Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Doseone talks Themselves, the art of freestyle and battling Eminem

July 30, 2009 | 12:31 pm


If there’s a rapper heaven, surely Adam “Doseone” Drucker will slide by sans grilling from St. Peter. After all, plenty of emcees are self-aggrandizing enough to release an album entitled “Music for the Advancement of Hip Hop,” but far fewer are talented enough to achieve that rarely realized goal.

But in the 10 years since co-founding the Anticon label, Drucker has continually warred with the reactionary tide over a slew of both collaborative and solo projects, including cLOUDDEAD, Deep Puddle Dynamics, Greenthink, 13 & God and Themselves (he's at right in the above pic, with Themselves partner Jeffrey “Jel” Logan).

Eclectic is the catch-all cliché typically used to describe artists like the Oakland-based Drucker, but it doesn’t do justice to his unclassifiable oeuvre that lambently synthesizes indie rock, noise, spoken word, electronic, psychedelia and even performance art. Yet at his core, the former veteran of famed Cincinnati-based rap festival the Scribble Jam is a hip-hop head weaned on Gangstarr, Wu-Tang, and the usual golden-age-of-rap suspects.

With Themselves, Dose channels those roots with his trademark mixture of scrambled poetics and lacerating, rapid vocals that not only warrant rewinding, but also demand it.

While taking a detour in Las Vegas, following a night of getting inked with Shroud of Turin temporary tattoos by a heavily accented Polish artist, Drucker spoke to Pop & Hiss about his new album, "CrownsDown," battling Eminem and the decision to get the band back together.

This is the third Themselves record, but the first since 2002. What led to the decision for you and Jel (Jeffrey Logan) to get back into the studio under the Themselves moniker again?

Jeff and I are united at the core, two fetuses one womb, so we returned to this because it needed to happen. We started Subtle because Dax wanted to expand our sound and what we were working on. We did it for five or six years straight and it felt real and true and present. At the time, we didn’t know how many rap records we could make -- it felt like we were walking toward a dead end. Subtle opened us up and now we’re going back to rap time and space.

It also came about because I’ve been teaching kids to freestyle in downtown Oakland, and it just lit up the fire inside me hearing what they thought about Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy. So I’ve just been having fun doing that, teaching them rap history and showing them Myka 9 verses.

How did you end up teaching there?

A wonderful woman I was dating asked me to talk to them. I was skeptical at first because when I was a kid in New Jersey, all the programs like that were [expletive], full of detached instructors and kids. But when I spoke to these kids, they were awesome and hungry. They wanted to talk to me about my battling days and right as I was about to leave, they were ‘okay, now it’s time for freestyling class.’ So I stayed, joined in, and now I teach the class with another instructor. It’s nice because ciphering kind of died out in terms of its popularity. At least, it did for me, I couldn’t exactly go up to the cellist in Subtle and be like, “yo…let’s battle!”

How would say the Themselves aesthetic differs from the stuff you’ve done with Subtle?

I’ve always been about following the creative path wherever it takes me, and it always felt shortsighted to just do rap forever. At the same time, no matter what I did, I could never go anywhere far from where I started. Rap was the only music I listened to until I was in my early 20s, no other type of music ever gave me the chills like that. It’s nice to come back and really execute -- to be respectful and at the same time still kill it. Subtle is about making these works that hold up forever -- Themselves is about kicking the door off the hinges and using some of the other emotions that you don’t get to use when you’re trying to project things that don’t reek of your own issues. Subtle was about concept records and I’d try to keep some of my opinions out of it as much as possible. So it was really nice to bring that honesty back.

Compared to six years ago, rappers today seem more open to cross-genre experimentation. Do you feel like the hip-hop climate today is more conducive to a group like Themselves, then it was when you dropped your last record?

The climate is more favorable, but I don’t have any faith that we’re going to be this crazy popular act all of a sudden. With Subtle, I spent a lot of time being concerned with where we could go with it and the reception we’d receive. I didn’t let it in the playpen when I was creating and we made exactly what we wanted to make, but the idea was always in the back of my mind.

But if the new Eminem record and the new Asher Roth record are the highest ceiling for sales and exposure, then I lack faith. But I don’t have a thermometer gauging the temperature of the world, if they want more pulp in their in their juice, there’s nothing like the “theFREEHoudini” mixtape and “Crowns Down” in terms of both craftsmanship and hunger. We’re really going for it. Usually rappers’ first record is their best because they’re really hungry, then they get better at rapping and their sound gets cleaner and brighter, but lacking in that hunger.

Speaking of Eminem, you famously battled him at the 1997 Scribble Jam. What’s your most vivid memory of that experience?

I’ll make large generalizations here, but there were two big shots in town who had just won this Source Battle: Juice and Rhymefest. They’re been taking first and second in freestyle battles all over the country, with Rhymefest sometimes conceding to Juice and vice versa. The thing was they’d kick prepared written verses, not freestyles and none of them very good to be honest. So they’d do all these battles with written lines, multiple times, pretending that they’d never heard those verses before. But there was a code that you weren’t supposed to say anything, quiet as kept.

Meanwhile, you had these two white boys mutilating people to get to the finals -- that was me and Eminem. And Eminem was absolutely killing it and eating people alive. When he battled Juice in the semifinals, he was fantastic and should’ve won. When you’re the underdog and come up on the challenger like that, you should always win. But that’s not the way the capitalist world works. Meanwhile, I battled Rhymefest and was finishing his wack rhymes before he even had the chance to say them. Since they were written, he paused and went dead quiet. He couldn’t believe I was mutilated him like that. So I won, and at that point, I was the only one who had qualified for the finals. But Rhymefest complained to the judges that I was talking during his set, but I was merely finishing his wackness for him. So he gets put back in and he gets to battle Juice and I have to battle Eminem. So now there are four people in the finals.

Eminem and I go up to each other and say, ‘hey, you’re killing it.’ We have a beer, exchange numbers and demo tapes. To make a long story short, I get home and throw in his tape, which was his first “Slim Shady EP,” and every single rap he used in the battle was written, which was a serious demerit in my eyes. So I never contacted him and a few months later, I pick up a copy of the Source and he’s in [the magazine's] Unsigned Hype. I couldn’t help but think that if he’d actually been kicking freestyles, we’d have somehow collaborated together. At least, I would’ve called him. But it worked out great, at the same time I met Slug [of Atmosphere] and Sole and we had the same morals and beliefs and we could bridge a sense of trust between us, and that’s pretty much the light and dark of it.

-- Jeff Weiss

Photo: Anticon