As one the founders of the influential indie hip-hop label anticon., Adam “Doseone” Drucker has been one of the underground’s most interesting and creative figures. Doseone’s career now spans three decades and a countless number of projects. Outside of a solo career that continue to grow strong with the release of his excellent new album G Is For Deep, Dose has also been one of the central forces behind Themselves, Subtle and the indie hip-hop supergroup cLOUDDEAD, while also collaborating with artists as diverse as Alan Moore and the Notwist.

Over the course of an hour and a half long phone call with Dose, we spoke about why he’s got no plans to leave the West Coast anytime soon, how Kanye West has opened the doors for diversity in hip-hop and what his freestyle students like and don’t like about Odd Future. Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, where Doseone talks more about his incredibly varied and eccentric career.

Are you in Oakland right now?

I am in Oakland. And it’s riot-less at the moment, which is nice.

That’s always a good forecast for the week…

Yeah, yeah, it’s really beautiful right now. That’s the nice thing about California, the sky.

I’ve been down to Oakland a few times and I haven’t really gotten a chance to spend as much time in the right parts of the city. Usually I’m going for work and I’m at some place like Oakland Coliseum.

Whoa, yeah, that’s the worst part of Oakland, probably not where you want to be.

No, not at all.

Unless you’re there for, I don’t know, an Oakland A’s game. That’s where we all were when we first moved down here for anticon. The second house we lived in was a warehouse, pretty much.

There’s basically nothing there. It seems like that’s the only thing out there, creepy warehouses.

And liquor stores, if you’re into that sort of thing.

And barbed wire. Lots and lots of barbed wire.

Yep, yep.

So you’ve been in Oakland for a decade or so now, is that right?

Or a million years. But at least a decade.

It seems like with anticon. you guys have almost built this Oakland scene, in a way, which is fascinating to me because a lot of labels are spread out all over the place, especially now. But you guys have made Oakland this home base and it’s great to watch how that community has built up. Does it feel that way to you?

Yeah, at least at first as a core everybody needed each other to build our momentum as independent entities. In every way we needed each other, like the back and forth of creativity. “Hey, does this sound good?” “What do you think of these drums?” “What should my name be?” That sort of thing was very important. And then we also just needed each other to be confident.

And then as we grew, the need to have each other in the immediate area was not as important. So we grew into our relationships and our importance to each other. There are people that moved away, but it doesn’t feel as dispersed. Like Alias lives back where he came from, with his wife and family now. This growing up is happening and it’s kind of re-transplanted the transplants but a few of us still being here in the Bay keeps the work where it’s been. And just for me, I ain’t leaving this state, man. I don’t need all that East Coast shit. I grew up out there. I’m not being, like, “coast racist,” but it’s just the weather, and the attitude per person, is a little more open. So I’m cool here.

The West Coast definitely has a more laid back feel than the East.

For whatever reason I was just thinking about this the other day. I really do always like returning here, I have no issues with that. When I lived in Cincinnati, every time I turned a corner I was just like “I gotta get outta here. I gotta get out of this place. I gotta go. I hate this street.” And none of that energy followed me here.

On the Subtle track “I Heart L..A.,” you get into that, this idea of building an identity out of the city, how the city is what you make it. That song has been important to me for a long time, and I love the way you talk about Oakland in a way that speaks to all of its weaknesses but also builds up the neat energy that’s there, how you can’t find that anywhere else and how that has meant something for you as a person…

Yeah, and it’s shitty that you hear people wreck big cities all the time, this is sort of a tradition. But I think that somehow big cities wreck you. Like if you’re really from Columbus, Ohio, or some even more podunk town in the middle of, say, Nebraska…are you ever really from there? Or are you just from nowhere? Then when you get to places like this, and there’s such clusters of culture, and so much crazy shit going on, and such a magnet underneath it, it’s kind of like “Oh, this is a place, what is this place called?” It’s nice to be in that sort of thing.

I don’t think I could ever do a cabin in the woods. I can appreciate it for a week, but in general I need urban dynamics and crazy people and insane people and people of all kinds of classes. I don’t think I could ever lose that, especially with my music. I think that’s where it comes from and where it goes to. While I definitely don’t make the music that people cruise along to on a Saturday night, it’s still pointed at them, whether it gets to them or not. So there’s something about the city that’s, at least for me, what helps me keep my edge. For some people it’s a mountain top.

