Friday, October 2, 2009

#90. Boom Bip and Dose One - Circle (Mush, 2000) word. Uncomfortable in my own skin

Adam Drucker, better known as Dose One, is probably on my shortlist for most vital musician of the decade. When he popped up at the tail end of the 90s I wouldn't be surprised if no one had the slightest clue how to respond to his...shall we say, unique style of rapping. Looking back at his three contributions to the seminal Anticon manifesto Music for the Advancement of Hip Hop two things should have been obvious to the people who hopped on that train when it left the station: Dose is one talented motherfucker and he's the kind of talented motherfucker that no one in their right mind could deem accessible. He's a nasal voiced white boy with more of a root in beat poetry than hip hop and seems to thumb his nose at anything resembling traditional structure, but that's the appeal. Hell despite the sort of learning curve you'd assume for someone like that he seems to have found favor with a lot of people who generally despise rap - I know that Themselves' "It's Them!" has gotten more than one metalhead interested in hip hop in a way that the likes of the Wu and Biggie never could. He's an acquired taste is what it boils down to, but once it's acquired it easily becomes a favorite.

But back to his being among the most vital musicians of the decade, one only needs to look at the breadth of his discography to see why. Aside form his two most well-known projects - both of which will get their own bit later on - his solo and other collaborative releases comb all corners of the undergournd hip hop scene, from the eerie, dadaist soundscapes of Themselves to the ultra abstract Greenthink albums with Why? and even something approaching accessible indie rock with the Themselves-Notwist collaboration 13+God. The fact that all of those projects were seriously considered for the final writeup here says as much about he dude's consistency regardless of context as it does about the greatness of Circle, his collaboration with ace producer Boom Bip, that it overshadowed stuff that strikingly original to get make him the second most represented artist in the final project. I could have easily tacked on a bit about Themselves' Them if only to expound on how much "It's Them!" will rearrange your circuits, but truth be told Circle is deep enough to merit its own post.

Jesus didn't cut the grass, he just got all melodramatic and martyrific and sat in it
And don't tell anybody now, but, uh,
I'm making this whole thing up as I go along
And it feels good
It's unleavened profundity loaf bread, y'know?

That passage from "Questions Over Coffee" pretty much sums up the lyrical headspace of Circle. It's Dose One at his most beat poet irreverent and stream-of-consciousness, which is a special thing to witness. One review of this said that the best way to try and enjoy this is to read along with the liner notes to give yourself a bit more of a grounding in exactly what he's going on about, but as far as I'm concerned that's secondary to the way his words work in conjunction with Boom Bip's production. It's weird that these two never worked together much after this because for my money no one other than his Themselves/Subtle partner Jel has ever worked so well with Dose's idiosyncrasies as Boom Bip does here. The production is all over the place, form hyperfast jungle beats on "Slight" to meditative near indie-rock on "The Birdcatcher's Return" but in each setting Dose's vocalizing is a perfect match to its surroundings. I'm saying 'vocalizing' because he's never 100% concerned with rapping at any given moment, shifting into a weird croon on "Art Saved My Life 71" or a paranoid wail on the claustrophobic "Wishful Thinking"to suit the production. That makes it sound like Bip's forcing Dose into odd situations but it never sounds that way, there's a logical flow to Circle that few hip hop albums, underground or not, manage to achieve.

To call it anything other than Dose's show would be a bit of a lie, although the instrumental "Town Crier's Walk" might be my second favorite track on the whole thing. The symbiosis between the two parties is great and all, but the joys come more from how Dose adjusts to Bip's soundscapes than anything else, really. Although I'm not blessed with a copy of the lyrics (buying a copy soon, no worries) just hearing the way the words sound in the various contexts is exhilarating. The few lyrical shards that stick without a reference are, well, fucking weird to put it lightly. I only have a handle on half of what's being said in "Questions Over Coffee" since it's about the fastest I've ever heard Dose go in the middle section but the shards that stick are a melange of surreal images, twisted philosophy and overall weirdness. That's about how it is with the rest of the material, although there are a few more traditional moments. "The Birdcatcher's Return" even folds in a chorus of sorts with the repeated mantra of 'I can't get lost/I don't know where I am' before going even further off the deep end of surrealism in the last verse. I should note that that was my first exposure to Dose One, and even at 14 I understood that it was a truly amazing document of a side of hip hop I'd never heard before. It was a bit of a gateway drug, though even now it still strikes me as far too weird to engage any sort of casual listener.

Coming up tomorrow: I am a holder of unpopular opinions about certain artists that cause fanatical devotion.

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