and Odd Nosdam when he lived in Cincinnati in the late 1990s.
After Sole and the Pedestrian came up with the Anticon concept in 1998, Sole moved to Oakland to work for Listen.com. The rest of the crew eventually followed him there. "I was making $50,000 a year during the dot-com rush," he says. "I didn't have any expenses, so I just put all the money into starting the label."
Anticon's first release, 1999's Music for the Advanced Hip Hop Listener EP was an invitation and a challenge, with Alias' "Divine Disappointment," which imagines an argument between father and son, and "Holy Shit," a posse track marked by precociously off-kilter rap flows. A compilation, Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop, followed later that year. "For me, it was about representing these underground aesthetic movements," says the Pedestrian.
But the only song anyone remembers from those records was Sole's missive "Dear Elpee." On the surface, it was a battle record directed at El Producto, the incredibly talented rapper/producer whose group Company Flow recorded the 1997 opus Funcrusher Plus. El-P memorably coined the term "independent as fuck" to distance himself from mainstream rap, then lost in the throes of Puff Daddy's hyper-commercial "jiggy" era. But Sole saw hypocrisy in East Coast tastemakers such as Rawkus Records, which distributed Company Flow's records. He felt they excluded anyone who didn't live in New York City, and was disgusted at how they extolled "independent" virtues while launching sophisticated marketing campaigns to promote themselves.
"Dear Elpee" wasn't just a dis against a popular rapper, it was a distillation of Anticon's scrappy, outsider stance. "Underground hip-hop is a mentality. It's not supposed to be commercial. You're supposed to spit an 80-bar verse and people are going to love it," says Sole. "I felt like [hip-hop] needed a little chin check."
On his subsequent two solo albums, 1999's Bottle of Humans and 2001's Selling Live Water, Sole honed his sarcastic and brutally honest persona. He criticized himself and attacked his unnamed enemies, exposing thoughts of paranoia and depression. With songs like the brilliantly melancholy title track, he sowed the seeds of what would later become known as "emo rap."
Meanwhile, Jel and Odd Nosdam (along with other producers such as Alias and DJ Mayonnaise) drew from a wide breadth of influences, from orchestral rock like Radiohead and Flying Saucer Attack to electronic acts like Boards of Canada. They made tracks using rudimentary equipment, including 4-track and 8-track recorders and SP-1200 sampling keyboards, resulting in songs that expounded a murky and intimate low-fi aesthetic.
Anticon's recordings were imbued with a childlike playfulness. In 1998, Sole, Doseone, and Alias collaborated with Minneapolis rapper Slug [from Rhymesayers group Atmosphere] under the name Deep Puddle Dynamics. Alias explains the concept: "[The group name is] in reference to puddles ... because of how they form, you sometimes can't tell how deep they are until you stand in them or observe them really closely."
Deep Puddle Dynamics' 1999 album, The Taste of Rain ... Why Kneel (a title inspired by Jack Kerouac's poem "Some Western Haiku"), mixed wide-eyed abstraction with introspective thoughts. On the yearning "June 26, 1998," they trade lines until their voices became a kind of Greek chorus. "What is the meaning of life?" they chant. "Fortune, health, knowledge, success / Woman, man, trust, progress / Culture, faith, healing, destiny / Endurance, family, science, society."
"It was so inspiring to be around those cats and see how they operate," says Alias of those recording sessions.