Right, that makes sense. Your music, I’d say, is very detail oriented. The way you approach lyrics, it’s a lot of abstract thoughts that appear to have been built off of things you’ve observed while you’re out and about. The characters you seem to be drawn to fit into that, even going back to the album you did with Boom Bip, Circle, with the emphasis on characters like the Birdcatcher, or the Zookeeper, or these broken people. There are references all throughout that album to these odd jobs that, for me at least, recall that kind of city environment.

I’m like an urban city baby, so what crosses my mind is all that has crossed it before and in that way I’ve always liked that I do not write garden poetry. Any junk that I interact with or that in turn interacted with me will turn up and find its way into a poem if it’s poetic. I think also that I have an urban filter on that, so there’s a lot of poetry that I’ve gone through and lyrics that can’t get to me if they’re not urban enough. I like slang. I like conversational things. I like prose. I prefer prose to a lot of “it can rhyme” shit, just couplets, I can always see them coming. There’s a predictability in rhyme, kind of a “wah wah,” I always hear the Looney Tunes trumpet.

I feel that the way you approach lyrics is almost as if you’re building a city within your lyrics. Your songs are populated with all these different people and urban images and I think anyone who lives in a city is used to that feeling, when you’re walking around and you see things that might not make sense and might not fit into your daily narrative but they’re still striking. It seems like you’ve really built that up over your whole career, too, and now it’s more defined. But then I was noticing too that when Themselves came back, you started to appropriate more of the elements of hip-hop mixtape culture to comment on the way that scene is taking away from the almost surreal urbanness of its roots. When you were making that album, was it a conscious decision to approach things from that angle and to use some of those tools to comment on the scene?

Yeah, I mean, the reality is that Jel and I make our sort-of rap, so for us to ensure that it had a sort of “rap” structure to it, we had to steal a couple overarching themes that were broad enough that we could stretch our wings beneath them. You know, a really good rap is where you listen to it and it’s a series of stomach punches. You’re like “oh shit!” So in order to do that and still be loose and make whatever the fuck we want to make, having it be a mixtape and then this solid 10 track record was just enough definition for us to execute it freely but controlled enough for us to make some “rap.” So I think that while the mixtape, theFREEhoudini is actually kind of structureless and a little more fun than CrownsDown, what they have in common is we really tried to punch you in the stomach as often as possible.

And so we kept it simple, stripped it back. All of the more optimist or wide eyed concepts I usually try to flesh out in a song I kind of just took those concepts and turned them into slang and dropped them and referenced them, whether they were science or math, as it were. I used all of that Subtle prose as a bit of a slang thing, and then had a lot of other shit in there. I’m always, in lyrics, bringing back Circle, I’m bringing back cLOUDDEAD, I bring all my shit back when it comes back. And I think that’s really most fully explored and enjoyed by the people who have followed me through the years, you know? Sometimes I think that’s what makes people ask “What the fuck is that guy talking about?” But it’s always weaving back.

G Is For Deep has quite a bit of referencing, to my relationships and my works. It’s like, I think if you’re a person of worth and valor, and a vocalist, you’re never in a solid state. It’s gonna be flexible, your opinions will sometimes be at their best right away and sometimes at the very end. So I think it’s that you have to embrace that, so I always contradict myself, or correct myself wherever possible.

At the same time, it seems there was within anticon. and even indie hip-hop in general, this movement where people all of a sudden realized hip-hop was growing in a way that was kind of deviating from what was important to them. Because I remember you put out CrownsDown and the theFREEhoudini mixtape, and Busdriver put out Jhelli Beam and both of these were very aggressive stances on what was happening with hip-hop culture at the time. And then Busdriver guested on theFREEhoudini mixtape too, and Why? came back and did a verse that was more hip-hop oriented than he had done in a long time, the infamous, “This ain’t a mixtape/ It’s an ‘I don’t give a shit’-tape” line. So I’m curious to hear if you feel that things have gotten better since you guys put that out, whether you think hip-hop culture has grown…

You know, I don’t think that our ripples affect the shores of rap, from which you can stand and see all that. If you’re far enough away to look at all rap at once, I don’t know that we are right in the front at all, so I don’t know that we affect anything, but that being said, over the years we’ve affected enough motherfuckers that we affect shit. I was one of the first guys to listen to Aesop Rock’s tapes and get them on the label, so things like that have ripples. Working with Slug, Slug opened me up, I opened Slug up…he touches a shitload of hip-hop fans, and affects the state of things. So I think my tendrils do stretch but I don’t know that we’re a crux of anything.

