THEMSELVES Brains of the operation.
Themselves
w/Clue to Kalo, Guests

Wed Nov 12, Graceland, 9:30 pm, $8 adv.

Themselves emcee Doseone battled Eminem at Cincinnati's annual Scribble Jam in 1997, before both rappers had made their marks. While we all know Em's story (and the mythologized Hollywood version portrayed in 8 Mile), Doseone has lit up the underground with a unique aesthetic flame. Their respective trajectories illustrate the old debate over the merits of main- stream and underground artists. While Marshall Mathers has foisted on the public mediocrities like 50 Cent and D12 and three decreasingly interesting albums, Dose has helped to foster the boundary-eroding anticon and Mush labels, and authored boatloads of head-spinning verses in Themselves, Deep Puddle Dynamics, and cLOUDDEAD. If anyone in hiphop embodies the cryptic-symbol-generating brilliance of '60s Bob Dylan, it's Dose (especially on his 2000 disc with Boom Bip, Circle).

As hiphop slouches toward its 30th birthday, the genre has become as voraciously mongrelized as rock. That is, hiphop producers are wedging all sorts of styles into their tracks, as P-Funk rhythms and James Brown grunts--fantastic as they may be--in the 21st century lack the fresh wallop of, say, a Flying Saucer Attack guitar dirge or a Bo Hansson keyboard riff. Lyrically, too, shit's getting weird. From Busdriver's motor-mouthed conspiracy theories and kooky surrealism to Slug's debauched emo anecdotes to Beans' next-level battle rhymes, hiphop's bleeding-edge wordsmiths have given with-it college-lit profs much fodder for their syllabi.

When it comes to hiphop's evolution, nobody's been more (arguably) innovative than the anticon collective. The Oakland-based label (with its equally forward-thinking sister company, Mush, run by Robert Curcio) houses a brainiac roster that has hooked many indie rockers and IDM fanatics with its artists' unconventional hiphop tropes. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream hiphop media and fans haven't really been feelin' anticon (Vice magazine called Doseone "gay," and other rappers who found his steez too odd hurled epithets like "faggot," "space cadet," and "Jerry Lewis" his way; and good luck finding reviews of Themselves or cLOUDDEAD in The Source or XXL).

Despite all the disses, Dose maintains a healthy self-esteem. "In our heads, [Themselves producer Jel and I] are the Guru and Premier of 2000 and beyond," Dose says, referring to Gang Starr's world-class duo. "It's like the invisible hand in the sky A&R-ed us."

Not all of his peers agree with this lofty assessment. "I've had some rappers trying to step to me," admits Dose. "That's what 'Good People Check' [off 2002's The No Music] is about: You know, bring it. Here's my address, my e-mail, let's go on a radio show--I'll serve your whole crew."

Dose backs up such tough talk with a serious work ethic and undeniable talent. While most of his writing is interior, disjointed, and impressionistic, more about emotions and thoughts than about society, he strives to connect with and inspire people on a deep level. Musically, Themselves can be as head-noddingly addictive as the first three De La Soul albums or as spaciously abstract as Flying Saucer Attack. The only predictable thing about the duo is their unpredictability.

"I don't have a message, a political decree. There's no grail. All art is really about 'How do I make it through these days?' That's why my writing is so fragmented. My style is very collage-oriented, junk-collector. What I love about poetry is when you can isolate a moment and hit the nail on the head. But I'm a TV baby and a lot of the voices I choose to use are from that medium. The way I hear writing and recording is like some exploding television program or a budget dream with special effects."

Some of those effects can be heard on Themselves' most recent release, The No Music of aiff's... The No Music. Remixed. The wide range of excellent producers on the disc underscores the diversity of Themselves' music. Besides some anticon mainstays, IDM geniuses Hrvatski and Electric Birds, Tortoise drummer John "Grapedope" Herndon, and post-rockers Hood and Notwist tweak the originals into compelling new compositions.

But Dose is already beaming about activities destined to make 2004 a banner year for his fans. Future projects include Subtle, collaborations with German post-rockers Notwist and Scottish IDM gods Boards of Canada, and a new cLOUDDEAD album in February.

"You'll notice that when people get into our music, there's no turning back," Dose concludes. "Unfortunately, the world doesn't wanna be deep all the time."

segal@thestranger.com