Seven months ago the FREEhoudini tape heralded the return of this now legendary partnership between two of Anticon's biggest players. Now after all this time Dose One and Jel return with their third proper album under Themselves. Much water has passed under the bridge since the last record. We've had bands like cLOUDDEAD further the abstract tendencies of Dose and we've seen Subtle rise from yet another side project for these two to become a real powerhouse band, not to mention their work with The Notwist in 13 & God. The result is CrownsDown a comeback record of epic proportions that incorporates all the skills picked up by these other formations and one that sounds a million miles from 2002's mesmerizing The No Music.
The recent Eskimo Snow record from Yoni Wolf has seen Why? take a giant leap away from any kind of hip-hop associations and in contrast CrownsDown is Dose and Jel's total emersion in the genre. This is a hip-hop record through and through. It's ten tracks serve as the Commandments of rap and encompass the archetypal themes that unite bands such as Gang Star, Public Enemy and Ultramagnetic MC's. You've got the 'guess who's back' jam of opener Back II Burn, the 'diss rap' of Oversleeping and the 'don't copy my style' cut of The Mark, and this is all in the first three songs. Nothing that is spat from the dexterous lips of Dose comes without its fair share of irony and while the tongue seems firmly in cheek during some of these moments of rap stereotype it sure is bizarre to witness. If irony goes on too long at what point does it start becoming genuine intention? The 'don't fuck with my DJ' jam seems to embody this totally. Skinning The Drum sees Jel flexing his DJ muscle by cutting up the Apache and Cold Sweat breaks back and forth as Dose references Ice Cube with the line "hey Jel, make it ruff."
Over many years of following every twist and turn from these two I have often wondered what would happen if they gave in to hip-hop, well this is my answer and while I find it quite strange it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive rap albums I've heard in a while. Dose's flow has evolved throughout his work with Subtle to a booming growl. His high pitched rapid-fire has morphed into something way more threatening and muscular. The speed is increased and the rhymes are lightning. Jel's beats come with equal ferocity and velocity. The No Music and their work with Deep Puddle Dynamics was all about intricate layering of effects and vocals, haze and fuzz would accompany any lyric to create a murky sonic composition out of which would emerge dazzling moments of crisp punctuation. This has a totally different agenda. The layers are still there but the fuzz has subsided leaving more fully formed raps and deep, pounding beats punched directly to your chest.
This isn't the case for every song and these battle raps mostly sum up the first half with the second retreating into the more delicate territory we are used to. Daxstrong is the 'spread-love' song which pays tribute to the Subtle founder Dax Pierson who was paralyzed in a tour accident in 2005. Dax also sings an auto-tune verse on the following You Ain't It which acts as direct contrast to Dose's jagged speed delivery and Jel's apocalyptic drum beats.
CrownsDown is both a toppling of false hip-hop idols that may have risen in their absence and also a humble tip of the crown to acts that have paved the way for both these two artists. Having pushed the envelope to such an extent on your first few releases the only way to go is this I guess. The 'don't copy my style' sentiment that runs through a few of these tracks seems slightly unnecessary as since they first emerged there has been little hip-hop around that could possibly be accused of being capable of this. I find that the more Subtle emerge from the underground, the less they hold my interest and with the first few listens of CrownsDown I feared the same may be said for this long awaited comeback. There are moments here that stand out as being uncharacteristically obvious but as a whole it is a dense piece of work that sets the heart racing with very characteristic excitement. In its obviousness it asks more questions than it answers, and we'd expect nothing less from a Themselves album. CrownsDown is a long-awaited comeback and one that drops with curious yet impressive magnitude.