoy those!" That would break the essence of what makes me feel good. I have songs that people can't criticize because they've never heard them. I play songs myself, around the house in my headphones. Blasting them around... they're not rated. They're not under critical views. They're not for fans to get on the Internet and talk about. "I don't like this one, I don't like that one..." It's just a good feeling.

MVRemix: A la "Fight Club," "If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?"

Kool Keith: Fight? I don't really know. I don't have a particular person. Who would I fight? I don't even know exactly. There are a lot of corny artists out there that you could box with a homie-sock though. They're just totally off.

MVRemix: Tell me about your forthcoming album and the Diesel Truckers album...

Kool Keith: Me and [Kutmaster] Kurt collaborated on an album. It gave me a different feel for a minute again. I do these different projects with the sound changed up. Even though all my albums sound different from each other, when I do them myself. It gives me a change. When I work with Kurt, it gives everybody a switch for a minute. It's an energy thing giving myself a time zone to break into something new. It's like I'm sitting on the bench for a minute and after one project, I'm sitting on one album and start developing that. Musically I'm into myself. Different lyric patterns come out of me with other beats. I pretty much stay in the same realm of a producer circle. I might do one album with Kurt and after I might do nothing else with another project. Then I'll work with KHM or something, then I'll switch into Kool Keith production and do something with that.

I stay in a circle for just a minute. I get more advanced, I'm staying open-minded. Working with rap is cool, but I've opened my doors ten times more in the past year. I'm working on other stuff and listening to other stuff. I'm not rap all the time. I'm singing, I have House. I have House girls. Everything is Kool Keith in a certain way. If I do a House record, it's Keith. If I do a record with Barbara Streissand. It's Keith. The elements that come to that song are Kool Keith still. If it's an African song, it's still me.

I'm not setting a boundary. I don't have to do "Octagon" for the rest of my life. I expanded to so much bigger lanes. Some rappers just have one lane and they've just got one idea or concept they use for every album.

MVRemix: As someone who goes under alias' in music creation, would you ever consider writing in another genre?

Kool Keith: There's no genre. I try to challenge myself. Genres don't bother me. I like challenges. I might do a whole album from India or Pakistan. There's no limit for me to touch anything. People can only work with a certain type of element or background with what they're doing. Me, when you look at who I've worked with, that's fine. I could go work with a producer in Nigeria and blow up with the guy. It's something that people expect anyway. It's not like the other person made what I was doing. I'm still the artist of the painted picture. That's what makes me different.

Tomorrow I could fly out to Iran and work with somebody out there and it becomes something. Those are the challenges that I find very easy. That's why people are shocked by records I pop up on. "Whoa Keith did a record with Kooly Bamba." "Kooly Bamba is the biggest producer for the Pakistan border." When people look at Automator and they feel like "Octagon" was successful. It's just one of the small successful projects that I did. Prodigy sold a million albums. I rapped and was proud to be on their album. It was dope.

I just feel that you can make anybody. Me and the Pope, John Paul could do a record together and it's exciting. It's not the person you're working with. It's the collaboration. Collaborations are different but I love working by myself because I'm raised on my experiments.

MVRemix: Do you have any non-musical aspirations?

Kool Keith: I want to write one book that's the truth about the music industry. I want to write a book called "The Truth," the truth in the music business. What people see is not the vision of it. I would like to write how people alternate in their positions. One minute a person is in a prominent position and the next minute they're working at Wall-Greens or your average grocery store. "I used to be the big guy at this place or that place." I want to write about that type of atmosphere. The different ups and downs of people. The rapper that has his first hit. All the girls, all the fame, what it's like to get your first royalty advance. Groups who look big on television - a lot of the things people don't want to talk about.

The whole scenario of the music in general. From the dressing rooms to show promoters. To equipment; mics. People don't want to buy mics... People want to hire you to do two songs for the price of one. A lot are related to different things. Places where people have called certain artists to do something. All the tricks that people learn to live with.

MVRemix: Any last words to your fans or potential fans?

Kool Keith: I think the world is changing. The computer got everybody stuck with a mouse. Everybody's not open-minded. People are just putting blinders on their eyeballs. They're feeling too personal with music that everybody should hear. You've got people that want to hear everything universally. You've got people that want to have one CD and share it with ten other people. You've got a bunch of people that are not letting another person learn about something else. They get mad when something turns universal. People want a secret. "I have a Rock band's album in Montreal that nobody knows. I'm gonna keep it to myself." It's a weird thing. I'm trying to understand it. If that band appears to perform in Toronto Blue Jay arena, they'll be mad.

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