Rhyme and reason

Doseone of Subtle sounds off about the state of hip-hop (and Nas's fancy pants). Plus: Poi Dog Pondering, Bloodhag, and more
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kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "All rap is, like, 'I'm rapping like a brain-damaged grandpa.' All this 'I'm so rich and ate so much. I'm not running on this beat, even if I have to.' It's arrogance — that's the style these days. Y'know, savvy and wit still show up once in a while in this modern rap, but, uh, style, discipline, such things, are fucking gone."

Best to just jump out of the way of the barreling train o' thought when the engineer is Adam Drucker, a.k.a. Doseone, a formidable, motor-mouthed MC in his own right — Subtle semiotician, Anticon collective co-padre, and a legendary freestyle battle rapper who went up against the then-raw Eminem at Cincinnati, Ohio's Scribble Jam all of a decade ago. Add more descriptors to that 'shrooming list of credentials: teacher, mentor, succorer of aspiring word-slingers.

When I called Drucker last week, he was thwack in the middle of evaluating the freestyle rap class of Oakland kids at Youth Movement Records. Drucker went in a couple months ago to talk about rap. "I didn't really have an idea if I was gonna be, like, a white man coming in with a lot of unusable knowledge, because if they weren't even in touch with recording equipment there wasn't a lot I could tell them except funny stories about rappers they don't know because they're too young," he told me. Instead he walked in, and, he says, "I'm like, 'Uhhh,' while the guys who run this thing are trying to talk to me, and the whole time I'm looking at the cipher and I'm like, 'Oh, shit, I wanna go rap!'<0x2009>"

All right, then. As Drucker confessed, "freestyling is a zen thing — you can't really teach it," but he's quick to add that "it will take these kids from rap writers to vocal personalities." YMR, at the very least, teaches the kids Reason software, how to make beats, and even better, records them. And in addition to his critiques, Drucker handed each student a "pivotal rap record to take home and memorize for the summer."

He was particularly psyched when one of the kids, a promising rapper and vocalist, started singing "5 O'Clock Follies," word for word, from the Freestyle Fellowship LP he gave him: "I was like, 'Wow, there you go.' I did one good thing, that's for sure."

Even as Drucker is effecting change, his main project Subtle has been going through switch-ups of its own: take, for instance, the group's new album, Exiting Arm (Lex), the latest installment in the mythical adventures of Drucker's alter ego, Hour Hero Yes, which displays a softer, gentler, dare I say, even cunningly subtle side of Subtle, with Drucker doing more singing than slanging.

"It likes you, this record," he said happily, before quickly qualifying that thought. "Actually this isn't a pop record. I'm not singing out about making out with three girls in one night on this motherfucker. There's more doors and windows to a song. Things seem simpler. The tempos are more accepting — you're not behind all the time."

Even Subtle survivor and onetime Amoeba Music hip-hop buyer Dax Pierson has weighed in positively on the new recording, reported Drucker, saying that it's the happiest Pierson's been with a Subtle record since the accident that left him a quadriplegic. Drucker said Pierson took control of "Gonebones," playing autoharp, creating basslines, singing, beatboxing, and programming drums.

Still, with Vanilla Ice back in the news and Mariah Carey at the top of Billboard's R&B/hip-hop charts, it's hard not to follow Drucker's choo-choo concerning the dubious state of hip-hop — just ask the Oaklander about Nas ("He talked about the streets and being gangsta, and he was on the verge of becoming a rapping man's rapper, five mics, rap incarnate, and then he had to choose and he became the lesser of the two.

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