There are albums that you know every single word to before you purchase them. At least for me, there have been a few, and most of the blame for this phenomenon falls on the head of my dear friend Ben and the speakers of his white Acura Integra. The treble was entirely too high on these speakers, and I am continually disappointed when I finally get around to buying a record and find out a low end actually exists. However, the brown faux-leather interior of this automobile and those blown-out speakers are where I learned exactly how good music can be. It was in the backseat of this Acura where my love affair with hip-hop began, which is slightly sad when compared to what most other high-school love affairs were like in backseats.
Let it be acknowledged that the cassette tape is hip-hop’s true medium. People can say all they want about vinyl, but it is a tool of hip-hop; the tape has always been the product. This worked out well, because the Integra could only play cassettes. It was designed solely for the purpose of blaring Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy tracks on those fried speakers. The goldmine, however, was Dr. Octagon.
Before you hear Dr. Octagon, you hear a lot about it. I probably read a dozen articles concerning the record before actually hearing it. I knew all the absolutely insane details—a concept rap album in which Kool Keith raps as a gynecologist from Jupiter who travels to earth through a fax machine and creates abundant mischief with the help of characters such as Chewbacca Uncircumcised, Mr. Gerbik (the halfsharkalligatorhalfman), and the nonfabricated Dan the Automator and DJ Q-Bert. But it took Ben’s friend Dustin making a surprise move from Georgia to Texas for us to actually come by a tape of this album. During his going-away party, Dustin placed an aged cassette tape of the album in Ben’s hand. It was an act of surprising generosity, and when asked why he didn’t keep the album, Dustin pointed to his head and said, “I don’t need to.” Thusly, Dr. Octagon had attained proportions as mythic as possible before I actually heard it.
After recovering from the sadness of the unexpected departure of Dustin, we spent a lot of time in the Integra. Usually, we enjoyed the teenage hobby of aimless driving for a few hours before the meetings of our small local comedy troupe. We’d go to Wendy’s and the record store and listen to a lot of music. One of these days, shortly after the goodbye party, I sat down in the passenger seat of the Acura. Ben turned to his right and proceeded to tell me in his overly excited manner to shut up and listen to “the greatest song ever.” He had played me an awful lot of “greatest songs ever,” so I usually remained skeptical, on infrequent occasions disliking a song intentionally just to spite him.
The song begins with an urgent stab of strings and an obviously male voice attempting to sound like a woman working the front desk of a hospital, stating in a troubled monotone, “Dr. Octagon, please come to the office, come now!” with a sense of great emergency. Heart monitors beep, nervous strings build, and the faux female speaks of dying patients and the inconvenient appearance of a horse in the hospital before everything fades into synth-bass warbles.
And then it all comes together. I know very little concerning classical music, but the violin line of “Blue Flowers” is pound-for-pound the best use of the instrument, ever. The drum break starts, and with a wash of wah guitar and a sampled vocal coaxing “Let me show you something,” Kool Keith begins the most creative vocals in rap history by introducing himself as “Dr. Octagon, paramedic fetus of the East.” Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, at least one of the rappers was listening. With its chilling chorus and DJ Q-Bert’s ungodly scratching of a human scream sped up to cartoonish proportions, I knew that for once Ben was completely correct. It was love. For the next several months of our dollar-menu drives, we rarely weren’t listening to Dr. Octagon.
Eventually, we drove around less. We grew up a bit, finally found female companions to drive around with (girls we would never subject to the awkwardness that is Dr. Octagon). The comedy troupe broke up. The Integra crashed, sadly proving to be the destruction of the single greatest venue for hip-hop enjoyment ever crafted by human hands. Ben went to school a couple of hundred miles away, leaving me without a copy of Dr. Octagon. It was only two weeks ago that I finally purchased the album, sadly on compact disc due to my lack of a cassette deck; like Dustin, I didn’t need a copy. Even now, I mostly own the record to share it with other people. But everyone needs an album they will someday have to guiltily explain to their children. If only today’s rappers would go for their doctorates.