Planet Clair 

East Bay Hip-hop collective Anticon does its own thing

"Next year has to be 'our' year," says Sole, the unofficial "CEO" of the hip-hop collective Anticon. "We either will blow up or fall off."

Funny words from a group that jokingly made T-shirts that said "Catch us before we fall off," a direct poke at those who both overhype or dismiss their offbeat work. But the East Bay collective seems to invite such analysis: Its members are honkies, they quote Baudelaire in their unrhymey rhymes, they wear some funky 'fits onstage, and they know they are doing something substantial. Easy pickin's for critics and orthodox hip-hop heads alike.

"People will call us pretentious," says Sole, whose long hair and beard don't exactly bespeak Ol' Dirty Bastard. "I don't think there's anything wrong with being a little pretentious; to operate on this level you kinda have to be a little bit. But us saying things like Anticon is 'music for the advancement of hip-hop' -- it's pretty tongue-in-cheek." For a lot of underground music fans, Anticon and its various spin-off projects -- Clouddead, Themselves (formerly Them), and solo projects by each member, especially those of Dose One -- are indeed the shit. Their fans do most of the promotional footwork for them, wallpapering America with stickers of the groups' trademark ant, hounding record stores to stock their product, jamming Web discussion boards. Then there are the detractors, those who throw around the word "wiggers" and consider

their songs nothing more than cerebral noodling.

"People don't understand what hip-hop is; they think that we are a bunch of bumbling white kids talking about nothing," says Sole. "The biggest criticism is that we don't talk about anything tangible. You can't hear our songs and hear what we are talking about." But listen to a Clouddead record, with the vocals set back in the mix, at times fast and clipped, and it is indeed harder to follow than Chuck D. If hip-hop is about the message, maybe, Anticon seem to be saying, the message needs to change, or at least its delivery.

Rhythmically, the collective at times seems to cull beats from the 4AD school of music, smooth and electronic skittles over ad-hoc bursts. Lyrically they simply do their own thing, albeit the verbose "Backpack" shtick runs a strong undercurrent. At times they're straight-up goofy, as well as brilliantly fey: "I ain't businessman hollow/ I ain't happy man meat/ I see the sky as a socket/ I can't sleep/ I don't eat/ But, there's a bird in my throat and a ghost in my place/ So I wail I am the truth as the truth is to coincidence imagine holding a quarter for the rest of your life." The perfect panacea for brainy slackers who needed more from the genre, Anticon still offers up surprises in a genre that could go many different directions at this point, yet frankly still seems stuck in "yo what's my DJs name?" land.

Now, it's time for the collective to put its money where its mike is. It's grown ridiculously for its size since '98, and the smell of green is stronger now than it's ever been. It's built up enough of a following, codified its business model, and turned the right heads. Now, it's time to see if this Popsicle stand can turn into an ice-cream truck.

Just because they are DIY, says Sole, don't expect them to share the punk notion that money is evil. "Money won't change us," he says. "This year, on tour alone, I'm gonna make more money than I have ever made in my entire life. ... We saw that there would be a lot of money in it someday, that's why we wanted to hold on to every little piece of it."

What Sole is referring to is the distro company they started up, 6 Months. After being "fucked over," in his words, by TRC Distribution in South San Francisco, the group decided to cut out the middleman. "TRC sold, like, 43,000 of our records and didn't pay us correctly," says Sole. "We should have seen at least 75 percent of those sales and we saw a tiny fraction of that. We had to sue them to get our masters back." Haim Zion, who runs TRC, didn't return several phone calls.

"He thinks he whipped us," Sole says. "He can work with independent artists who don't have lawyers, don't have money. ... It's a safe assumption that if you can't afford to press records you can't afford lawyers. These records SoundScanned at 10,000 units, but he tells us he only sold 2,000. It's definitely disheartening ... but at this point it has become empowering."

Anticon may indeed have the last laugh, when their label grows and they keep the lion's share of profits. Tours in Australia and Japan won't hurt either. Catch them before they fall off.

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