KOOL KEITH – “Rockets on the Battlefield”;”Livin’ Astro”;”I Don’t Play” (from the CD Black Elvis / Lost In Space)
Tom was right – Kool Keith is one of the great refusers of pop, the sort of figure we need for his utter rejection of all conceptions of “hipness”, his recognition of the weaknesses of whatever may surround him, be it the overt inarticulacy of “street” rap, its tendency to reduce its every expression to something completely beyond most human speech (but lacking the elation and escape of great post-articulate pop), or the “authentic”, “rootsy” excesses of the conscious element (of which more soon, sadly). The Prodigy connection that briefly pushed Keith into more widespread consciousness didn’t increase his sales the way it did for the Wu-Tang collective, probably because he was simply too beyond for the indie audience that picked up on “…Forever” at the precise moment the Clan’s consistency and credibility faltered.

These are three of the best moments from last year’s album, which I’ve discovered far too late. “Rockets in the Battlefield” has the best production anywhere here, an excess of radio interference and vicious digital screaming. “Livin’ Astro” is the best track of all – startling computer-game sounds over impossibly tight modern funk, Keith’s voice reaching an exact halfway point between aggression and enviable knowledge (“statues in the rock museum” is the most tantalising concept). “I Don’t Play” is the best conclusion imaginable, and Keith’s emceeing is the most confident and direct it is anywhere on the record. All are utterly removed from, somehow above, the wars that rage alongside them, and all the better for it. Whatever is important to know, this man knows it.