At one time, hip hop and rock were entirely separate entities. Then, in 1986, Run-D.M.C. scored big by trading riffs and raps with Aerosmith, and the mighty crossover was born. Now, thanks in part to MTV's overwhelming embrace of the music, hip hop is nearly as prevalent in the suburbs as it is in the cities.
There's a big difference, however, between an album that scores big only with hip hop devotees and one that is beloved both by rock and rap fans (groups that often remain mutually exclusive). Records like De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Digital Underground's Sex Packets, and A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory appealed to people who previously didn't know squat about source material like George Clinton or the Turtles. Unlike Run-D.M.C.'s cover, which smacked of crude commercialism, these albums came by their boundary-busting naturally.
Doseone — aka Adam Drucker — is not as well known as any of the above artists. In fact, if you were to ask most knowledgeable hip hop fans who he is, you'd probably get blank stares and shrugged shoulders. However, if you were to poll a growing number of indie rock fans and underground rap lovers, you just might find that Drucker has, over the last three years and under a wealth of different names, crafted some of the most unusual, thought-provoking, just-plain-crazy hip hop around.
“I'd never heard anything like it as far as what was considered hip hop,” improv musician Dax Pierson says about first hearing Drucker's recordings. “His voice was really original — that nasal quality — and what he's saying is so untypical. It's off-the-wall, spiritual, almost psychedelic, whereas [much] hip hop is homophobic, misogynistic, and violent.”
Drucker wasn't always so intellectual. When he first got into hip hop during high school in Philadelphia, “it was all about the blunts, smoking dust, getting shit-faced. I got in a lot of trouble.”
By the time he went away to college at the University of Cincinnati, however, Drucker had cleaned up his act. “I wasn't living that anymore. … I couldn't do that straightforward macho shit.”
By this time, Drucker was getting a pretty decent reputation around the Cincinnati area as a skilled MC. He'd sent out his demo to people he respected, like Lyrics Born of the band Solesides. Drucker recalls, “I called him and he said, “It's good, not great, but good. You need to get in a band and that'll change everything for you.'”
A trip to the semifinals of the 1997 Scribble Jam (a Cincinnati competition for rappers, DJs, break dancers, and graffiti artists), at which he battled then-unknown rapper Eminem, led to Drucker meeting fellow UC student and bongo-playing poet Yoni Wolf. Along with local DJ Mr. Dibbs, the duo formed a band called Apogee.
“The band opened me up,” Drucker says. “I came out of my face — it changed the way I recorded. Suddenly I realized I could say anything I wanted. Yoni taught me to write from the heart, to write well, to work the cliché.”
Drucker and Wolf began experimenting incessantly, using a cheap sampler called Dr. Sample. The result was two hallucinogenic albums they released under the name Greenthink. One record, Blindfold Gatefold, sounds like a pothead's version of a Saturday Night Live script, featuring two 30-minute suites of tweaked samples from Sesame Street, Steely Dan, and South American fife bands, over which the duo laid plainly spoken recitations about shopping carts full of new socks and non sequiturs concerning inner and outer space.
“Greenthink started this new experimentation,” Drucker says. “We were being eclectic and contrasting light poems to dark music and dark poems to light music.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Dibbs introduced Drucker to Jeff Logan, a DJ who recorded beats as JEL. After moving to the Bay Area late last year, Drucker and Logan put out the self-titled Them album, a lightly swinging effort heavily informed by Tribe and De La Soul. While Drucker's raps in Them are more traditional than those in Greenthink and later works, they still hold seeds of the bizarre flights of fancy to come. “Directions to My Special Place” begins with a litany of swingers introducing themselves (“Hi my name is Roadkill — my interests are writer's block and long walks on a short tangent”) while the theme song “It's Them” ends with Drucker pretending to be a woman, saying, “What you need to do is get your brother and go up the store and gimme some Marlboros before I beat you with this piece of rug I just ripped up off the floor.”
