Themselves: Return of the Boom Bap
With <i>CrownsDown</i>, <b>Themselves</b> came full circle, delivering an album of straight-up hip-hop. <b>Adam "Doseone" Drucker</b> says it's all about avoiding rap Hell
Doseone is one of the founding members of seminal underground hip-hop label Anticon, which exploded out of Oakland in the late nineties. He is the main voice in the band Themselves; his other collaborations – as 13&God, with members of The Notwist, as the Anticon supergroup cLOUDDEAD, and as the six-piece experimental hip-hop band Subtle –have seen him alternate between ambient textures, extreme noise and intricately layered vocal harmonies, challenging notions of hip-hop.
With the last two Themselves released in 2009 – a mixtape (theFREEhoudini) and an album (CrownsDown) – Dose and his long-time friend and collaborator Jel went back to basics, performing intense live sets which showcase Dose’s intricate, polyrhythmic double-time raps and Jel’s jaw-dropping live percussion on the MPC. Before Themselves play a rare Scottish double at Glasgow’s Stereo and the Electric Circus in Edinburgh this month, we caught up with Doseone to get the lowdown on Themselves and the legacy of Anticon.
You work under a lot of different names – where do Themselves fit into this?
“Themselves is actually the closest to the bone that it gets for me. With each grouping of people, only certain things fly. Like, in 13&God, where I have six grown-ass men in that band with me – same thing in Subtle – I can’t be like: ‘I wanna lollipop!’ I can’t really put the I-me-me-I stuff in it. With Themselves there are none of those rules – Jeff and I are best friends, we share the same sense of humour, it’s the same musical soil that we came out of. Themselves is where I get to be me. With these last two albums, we really deeply enjoyed going back and making rap music, after everything we’ve done and explored.”
Is the live show equally exciting for you?
“There is something about the way we’ve been playing live that feels new again. It feels like the first time. I mean, I grew up watching rap bands like The Roots, but Jeff and I – we’re like that two-man boombox. While we may have always struggled with or not cared about our ties to the origins of rap, and our validity in its greater scheme because of wherever we come from, or where we wanted to go... now it’s like this really crazy, pure rap-in-a-can when we play live. It’s awesome, and I feel good about it, but I’ve always felt more than one way about getting into this thing which I deeply love and am meant to do – about being a rapper. Sometimes it was confusing, sometimes welcoming, sometimes frustrating. Now it feels really good. I don’t care if I’m standing next to fucking Redman or Holger Czukay [of Can], I feel proud about what I do in the greater scheme of music, the music that I came from and the music that I’ve always been heading towards.”
Anticon is nearly fourteen years old now. What do you think the label has achieved?
“What we have achieved is fucking awesome, which is that all of us can make the music we want to make, with no fingers in our vaginas whatsoever. That is all we ever wanted. I would say that any pipe dreams we had about ruling the world overnight? We’ve had to forfeit those. But it’s for a greater good. Our label is not drowning right now. I mean, Def Jux went down, all these labels have gone down, and we don’t have any of those problems. We’ve got a good group of people: we communicate, we put out music that we all approve of – still, somehow – which is mystical.”
CrownsDown felt like an album that was pure technique – the syllables match the MPC beats exactly. Why do you focus so hard on the technical aspects of rap?
“I’d have to say that the focus on technique comes from two things. One is that we are both neurotic, positively obsessed fans of this music – Jeff and I make rap because when we first heard it, it made us go crazy. It made us fall in love, we’d hear it in our sleep, hear it in our own voices... we have studious rap knowledge. We loved all the groups who were great, and have memorised ridiculous amounts of just horrendous rap records, which we love just as much, because they’re just one hundred and ten percent rap.”
Like Tim Dog?
“Good, exactly! Like, if every fucking rapper or front-person in the world swung it that hard, we’d be in a better place. Dude is like: ‘I AM RAP! I’M IT!’ That’s what I like about crazy-ass Tim Dog. Jeff and I have all this technique, all this ability because we schooled ourselves. Because we fucking loved it. It’s like if there’s this ever-present wack emcee, there should also be this ever-present ‘perfect man.’ I feel confident about being cocky about the fact that that is what I’m fucking with. The perfect rapper – freestyler, performer, chopper, writer. The crown! There’s no illusion. That’s the metaphor. We [as Themselves] have got to make the real shit. I don’t wanna go to rap Hell, not even remotely. I don’t even want to be in the waiting room. I wanna have a rider when I go to rap Heaven. I want it to be like, ‘Yo, dude, this is your room, check it out, you’re gonna love it! There’s not many people on this floor. It’s just you and two other guys, and they’re cool – you’re gonna love ‘em!’”