There’s weird, and then there’s Keith Thornton, a.k.a. Kool Keith. As hip-hop went pop and the underground became massive in response, Kool Keith became a standard-bearer and gateway drug for oddness. His debut solo album, 1996’s Dr. Octagon (re-titled Dr. Octagonecologyst for the DreamWorks re-release) was a psychedelic, Moog-drenched, surrealist masterstroke that made its mark even if Keith didn’t exactly become a household name. He followed that LP up with a staggering amount of records and appearances. Even the most hardcore fan could be forgiven for losing track.
But even within the precedent of the unexpected that Thornton long ago established, the Analog Brothers project was a surprise. The fact that Keith decided to work with a group wasn’t a stretch. After all, he first emerged as a member of the underrated Ultramagmetic MCs. But what made the project confusingly notable was the presence of Ice-T. Even 16 years ago, this was a weird collaboration, and seemingly no one knew what to do with the record. Put out by a small indie label, the Analog Brothers’ only album, Pimp to Eat, kind of slipped through the cracks when it was released. Luckily, it has been reissued by the Mello Music Group.
Who knows how they got together, but just like a proper group, the Analog Brothers had their own aliases. Ice-T became Ice Oscillator and helmed keyboards and drums, as well as vocals, while Thornton adopted the moniker of Keith Korg (bass, strings, vocals), Mark Live became Mark Moog (drums, violin, vocals), Black Silver became Silver Synth (synthesizer, vocals), and Pimp Rex was dubbed Rex Roland (keyboards, vocals, production). The name Analog Brothers referred to the type of instrumentation they were using and also as a strike against what they thought was the encroaching digitalization of music. (Little did they know!)
Besides its mere existence, the biggest surprise of Pimp to Eat is hearing Ice-T adopt Keith’s rhyme style right from the jump with “Analog Brothers Intro.” Throughout his run of classic albums, Ice has utilized a very specific flow, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear him get “super-scientific” and choppy. He vacillates between his imitation of Kool Keith, his classic flow, and a hilariously over-the-top version of his pimp persona. On paper it seems to make no sense at all, but once you hear it in action, it sounds natural.
There is generally enough momentum to keep the party going, but there’s no denying who the stars are on this record. As such, when Kool Keith and Ice-T aren’t featured, the album loses a bit of its shine. It could also have benefited from some editing. “Who Wana Be Down,” featuring Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate, never really gets started, and then you have a song like “War,” which isn’t bad, but the production is so busy, it feels like it’s from a different project altogether.
But for the most part Pimp to Eat lives up to what you’d hope it would be like. It’s a snapshot of a very specific moment in time, but it doesn’t come across as dated, probably because it was purposely designed to exist outside of the mainstream. It’s a fun, solid album that deserved a bigger audience than it got the first time around.