Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004
Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch
Friday, June 25 2004, 7:57 PM
Hip-hop presents a challenge for 'grown-ups' who don't like imposing their taste on others, particularly when those others are children. The music sounds best coming out of anti-social car stereos that make pedestrians' teeth chatter. And the flow runs richest when it bypasses the sewage treatment plant. Sure, you can listen with the headphones on, but what's the fun in that? Enter the intelligent, earnestly 'alternative' releases of the Anticon label.
Did you prefer De La Soul before you found out the real meaning of that word that rhymes with penny? Would you rather not feel like an extra in the cast of Shaft? Anticon may be the antidote to a life without hip-hop. Despite the occasional 'badord and the scent of herbal intoxicants, acts like Alias, Sole, and Why? construct soundscapes subtle enough to deploy as cutting-edge dinner music. And without forsaking the without-which-not that made hip-hop interesting in the first place, back when its biggest concern was going over to a friend's house to eat where, 'the macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed, and the chicken tastes like wood.
Yes, there's something strange about the fact that first-wave NYC hip-hop is being nostalgically conjured by artists who look pretty white and, dare I say it, might even hail from Maine. But, in the end, the words and samples win out. Consider the PG-rated righteousness of these rhymes on Deep Puddle Dynamics' D. Mothers of Invention:
When the sun looks at me, I feel alright It ain't nothing but a moment, before it turns away The humidity tripped me off of my feet last night And when I looked up, I saw that I had nothing to say I think I'd like people more, if they'd think more like me So quietly I wait for my inner revolution When the eagle can soar, forward, toward the sea I'll aim at the Beast in the name of retribution
That's as close to explicit political activism as these recordings get. And it's not the most exclusive bandwagon, either, since everyone short of Anton LaVey is down with the war against darkness.
Sometimes, though, it's not mobilization that's needed but a space in which to move. The songs on this sampler devote their energy to dislodging us from the cultural claustrophobia that holds us captive. They make us see the sea, imagining better worlds across it. In Dosh's 'Steve the Cat,' it's a word-free world, where the analog vibrations of 70s-era elementary school filmstrips merge with layers of soft-edged beats. Passage's 'Poem to the Hospital' conjures Portishead with a single, sampled note. And Alias teams up with the Notwist's Markus Acher, demonstrating the delicious potential of kraut-hop. Best of all, though, are the songs that speed up the pace, like Pedestrian's 'The Toss & Turn,' which plumps guitar a la Hendrix into a plush, plush word-bed. Anticon may not be sufficient reason to trash your OutKast albums, but this collection is good enough to move you through every section of the record store.
The Anticon Label Sampler is available from Anticon.