By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
On October 19, 1963, a potential heir to the throne of best rapper alive was born in the Bronx. His name was Keith Matthew Thornton. And after an incubation period of 25 years, the kid became a crazy lyrical chemist who called himself Kool Keith.
Starting out as one-fourth of lunatic late-'80s rap crew Ultramagnetic MCs, he dropped a debut record, 1988's Critical Beatdown, alongside fellow mike-mangling madmen Ced Gee, TR Love, and Moe Love. At first the album bombed. No one bought it. And only the dedicated heads even heard it. But eventually the critics dug Critical Beatdown out from the bottom of the bin and honored it as a classic hip-hop slab.
That's pretty much when the real Kool Keith story begins — the solo career, two dozen albums, and a seemingly endless assortment of alter egos, aliases, and pseudonyms including Poppa Large, Dr. Octagon, Black Elvis, Mr. Withers, Dr. Smith, and, um, Larry.
Needless to say, his output has been occasionally unfocused. For every left-field masterpiece, e.g. 1997's Sex Style, there's something like the baffling spoken-word insanity of 2006's The Return of Dr. Octagon. So while Keith's erratic behavior and even stranger musical inclinations have always been his chief virtues, those are also the things that have kept him from snatching that best rapper crown bequeathed to him at birth.