Kool Keith


How did you and Ced Gee meet? What were those pre-Ultramagnetic days like?

I met Ced Gee in high school; we both went to Clinton. At lunchtime, we had big radios and would walk around with ’em. At the time, rap was just like something we liked but didn’t really participate in. Then one day, our friend [Almighty] Kay Gee told me that he was gonna try out for Cold Crush Brothers. Then he came back and told us he made it! Then [Grandmaster] Caz, and Kay, and Easy A.D. became Cold Crush, and we flipped out! That’s when I decided I could probably do this rap thing too!

So one day, Ced and I went to this place his brother, Pat, chilled at. Pat made beats and they called themselves Mastermind Productions. They had mics and equipment and all that stuff, so a lot of things started up there. KRS [One] even made tracks up there with his early group called the Celebrity Three.
So when I was up there, I saw what they were doing and thought I could make music too. Ced’s mom bought us a SP-1200, and that’s when I began getting into music and rapping. That’s how things started.

What’s your writing method like?

I construct songs very seriously, even though it might sound like I’m just goofing off. A lot of people make records by working with producers they know nothing about and just get beats to spit over. But I’ve always told [KutMasta] Kurt and other producers I’ve worked with to match their tone with my lyrics.

You’ve worked with so many different producers through the years. How have those experiences struck you as a rapper?

If you just got off the plane from 42nd Street with crazy people yelling at you, and bums on the streets, and piss-filled elevators, and people upset, and traffic, and all that mess, your style isn’t gonna mesh with a producer who’s from a sunny meadow. Some of these producers’ beats won’t match what your vibe is, because they made the beats in their beautiful backyard, with a horse in their garden and poodles running around, and they can’t have the same feelings as a rapper from a different part of the country. They tend to make records in their environment and think rappers can just jump on the track. I don’t want to rap over a fluffy beat from a producer who just picked flowers from his garden. [laughs] So at times, it’s been difficult in that way.

You’re more level-headed than most people would imagine. Were you really locked up for psychiatric issues at Bellevue Hospital? Once and for all, what’s the story behind that?

They always said I went crazy! [laughs] Here’s the straight story: I did a press day when I was signed with Mercury. And all they gave us was water, which I was drinking all day long. I was so tired of doing press and hungry since all I had was water for hours and hours. Well, all these journalists came in for press day for Ultramag’s Funk Your Head Up. We had about fifty interviews to do for the entire day! And everyone kept asking the same question over and over: When did you do this and when did you do that? What made you Kool Keith? It became very repetitious.

So I was tired and was messing around with Ced just to make him laugh. I told this one reporter that I went crazy and was sent to Bellevue Mental Hospital. I told him I tried to eat my own hand and that they had to stop me! Ced was holding his stomach because he was laughing so hard—so I thought the dude would know it was a joke! It was a European dude, and years later, I pick up and read about how mentally crazy I was. This European cat’s magazine was referenced in the article saying I was a “former mental patient” and stuff. So I thought, “Wow, this would be great press!” And the publicists were like, “This would be great press!” So I just took it and ran with it.