Seven months after the release of theFREEhoudini – the celebrated mixtape that announced Themselves’ return – Doseone and Jel drop CrownsDown, a careful and vicious exhibition of mastered rap tactics and sampling ethics. Themselves’ third album proper has been gestating in the gut of this seminal group for some time. It’s both a return to form and a honing of what’s come before (Subtle, cLOUDDEAD, Deep Puddle) – both the opus that these lionhearted two were always meant to make, and the album that their hip-hop-obsessed teenaged selves always hoped to hear.
On CrownsDown, Themselves hold back nothing, welding brute skill to a concrete set of tracks that represents an essential ten commandments of rap. In preparation, Doseone and Jel revisited their beloved hip-hop collections (e.g. Gang Starr, Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Saafir) and whittled down the recurring themes that made their favorite records so sturdy. Each song on CrownsDown represents one of these archetypes – you’ll find the “don’t bite” song, the diss track, the story rap, the “bootleggers beware” song, and the “don’t fuck with my DJ” jam, among others. In this way, Themselves revisit something classic in order to invent their own future-school entry to the annals.
Naturally, things kick off with “Back II Burn,” a “guess who’s back” track (co-written by Pedestrian) that bangs forth on good ol’ fashioned synth hits and heavy thump. Rugged slow rhymes and fast-rap pile-ons are delivered with equal aplomb, and Jel ramps up the distortion as Dose spits vitriol: “Whether shining or shunned, none and all can come/and get undone by the two in the selves one.” “Oversleeping” follows with a Bomb Squad-style sampler salvo and a whirlwind of rhyme that reference-checks lyrics from both Nas and Subtle. Next up is “The Mark,” wherein Dose cautions would-be style thieves, while borrowing his own cadence from Ultramag-era Kool Keith. Jel deals out break-driven electro bounce and a furious, unprecedented rap verse of his own, while D-Styles mans the cuts.
“Gangster Of Disbelief” finds Dose dropping science (the fourth archetype) in a rich baritone atop eerie production that harks back to his and Jel’s debut. He connects the dots from Sisyphus to Werner Herzog’s writings to his own neuroses and worldview, while “Daxstrong” takes on the spread-love model, paying proper tribute to Subtle founder Dax Pierson, left paraplegic after the sextet’s 2005 tour accident. Bandmates Jordan Dalrymple and Markus Acher (13 & God, The Notwist) join Dose for an end-song sing-along of TVOTR magnitude. The next two tracks respectively take well-aimed shots at false musical prophets and modern-day bootleggers (MP3-traders). “You Ain’t It” features an Auto-tuned guest spot from Dax himself, playing the melodic foil to Dose’s jagged and rapid fire words, while “Roman Is As Roman Does” serves up electronics-damaged boom-bap for a set of X-Clan-inspired raps.
“Skinning The Drum” rains praise on Jel, who responds in kind with a trademark live MPC performance vivifying the old “Apache” and “Cold Sweat” breaks. On “Deadcatclear II,” Dose is uncommonly nude, spinning a real-life narrative about playing caretaker to a stray cat’s corpse as a child, discovering incredulity for God in the severity of death. All of which lays foundation for the crux end of CrownsDown, “Gold Teeth Will Roll.” Here, over surging cutup soul, Dose growls, “Who will come kill me/taking their rings off like women/because I will swear on their weakness,” casting Themselves in the final archetype: righteous defenders of the culture. This sentiment cuts to the core of CrownsDown. In carving out their own classic, Doseone and Jel not only aim to topple those wrongly kinged, but lay down their own sweat-and-blood-made crowns at the feet of the thing they admire most.
* download card included with all vinyl orders of this release.