That being said, I do love in the energy in this new rap. While there’s no freestyling and real battle culture to it, there’s a ton of creativity and embracing wit and and intellect and I see rap kind of going back to how there was a lot of kinds of rap when I was young and I loved that. Like “happy rap,” “angry rap,” “horror rap,” “gangsta rap,” “whack rap,” “hip-hop rap.” It’s starting to spread out a little bit more. And then I like that all these new young rappers are black, that’s awesome. I think that energy will help with whatever rap needs next.

But it’s cool, because rap’s more about character. Like when I came up, character was really big in the early ’90s, like you sold your attitude, and pictures of you matched that and shit. So now it’s coming out, thanks to people like MF Doom and shit, in people’s vocal takes. Their persona is there on the tape, and that’s dope, that kind of faded in the late ’90s. So I’m glad to see that shit coming back. There’s like voices, now, on a mainstream level.

Yeah, exactly. There’s like Nicki Minaj and Odd Future now, artists that are building up characters and kind of playing off of that. Has that been interesting to you?

Yeah, I think all that shit’s great, because it’s fucking creative. I think all of that has long been missed. When I taught my rap kids in freestyle class, we would play a little Odd Future and check that shit out and they all liked it. Everybody likes what is dope about that shit, but it’s funny, as soon as they pull the rape card, it totally shut my kids off, which is interesting, because that’s the same thing that shuts off, you know, like the pop world. Actually, for me, the more I watch that shit, the more it’s like the infusion of “Jackass” with that is whack. The rest of it is dope and genuine and a different kind of people making rap the way they want to hear it, you know?

And now they have that Adult Swim show, and it has gotten a little weird…

I’ve only seen bits of that shit. Is any of it funny?

The only episode I saw, I couldn’t figure out what was going on or what the point was…even by Adult Swim standards it was difficult to figure out. But I only saw the first episode, so, it might have gotten better since then.

I guess I’ll have to check that shit out. It’s like rapping going into acting, though, it doesn’t need any of that. Rap itself needs more exploration. Talking about shit like these dudes is ridiculous when you’ve got dudes like Shabazz Palaces, a guy exploring himself and over a decade of coming from rap and going to rap and making this new shit that’s nasty, def references and nasty, new shit in a completely different way. That’s a fusion of two aesthetics and talents. The shit that Ish is doing is a dude taking his shit back. I love the Shabazz stuff, it’s pretty much some of the only stuff that’s got my blood going in the last couple of years.

I’m glad you bring Shabazz Palaces up, because it seems like there’s a lot of different fusion going on now, like Death Grips or, say, Blackie. There’s a lot of people who are carving out these interesting, unexplored areas of hip-hop, merging it with things that we might not have thought of a few years ago. And now it’s taking off. Even some of Shabazz Palaces’ collaborators, like Thee Satisfaction, who I had seen in Seattle for some time, are finally getting some much deserved attention. It reminds me of a lot of the stuff that was happening when hip-hop was first starting out, like in the ’80s and early ’90s, there was the Afrofuturist corner of things, and the burgeoning gangsta scene and it’s cool to see it breaking away from everything having to sound like Lil’ Wayne…

The reality is that there is no gatekeeper for all of rap in the universe. There’s a million labels, a million websites. But there is this overarching energy that comes and goes in rap, that’s like, “Nah, homey, we only let certain kinds of people through this door.” And that, in regard to its music makers, has always been toxic. And whenever it rears its head, it’s bullshit. Now you’re seeing, almost to the pop level, a drop in that wall. And that is kind of due to people like– I almost hate to say his name in a positive light [laughs]– Kanye, who’s kind of like done this “I’m a nerd, man. And I make hits” thing. And it really has helped people accept what kind of people can make some dope ass rap. This is something that went through indie rock a thousand years ago. You had bands like Shellac, and they don’t look like Slayer but they are nasty. It’s just that time is hopefully coming for rap, and hopefully it’s staying, where you have these powerhouse creative acts who can make more than one and a half records.

That’s the only thing about the new kids, I just hope that everybody can man up after their first ounce of success and keep making music that’s cool, that’s like the true test. You know, I go through my rap collection all the time, it’s my favorite music to…when I’m not making music I just want to listen to Ultramag or something. But there’s very few artists that 1) are filthy rich these days but 2) really gave you those seven albums, those five records. It’s really not very many. Or that lasted a while, spanned a generation. I’m not talking about Everlast becoming Whitey Ford. I’m talking about the way that some awesome rock bands stay themselves yet changed over years. You don’t have that in rap.

Right, and have that consistency, too.

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