There’s no harm in asking, right? Tokyo indie rock quartet 54-71 can attest to this. Big fans of seminal New York MC Kool Keith, they e-mailed him to inquire about collaborating. Receiving a somewhat surprising “yes” reply, 54-71 flew to the U.S. in April and the two parties banged out 10 well-rounded cuts for “Idea of a Master Piece.”
Having used dozens of aliases, including Dr. Dooom and Black Elvis, during his prolific career, the eccentric Keith’s abstract, and at times bizarre, raps work great with 54-71’s avant-garde hybrid of postpunk, electro-funk, and experimental instrumentation. While 54-71’s tightly wound grooves shine especially bright on the Beastie Boys-ish old school, lo-fi rhythms of “Number 1 Draft Pick” and the keys and melodica-accented “The King is Here,” Keith is undoubtedly the star of the disc. He voices his disdain for commercial hip hop on “Extra Cheese” by firing veiled pot shots at his bejeweled major label counterparts (“Their lack of medium with substance hasn’t been improving.”) He keeps nothing hidden on “Major Support,” which opens with Keith offering his best ringleader impression with the clever line, “Hurry, hurry — I got tickets for the circus to see your favorite clowns perform,” before flat out ridiculing the rap industry.
Kool Keith tours Japan from June 27 to July 6. Sadly 54-71 won’t be backing him. Seeing this solid pairing re-create their record in a live show would have made for a very cool concert experience.