I Deed It: The Making of Kool Keith’s “Livin’ Astro”

David Ma's column spotlighting the making of pivotal rap songs returns as he dives into the Black Elvis/Lost in Space single.
By    May 2, 2019

Art by Drew Coffman

When you see us with our wig to the side, etc., we’re livin’ that life. Please support Passion of the Weiss by subscribing to our Patreon.

David Ma is assuredly not the original black Elvis.

Black Elvis, a green-skinned spaceman with a pompadour, the intergalactic pervert with Marilyn Monroe on his back, the one desecrating planets with outer space orgies is none other than the great Kool Keith— veteran eccentric whose ability to stand out from the crowd has been his greatest strength since Ultramagnetic MCs’ Critical Beatdown (1988).

“I always wanted to be a futuristic spaceman changing dimensions in music,” says Keith, rather ambiguous in tone. Whether joking or serious, centered or unhinged, he’s nonetheless also known as Dr. Octagon, Poppa Large, Doctor Dooom, and about ten more aliases through the last 30+ years. If Dr. Octagon was trying to restore peace to the galaxy, Black Elvis was just trying bone alien life forms.

In 1999, after publicly announcing his disenchantment with Columbia Records, Keith’s fourth solo studio album, Black Elvis/Lost In Space, was released to fans awaiting his next incarnation. The project was supposed to simultaneously drop with Doctor Dooom’s First Come, First Served, but the label balked, causing frustration and pushback from Keith. “They wanted new producers and wanted all kinds of people in the studio but I said no,” he remembers. “I fought real hard to keep the album the way it was.”

Keith produced almost the entire album and guests were kept minimal, Sadat X and Roger Troutman among the limited few. This August, Lost In Space turns twenty so there’s no better time to revisit the making of “Livin’ Astro,” the hilarious single from the project where even Kool Keith wonderfully out-weirded himself.

“Livin’ Astro” was the key to the album’s cover and the overall design of what my character would be. At first when we started, I wanted this to be more urban and not even really sci-fi but the art department at the label decided to take my ideas to another level. They made it all far-out and futuristic, which I didn’t really have an issue with. I just wanted to have different images of myself and be Elvis Presley in black form.”

“The wig was my idea and it became a significant symbol in the video and also when I toured the album. I thought it was just a picture for the promo and but the label loved it. We had a lot of issues with the release date of this song and video because of the label. It was a time when the label wanted to have different people with me in the studio and it was a weird time because I would get to the studio and there’d be people who I didn’t even know that wanted to participate. So everything got pushed back on this album because they wanted new producers. I had to tell them no. I was in the middle of Doctor Octagon and Doctor Dooom and Black Elvis was supposed to be my major label masterpiece, my time to shine.”

“I don’t think the album could’ve been completed without the “Livin Astro.” I liked that it also had a bass line that was a little different. I played 90% of the album’s music on here. Back then, people were so critical of artists producing themselves, especially rappers, which is why the album is listed as “Produced By Nightcrawler.” Most people don’t know that Nightcrawler is actually me and Live 7. I wanted to change the perspective of people’s criticism. This album made a bunch of rappers go all sci-fi afterwards and I was happy to see that I was an influence.”

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