Soon, Drucker and Logan hooked up with Tim Holland (aka MC Sole) and the rest of the MCs and DJs who would form local label Anticon. Bonding over a fierce love for hip hop and their shared experiences as white rappers, the new friends gathered together in Chicago for 10 days to cut a record under the name Deep Puddle Dynamics. A collective MC effort in the vein of Digital Underground or Freestyle Fellowship, The Taste of Rain … Why Kneel record put the collective on the map; reviews and articles in Urb, Spin, CMJ, and The Wire heralded the coming of a new hip hop supergroup. And yet, even with all the good press, distributors were afraid to carry the group's releases. One even returned a whole 1,500-piece run of 12-inches and offered to foot the bill, saying it had no idea how to market the records.
“We're getting shunned pretty hard by the hip hop people right now,” Logan admits. “We don't really mind. When we first moved out [to the Bay Area], it was hard because that [world's] where you're from. But now, with the state of hip hop, I don't care anymore.”
It seems odd that groups like Jurassic 5 or Anti-Pop Consortium can do well while Anticon's artists languish. Of three local hip hop radio DJs I polled recently, one wasn't really aware of Drucker's work, one flat out didn't like it, and a third had heard enough about him that he hadn't bothered checking out the releases. Just what is it that's so scary about Doseone?
Drucker's latest effort, Circle, a collaboration with New York-based DJ Boom Bip (aka Brian Hollon), holds the answer: His songs require work to listen to. If Drucker were an Olympic diver, his tricky verbal forays, peculiar lyrics, and nonstandard music would carry a degree of difficulty that ran into the double digits. His words come out so fast even the enclosed lyric sheet isn't that helpful. And what words they are: kooky stories (“he dropped out of self-indulgent sponge school”), strange boasts (“I can write Mother Teresa in binary code and “boobless' on a calculator”), peculiar word juxtapositions (“techno-murder-fusebox-fisting-twistoff-marrow-transplant”), and tons of goofy lines about a regular guy named Jesus (“Jesus and I go to dinner and/ Everyone keeps nailing themselves to things/ Kinda trying to impress him/ Like even the waiters and my friends”). The closest he gets to gangsta rap is naming a song “Ho's” (it's about Santa Claus trying to see the new Star Wars film).
“We're the incarnate of the beats, that whole unschooled thing,” Drucker says. “But they used those million-dollar college words that aren't nice to readers. You've got to write for the people — if you can't write it on the toilet or the city bus, it's no good.”
Circle's music is a far cry from the hip hop norm. The usual rhythms and samples crop up now and again but mostly the album is full of slow-buzzing synth, noirish horns, undulating radio static, wind-up clocks, and space-rock guitar riffs. “Slight” is nearly a punk tune, propelled by a rapid-firing drum bit and a metallic guitar part, whereas “The Birdcatcher's Return” is an eerie frightmare with a melody that sounds like a finger on a wineglass rim. With its cheesy synth and drum sample, “Town Crier's Walk” could be from some '80s teensploitation soundtrack, while the drifty organ on “The Birdcatcher's Oath” wouldn't be out of place on a Cocteau Twins album.
“A year and a half ago, [all I listened to] was hip hop,” Drucker says. “Then I heard [spacey indie bands like] Flying Saucer Attack and Stars of the Lid. I'm really into electronic musicians now.”
The interest goes both ways. Just ask Mike Martinez, creator of the one-man electronic band Electric Birds.
“I met Doseone at Amoeba and we immediately struck [up] a conversation about [highly regarded electronic label] Warp Records,” Martinez recalls. “He gave me all these different CDs he had done. I went home and listened to them all, and it's crazy stuff: wild lines, trippy sounds. … I would love to do a track with him.”
Drucker recently collaborated with renowned post-rock experimentalists Tortoise; this month he is flying to London for a Warp showcase. Circle charted several times on a local college radio station's overall playchart (as per the norm, it didn't make the hip hop chart). And while mainstream hip hop may not be embracing him as one of its own, word is slowly spreading among experimental music listeners.
“We're creating our own following, a cult,” Logan says. “It has a lot to do with the Internet.”
For quite some time, the Anticon site (www.anticon.com) has been one of the few places listeners could discover and buy the collective's releases.
“Also, what we're seeing now is people who grew up on hip hop or got into it hard, then had to leave it after 1994 because it wasn't stimulating anymore,” says Drucker. “And now they hear us and say, “Oh my god, I've always loved hip hop and now I can again.'”
Doseone is the ultimate crossover artist: He's crossed over so far, he's left his roots behind. Only time will tell if everyone else will catch up with him.