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Themselves CrownsDown Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Reverence for hip hop tradition meets experimental fearlessness.

Adam Kennedy 2009

While casual observers would need a handbook to keep up with left-leaning Oakland-based hip hoppers Adam ‘Doseone’ Drucker and Jeffrey ‘Jel’ Logan’s myriad musical outlets, CrownsDown is their first studio album as Themselves for seven years. Not that the break is exactly evident during an enticing comeback that propels their Jackson Pollock approach to hip hop toward new levels of invention.

In the time that has passed since Themselves’ 2002 record The No Music, the duo have seen what began as a side concern, indie-rock-indebted sextet Subtle, blossom into their most successful project, releasing three full-lengths to critical applause.

Themselves, in comparison, continue to tune into a waveband where reverence for hip hop tradition meets experimental fearlessness, gleefully disassembling regular song structures en route. Dominated by raw displays of dense lyricism, inevitably CrownsDown’s bravery isn’t always quite as listenable as Subtle’s infinitely easier-on-the-ear songcraft.

Drucker, a veteran of pacesetting hip hop explorers cLOUDDEAD, is an intellectual MC of considerable vocabulary who once faced off against Eminem in an 8 Mile-style rap battle.

His flow is an acquired taste operating at a polar opposite to Slim Shady, however, a fact corroborated by CrownsDown’s cocksure opener BackIIBurn, delivering contorting syllables over repeated cries of “Guess who’s back?” Oversleeping raises rapid-fire streams of consciousness, Drucker warning that he “will wolf” any naysayers.

Daxstrong is the closest here to Subtle’s low-key splendour, brimming with harmonies and faraway sadness in dedication to ex-Themselves live contributor Dax Pierson, paralysed in a van accident while on a US tour with Subtle in 2005. A touching centrepiece, Pierson himself subsequently guests, via Auto-Tune, on You Ain’t It.

The final declaration, Gold Teeth Will Roll, represents a proud resistance against hip hop’s latter-day materialism. It’s a worthy heir to The No Music highlight Good People Check, wherein Drucker invited gangsta rappers to shove their guns where the sun doesn’t shine.

To pin Themselves as a remedy for hip hop’s ills would spectacularly miss the point, though. CrownsDown merely takes ubiquitous reference points – from Ultramagnetic MCs to Public Enemy – and twists them into a sound very much unique to Themselves.

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