t took nearly a decade to finally get it right, but the Dr. Octagon you know and love (and possibly still sniff glue to) is back. It's not just in Nogatco Rd.'s groan-inducing pun of a title; we get the scatological brain-teasers ("I'mma show you how to come in this game with urination on your fingers"—Moises Alou reference?), left-field disses ("Comedians take you serious / Your first show is at the Laff House"), and bizarre sex talk that made his rumored stay at Bellevue as integral to his story as any bullet wound or hustler history.
OK, so that's only true of the tacked-on outro to "Celestial" and Keith's verse in the Sole/Sage Francis collaboration "Final Dissection." Together, they constitute a span of about ninety seconds. It warrants mentioning that Nogatco Rd. has about 44 additional minutes. Sorry if I led you on, but with Kool Keith's track record of late ("of late" being an elastic phrase), you're a real trooper if you've even gotten this far.
The problem that pretty much negates Nogatco Rd. from the get-go is that we never figure out what exactly the Mr. Nogatco alter ego brings to the table other than the "first man on the moon" stuff we've heard done far better. It's no secret that Keith is at his best playing defined roles, whether it was Dr. Octagon, the vainglorious rock star Black Elvis, madd rapper/cannibal Dr. Dooom, or the porno enthusiast of Sex Style. These may not have been fully-fleshed identities, but they gave Keith boundaries and a theme to riff on. None of them really sounded like each other, but they all sound like the work of Kool Keith. We find out Mr. Nogatco likes to hang out at Epcot Center, travel to Phoenix, and wear space boots, but that's about it.
As such, we don't get much out of Keith other than what Prodigy once called "crazy space shit that don't make no sense." Keith's as impenetrable as he's ever been, but there aren't the raw materials to make digging in worthwhile. It's clearly the latest cannibalization of his rep, banking on his fans' belief that there's deeper meaning behind the tossed-off astral jargon. Past tracks would've been filled with choice pop-culture nuggets like "run through vagina like Tony Dorsett" and "I was Bobby Brown of the group, like New Edition," but these are the two most memorable lines from the entirety of Nogatco Rd..
A lot of this has to do with the fact that there aren't a whole lot of words on this album. With Keith's steam of consciousness wordplay, it's always been in his best interest to overwhelm the listener by jamming as many images into his rhymes as possible. As on the nearly identical Project Polaroid LP, Keith flips a gruff slow-flow that leaves his lyrics exposed and ugly like a post-hangover bedfellow. I wouldn't be shocked if I found out he recorded all of his vocals from a beanbag chair. It feels somewhat pointless to criticize Kool Keith about his rhythmic acuity, since he's probably never rode a beat in the traditional sense in his entire career. But here, his cadence is so stunted and halting that it sounds like you're only hearing one end of an awkward phone conversation.
Iz-Real isn't the kind of draw that Dan The Automator or even Kutmasta Kurt is, but his production keeps Nogatco Rd. from being totally forgettable. It's still every bit as murky as you'd expect from something on the Insomniac imprint, but it avoids the "amateur hour on the MPC" production that plagued Keith's work in the early 2000's. "Celestial" is the funkiest thing Keith's been on in a long time and with the prevalence of chunky guitar riffs, someone's obviously been listening to "I'm Destructive" instead of Keith's claims that the drum sounds on Matthew changed the game. While Keith fills out the beats as enthusiastically as my uncle fills out tax statements, there's enough variation in tempo and texture to make things move a little. And hey, at least Keith isn't doing that thing where he says the song's title every two seconds and calls it a hook.
My hesitance to completely dismiss Nogatco Rd. elucidates why Kool Keith is such a frustrating and effective cult favorite; his greatest assets double as his greatest liabilities, and calling him out when his quirks turn into flaws might instigate a lengthy reappraisal of why you liked him in the first place. It's probably not worth the effort. Then again, no amount of commercial or critical apathy is really going to make a difference. You're fooling yourself if you think that Nogatco Rd. will be anyone's introduction to Kool Keith, or that it will be heard by anyone other than obsessive completists and Kool Keith himself, the only people who really believe he's still the greatest MC despite releasing album after album so inconsequential they might as well not even exist.
After explicitly murdering the Dr. Octagon character and spitting on his grave on the Dr. Dooom album, you just wish Keith would've made the resurrection of his most beloved alias feel like a more essential addition to his catalog. Not only was there a Dr. Octagon II released without Keith's permission, supposedly a Return of Dr. Octagon is in the works that doesn't even include Keith at all. With that in mind, Nogatco Rd. will probably be the pick of the litter, but as for now, Insomniac Records will probably best be known as the place where beloved alter egos like Dr. Octagon and Viktor Vaughn went to released half-assed death rattles. Can Bobby Digital III be that far away?