In the fall of 1997, in a dorm room at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, a friend dropped a hip hop album into the CD player that changed my perception of not only what rap was, but also where it could go. An extraterrestrial surgeon from Jupiter, Dr. Octagon wrecked the microphone with bumping beats from Dan the Automator and DJ Qbert while showing the “Earth People” that hip hop has room for psychedelic transformative mindscapes and pop-hop classics like “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” on the radio dial.
Performing surgery on his patients afflicted with “moosebumps” and “chimpanzee acne”, this Doctor’s accolades could not be chronicled by humans, but only by a mutant alien with yellow eyes, blue/grey skin and a penchant for rocking mics like an Ultramagnetic MC. I would come to learn that Dr. Octagon was the alter ego of Kool Keith, who has come to be known as a singular, prolific and genre breaking artist!
Keith “Kool Keith” Thornton has not only been the “Doctor”, but has also released tracks as Black Elvis and Dr. Dooom with credits on over 15 solo albums and as many collaborations over 3 decades. Probably best known is The Prodigy sample of Kool Keith for their breakthrough hit, “Smack My Bitch Up”, which crossed Keith over to the EDM/rave scene in 1997 and cemented him in lore as PRS for Music rated it the “most controversial song” of all time in 2010.
Photo credit: Funky Bitch Photography, Logan Arcade, 5th Annual Very Kool XMas Party December 21, 2018
While trying to expand our presence with musical artists and performers to raise our profile, we reached out to an old work friend, Bob Stolzberg. As founder of VoiceXP in St. Louis, Bob had worked with several high-profile celebrities and artists to expand his business, and was happy to give us a warm introduction to the music community there. Through these discussions, we got hooked up with Kool Keith’s manager, Erik Perry, and heard that Keith was extremely interested in a Firefly Cloak of his own. We were ecstatic that a rap legend would work with an up and coming lighted fashion brand like Austin Bright Light Design!
Little did we realize the immediate impact our Firefly Cloak would have on Keith’s live performances, as Instagram started exploding with posts of him onstage with comments like, “He’s a wizard!” and screams of “Whuuuuuuuuuuuuuut?” from the crowds as the lights dazzled their eyes while Keith spit fire on the mic! We knew it was real when the first official photo from one of the shows was backstage with DJ Lord of Prophets of Rage appeared.
It would be amazing if our story stopped there, but it kept getting better! Every March in Austin, Texas, we have a little collaborative get together called South by Southwest. And through our connection with the College of Hip Hop Knowledge, our good buddy Michael “Big Mic” Pereida, we heard something special was about to go down. CHHK always helps put together an unofficial showcase of some of the best rap talent in Central Texas each year for SXSW, with headlining talent typically going to well known, out-of-towners. Mike excitedly informed us that for South by 2019, the College had secured Kool Keith as their headliner! We knew we HAD to be there!
In order to get Kool Keith fully lit, we put in a call to our partners at GloFX to get him a pair of Pixel Pro LED Glasses to complete his look onstage at Kick Butt Café and the Lost Well. Like a true partner, they stepped up, and we were off! These shows were OFF THE CHAIN and the reaction was incredible. With a catalog as deep as Keith’s, the crowd was rocked for an hour with tunes past and present with his young stable of rappers in support spitting great bars as they were asked to several times by Keith.
We were even treated to another legend visiting backstage when Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys made one of his final appearances in Austin. His untimely passing still weighs heavy on the rap world, as he lost his fight with pancreatic cancer. RIP, Bill, and F%$# CANCER!
After leaving the Kick Butt Café show totally elated that the show was a smashing success, we were pleased that we were asked back to help with another show the next night at The Lost Well. Known for heavy rock and metal music, and the, “Friendliest bar you’ve ever been scared to walk into,” this Eastside hangout was about to blow up with a lighted display like no other once Keith hit the stage! Joined by female MC’s that showed it the ladies got the rhymes, too, it was a killer capper to a weekend of rap we’ll never forget!
Photo credit: Austin Bright Light Design, Kick Butt Cafe SXSW 2019, Austin, TX
Photo credit(s): Austin Bright Light Design, Kick Butt Cafe, Keith and Jason Balcauski of ABLD (above) and The Lost Well (below), SXSW 2019
We'd like to publicly thank Keith, his management, crew and everyone involved who had a part in including us in his orbit. Being a part of his live shows and sharing the light in the rap scene is so exciting for ABLD!
Stay Lit Y’all,
Austin Bright Light Design
Story cover photo credit: Melvin Monroe Photography