Maybe we should forgive Kool Keith for the curmudgeonly tone of recent albums like Matthew and Spankmaster, in which he relentlessly disses other rappers for being flat and phony. Granted, he’s right about the conservative impulse in mainstream hip-hop, but the underground MC doesn’t waste breath clowning Nelly when he has bigger fish to fry — specifically, Wu-Tang’s Ghostface, whose relatively innovative Pretty Toney Album gets a bum rap on Keith’s new song “Bamboozled”: The woman chose me over guess who? Pretty Toney/Kid, I got the lady signed to Sony. Ouch.
Needless to say, Kool Keith earned his bragging rights: A former member of the prominent NYC collective Ultramagnetic MCs, this famously whacked-out lyricist came up alongside giants like Eric B. and Rakim. Since the ’80s, he has minted more albums than you can count on your fingers and toes, besides dabbling in porno flicks. Today, most hip-hop heads would cite MF Doom as Keith’s proper analogue, because both invent a different personality for each album and fully inhabit it. Ergo, Keith’s galactic Black Elvis, strip-clubby Spankmaster, and the lusty Dr. Octagon, a demented “octagonecologyst” from the year 3000.
Given the title, you’d expect Diesel Truckers to be Keith’s funky redneck album, and veteran producer Kutmasta Kurt provides a smattering of futuristic horn blares, steamrolling beats, and gravelly studio effects to fit the theme. Still, this album seems unfocused overall: Keith’s raps range from self-congratulatory rants (“Bamboozled”), to referential, trash-culture love ballads (“I Love You Nancy”) to catchy, pop-oriented songs (“Break U Off” and “I Drop Money”), which have an anomalous presence in his otherwise twisted oeuvre. With better production and fewer perversions than the MC’s previous efforts, Diesel Truckers may convert the uninitiated, but longtime followers will wonder what’s stifling Kool Keith’s imagination these days.