Ten years after the release of their seminal debut, six years since their last LP, Themselves return in 2009 with not one, but two full-length albums. The first is theFREEhoudini: one part aggressive rap mixtape, one part posse reunion record that wrangles all seven original members of the Anticon collective—and several distinguished guests—to reaffirm the crew’s uncontestable place in hip-hop history. Herein, you’ll find the finest prose from today’s most venerable wordsmiths, slung over a perpetually shifting landscape of hard beats and texture. Providing the meat and motivation, of course, are Themselves—Doseone and Jel—who’ve realized this feat as a single, gratis long-playing track. A truly free-for-all celebration of just how good rap can be, theFREEhoudini (mixed by Odd Nosdam) will be released digitally this spring, preceded by key snippet leaks through select web institutions.
Caught within the steely guts of theFREEhoudini are several patent Doseone freestyles, a few edited chunks from the still-shrouded album to follow, and literally every emcee that Dose has shared a formative moment with on the mic. Always the good hosts, Themselves crafted each beat to fit its guest to a T, with Dose’s verbal accompaniment incorporating the contributor’s themes. Early on, he and Aesop Rock trade heated verses over organ tones and propulsive drums, while with Buck 65, the mood is old-school braggadocio and boom-bap (check the Krown Rulers/Slick Rick reference). Soon, Sole storms through, dropping some real-world horrorcore before Busdriver lays down some sing-song and a little light-speed rapping. Cincinnati’s Lionesque (who appeared on Dose’s 1998 debut, Hemispheres) returns here to spit fire over one of Jel’s biggest beats. Pedestrian then delivers a blown-out sermon from a shadowy aural pulpit; D-Styles cuts furiously on Dose’s linguistic tribute to Ultramagnetic MCs; Chicago’s Serengeti contribute s a contemplative piece; and Slug of Atmosphere sounds inspired alongside his old Deep Puddle Dynamics buddies. One of the strongest moments comes from a reunited cLOUDDEAD with WHY?’s Yoni Wolf eschewing melody for straight-faced rap over Nosdam sounds. Elsewhere, Japan’s DJ Baku provides further turntable tweaks.
Scattered throughout theFREEhoudini are songs that find Themselves unadorned, executing a range of styles that both pay tribute to and threaten to overtake their favorite mistress, hip-hop. On the opener, Doseone offers two things to any rapper who’d test him: his actual home address, and the growled cocksure promise, “I will wolf you!” Beyond the 30-minute mark, you can hear the unique slang and unfettered atmosphere Dose and Jel respectively perfected while in Subtle. And in the final song Dose addresses Anticon itself, cribbing the chorus of Sole’s classic “Tourist Trapeze” (from Bottle Of Humans) to serve up the ideal end to an album that really began to come together some 12 years ago.
The freestyles on theFREEhoudini are of particular note, as they were culled from a hip-hop workshop Dose teaches at an Oakland youth center. These stand not only as further proof in the pudding as to the inordinate amount of skill contained herein, but also as testament to the fact that, from sunrise to sundown, rap is what these guys do. The medium itself (the mixtape) and the numerous bits of hip-hop history scattered throughout theFREEhoudini—references to X Clan, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, etc.—make Themselves’ latest a living document of the past, present and future.
An extremely limited run of numbered deluxe CD versions of theFREEhoudini will be made available via Anticon’s online store. These feature an additional 16 minutes of music, separated tracks, and guest appearances from Passage and Alias accompanied by DJ Andrew (Fog’s Andrew Broder).