Kool Keith - Black Elvis/Lost In Space (retro review) (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Kool Keith

Black Elvis/Lost In Space (retro review) (1999)


Kool Keith is as close to David Bowie as hip-hop may ever get. That isn’t to say he’s made genre defining and genre defying albums, which he has. It’s rather to say he’s created multiple personas across his career. From medical professionals, like Dr. Octagon and his eventual killer Dr. Doom, Keith Korg who teamed up with Ice-T to form Analog Brothers, Poppa Large back in his Ultramagnetic MCs days, and on this 1999 album he was Black Elvis. Well he was for part of it, he was also Keith Televasquez and Keith Turbo.

No matter what character he was speaking as, the album Lost in Space deals with space travel and the wide-open spaces found there. It’s also safe to say Keith threw a decent amount of shade at the contemporary hip-hop scene too. This is especially obvious on the opening intro. The critique of hip-hop isn’t surprising, even at his most conventional Kool Keith was always trying to expand the genre in some way. By the late 90’s hip-hop was trying to find solace after losing Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace in the years prior. Part of that, was moving away from the more violent and dark aspects of early to mid-nineties gangsta rap. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t find drug references or gun talk on a single, but this was two years after Puff Daddy’s No Way Out. Which, even at its darkest and most violent felt like a walk in the park when compared to mainstream hip-hop just a few years earlier. The genre, and culture, were looking for comfort though. And for artists like Kool Keith, I don’t think comfort can be found in the familiar.

The way Keith pulls this character off, works. It has a different perspective than many of his other characters. Which, while important, from the creative standpoint. But, aside from the character there are a lot of familiar points here, in the production. Which could be why Black Elvis is said to be Dr. Doom’s twin. Though, given that Keith himself is the only constant between this album and First Come, First Served it’s unlikely the similarities are fully intentional.

In terms of lyrics, Keith is always on point. Even with the various personas he takes on, his use of language, flow, and energy have always been remarkable. It’s honestly surprising when a list of the greatest rapper is compiled and Keith is nowhere to be found on it, or is placed behind rappers who he can rap circles around. This album is no exception. The big variable, with someone like Keith, is if you’re going to dig the persona they adopt. If someone writes the best album of their but they write the album about the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly. There’s likely to be some disconnect with their audience.

Keith put together a solid album here, while not a vulgar or violent as First Come, First Served it holds up better over time. If for no other reason, then Black Elvis is more relatable than Dr. Doom who is a cannibal that pops Flintstone vitamins. This was, in my mind, one of the strongest hip-hop albums of 1999. But, Keith was in such a different place than the rest of the genre not many people took notice. It peaked at 180 on the Billboard 200, whereas Eminem’s major label debut would peak at 2, and Dr. Dre’s 2001 which would also peak at 2 on the Billboard 200.