I am a really terrible music fan — or, to be precise, I’m a really terrible fan of individual artists. I’ll pick up a hot debut, fall passionately in love with it for three months or so, and pay little to no attention to the career that follows. Just off the top of my head, that’s what happened with Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., Aesop Rock… the list goes on. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when I learned of CrownsDown & Company, a remix of a Themselves album that I didn’t know existed. I was a committed fan of anticon. eight or nine years ago, arguably even one of their earliest boosters back when I did little write-ups for them at Audiogalaxy. I really believed in their mission, which in a nutshell was to infuse hip-hop with the same spirit of noisy, conceptual adventurism that was already firmly established in the indie rock world a decade ago. I actually have signed copies of the first two Themselves LPs on vinyl.
But the novelty wore off, or I grew out of some phase, or whatever always happens, and I moved on. It’s been at least five years since I paid a bit of attention to a rap act on anticon., although in this case I feel a little less guilty, since I seem to have been joined by music critics everywhere. anticon., the label, has had a somewhat ironic bit of success closer to indie rock proper, with acts like WHY? and, more recently, Baths — but, along with much of “underground” rap, as a project to have an impact on hip-hop, it seems to have had its day.
As much as I love Dose One and Jel, CrownsDown & Company does contribute some evidence as to why the peak came and went. In his less explicitly “hip-hop” group, Subtle, and before that in cLOUDDEAD, Dose was able to leave rap completely behind and polish an amazing sing-flow that still deserves as much attention as it can get. But his style here taps into his background as a Scribble Jam-era battler, and to be blunt it’s not always clear whether he’s sincere or engaged in an overblown piss-take of battle style. He spends a lot of time spitting guttural doubletime with an aggressive edge, and on tracks like “Themark” it’s got some real heat. But on “Skinning the Drum” and particularly the single “Back II Burn,” you can hear an edge of satire cropping up, a maybe-not-totally-conscious reminder that intelli-rap was always ambivalent toward its own genre.
The beats, on the other hand, argue for the continued relevance of the anticon. project. This year’s best-of charts were full of hip-hop-influenced noise and indie acts, weird warping and surrealism over beats — and CrownsDown will seem familiar to those who loved Salem, Gonjasufi, How to Dress Well, even Oneohtrix Point Never. Everything is distorted, hazy, full of lingering melodies but also brutally distorted beats. There’s even a hint of dubstep in the bwow-wow superelectricity of Lazer Sword’s bassline for “You Ain’t It.”
So, if this stuff is still enjoyable, contemporary, and good, why have fruit flies like me moved on to other rotting carcasses? I don’t want to overstate it; of course anticon. still has a fanbase, likely a committed one. But the blogs sure don’t care about them anymore, and this was a group practically born on the internet. Is this just the same as it ever was or some effect of the churn of our current music environment, constantly seeking the shock of the new? Maybe we just don’t consider this stuff as cool as we once did, or we’ve gotten less tolerant of the nerdiness that was always in it. Either way, this is a solid album, and I hope there are plenty of people out there to love and cherish it, with a greater degree of constancy and persistence than I’m apparently capable of. But the time when it would have been considered vital has, for whatever reason, passed.