In the past i have commented on how i
just don't get hip-hop. Then a friend on a mailing list
pointed out that i don't get mainstream pop or rock either,
so why should i be expected to get mainstream hip-hop? It had
honestly never occurred to me before that moment that there
was an underground in hip-hop. I dunno why, since it seems so
logical now. Anyway, i then pestered my email colleague for
some recommendations in the world of underground hip-hop.
One name that was mentioned is Anticon, which is apparently
some sort of collective. Attentive readers will note that Anticon
is the organization that lent rappers to Hood's Cold
House LP, specifically they added some rap to the
wonderful Branches Bare, as well as a few other tunes.
Based on this connection i have since tracked down several Anticon
CD's, and this is the first that i will review here.
Themselves is a collaboration between the rapper Dose (who
called himself "Dose One" when he rapped for Hood) and a producer/DJ
named Jel. Both of them seem to really know what they are doing.
Dose has an interesting voice. I would not call it a good voice
in the same sense that lead Lornan
Mark Rolfe has a good voice, nor is he a skilled singer in the
same way that Liz Fraser
is. Instead, Dose uses his voice in a way that seems new to
me: he drones. There are several times when his voice is a low
rumble, barrelling its way through words. It is almost rhythmic,
especially in the song Live Trap where his voice is the
rhythm backing up the layers of strange synth tones that Jel
has sequenced. Very cool.
But when Dose really gets going, it seems as if he is half
singing. For example, the last track on the disc, Hat In
The Wind, features Dose rapping "I am a drug addict" over
and over as a sort of chant. In fact, his voice is layered,
so that there are several Dose's gregorianically chanting this
one phrase over and over. It is a beautiful effect, a feat of
vocal layering worthy of the master of that art, Robin
Guthrie himself. It's also insanely catchy, so much so that,
if i am not playing attention, i find myself singing along.
Which is not something you want to do at the office, given the
Dose actually fully sings on the song Paging Dr. Moon or
Gun, which is a pretty cool song. A simple piano riff plays
over and over, while a big sampled drum beat thuds away, and
Dose sings overtop. I like this song, and for some reason it
reminds me of something from the 80's that i can't quite put
my finger on. I hate it when i can't think what a song compares
to... Oh well.
So, my verdict on Dose's rapping is that it is very interesting.
I like it, actually. But the real attraction of this album is
the DJ work of Jel.
Jel's music is well-layered, with frantic beats and awesome
keyboard/synth samples. He also seems to have played with the
recording quality on the vocals -- sometimes a making them a
little flat and distorted, sometimes leaving them completely
clear and clean. It's an IDM effect, really. In fact, Jel's
work treds the boundary between hip-hop and IDM. For example,
the very end of the album is a little coda that fades back in
after Hat In The Wind fades out, and this coda would
be equally at home on a Plaid
The first track on the album, Home:Work is Jel's showcase.
It is a catchy instrumental that reminds me of the faster-paced
work of DJ Shadow. It is very well done.
On the whole i really like this disc, even the more conventional
rap numbers, like Dark Sky Demo and Mouthful.
It's not quite like anything else i have listened to. In fact,
i started to write this review with a certain happiness that
i could point to a hip-hop album that i actually "got".
Alas, i apparently still have a ways to go in my appreciation
of hip-hop. After i have composed my review, i look at other
reviews in order to see if anyone else named something that
was on the tip of my tounge (like the 80's act that Paging
Dr. Moon or Gun reminds me of -- but alas no one else got
it either.) And there i learned that this album was somewhat
panned in the rap world. Reviews i read said that it was "flat"
and "unimaginative". Well, maybe that is from the rapper perspective.
From my indie-rock/shoegazer perspective this is pretty durn
So i am recommending it to people who have yet to locate any
approachable hip-hop. This is a good "way in" to the genre.
However, if you are already a real rap fan then i guess this
isn't for you.