Kool Keith, Esham

Who's afraid of the Boogie man?: Welcome to Esham's nightmare.

Kool Keith is a hip-hop legend going back 20 years to rap's early beginnings. The onetime Bellevue patient was a member of seminal Bronx group Ultramagnetic MCs before striking out on his own to forge some of the most outlandish rap characters in the pantheon -- Doctor Octagon and his eventual assailant/replacement Dr. Doom. Keith's imagination is as rich and impressionistic as Tolkien, and produces a thick weave of reference and metaphor to abet his wild, larger-than-life persona. Esham worked with Keith on 2002's Spankmaster, and shares a similarly fevered, lyrical outlook. But where Keith's imagery has an out-there sci-fi quality, Esham is more Friday the 13th. His macabre nightmarish rhymes are as dark as anything Marilyn Manson's written, turning on drugs, decadence and decay like an acid-fueled trip through his Detroit home during the fiery mayhem of Devil's Night. Aside from the morbid subject matter, Esham was also among the first rappers to employ rock-oriented beats back in the early '90s (he released his first album when he was 13), and he continues to fashion unusual and innovative productions.

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