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V/A - Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004

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Artist: V/A

Album: Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004

Label: Anticon

Review date: Feb. 19, 2004

When discussing the Bay Area hip hop collective Anticon, it's easy to find yourself buried underneath a mess of race issues. The guys in the Anticon collective are white, and they had the nerve to call a compilation of theirs Music For The Advancement Of Hip Hop. The blessing and curse of a title like that it will cause some people to take you really, really seriously, and if those people are also mostly white, well...

For that reason, there a lot of people that love Anticon and think they've revolutionized hip hop; there are at least as many who think their music is art-school trash, not 'real' hip-hop. The irony of all this is that on record, Anticon are generally less prone to self-aggrandizement than most MCs. Whatever the case, though, lots of people who talk about Anticon don't exactly do so with an open mind.

Does their Music Advance Hip Hop? Sure, I guess, but thousands of artists have helped hip hop evolve. For a collective that makes hip hop that a relatively large number of people hear, "Music For The Advancement Of Hip Hop" isn't even a terribly bold claim, unless that collective is artsy and white. Is Anticon revolutionary? Are its members the best thing ever to happen to hip hop? No way on both counts, but Anticon is deserving of praise, even if it's not the over-the-top adulation it often gets from the converted.

Anticon's chief contributions to the Advancement Of Hip Hop are threefold: the nasal qualities of their voices, their approach to rhythm and the self-examining and surreal contents of their rhymes. If MCing typically resembles real-life speech, Anticon MCing typically resembles an alarm clock - it's mechanistic beeping in which forcefulness and consistency trample inflection. This approach often frees MCs like Doseone to sing their lines in pitch. It's still rapping because they don't sing melodically, really; they spit out a million syllables in the same pitch above one chord, then change pitches when the chord changes and spit a million syllables again. It can be very catchy, even though it's (presumably) far removed from the way they talk.

About those million syllables: the way they're arranged in space has very little to do with most hip hop. The usual Anticon approach to rhythm does have a precedent in (weirdly enough) Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but it also has a lot more in common with drum and bass than with most of today's hip hop. Anticon MCs like Alias and Passage often go quadruple-time nuts in irregular patterns over slow, steady beats, much like the snare drum sounds in drum-n-bass do.

Anticon's lyrical approach has been described as "shrink rap," and they're often every bit as self-reflective as that name implies. But theirs isn't the repetitive, clueless self-reflection of high school poetry. Rather, Anticon MCs deal in dreamlike and semi-intelligible ruminations on aging, sex, nostalgia and their relationships to their surroundings. They're not above jokes, but they usually don't attack others, focusing instead on surreal situations and weird puns.

These qualities are all present in abundance on the Anticon Label Sampler, a budget-priced collection of tracks by all the Anticon members, as well as friends like Controller 7, Sage Francis and Hrvatski. The album gets weirder and bolder as it goes along, reaching its peak with Why?'s "Darla," which sounds like the best indie-pop song the Elephant 6 collective never made, and Sole's excellent political rant "Dumb This Down."

Anticon's Odd Nosdam mixed the 33 (!) tracks here to sound continuous. His decision to include so many tracks was overambitious, and he's forced to chop some into tantalizing snippets. His mixing isn't anything special, so Anticon would have been better off including fewer tracks and presenting them in completed form. Other than that, the Label Sampler is a fine introduction to Anticon.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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