His shy New England demeanor contrasted sharply with Doseone and Sole's bravado. "It's weird to go back and listen to it now. ... It shows its age, and it shows its awkwardness."
However, Anticon's precocious search for deeper truths through hip-hop, a genre often maligned for its lack of intellectual discourse, endeared them to listeners around the world. The collective helped spark a cottage industry of aspiring rappers, a sensibility built around tweaked flows and five-minute soliloquies, and nourished a brief, exhilarating moment of hip-hop experimentalism in the early 2000s.
Alias says, "I've been at shows and had kids come up and tell me how much my music has meant to them. They'll tell me stories like when their father passed away, all they did was listen to 'Watching Water' [from The Other Side of the Looking Glass, 2002] for a week. Then they'll show me that they have these Anticon-related tattoos or something. It's crazy. It makes me feel embarrassed."
If Sole is the blustery visionary who led Anticon into war, then Doseone is the eccentric who personifies its unfettered creativity. His catalog, issued via several record labels, ranges from the bleak tone poems of Circle, his 2000 album with producer Boom Bip; to Subtle, a band formed with Jel and keyboardist Dax Pierson. Over the course of three albums (including 2008's Exiting Arm), Subtle molded rap, electronics, rock, jazz-fusion and whatever else they could find into a searing and dense whirlwind of word and sound.
"We were artists' artists without a doubt. Still are," says Doseone. "It was DIY ... and you could hear the flaws, the sensitivities, the trying-something-new, even when it was over the top or egregious."
Doseone's strangely disembodied, half-sung raps epitomized Anticon's greatness as an offbeat take on hip-hop culture. It should have made a bigger impact on the rap industry, and there are several reasons why it didn't. First, Sole's battle with the iconic El-P, whose music was just as experimental and groundbreaking as anything Anticon made, turned many people against him. And yes, Anticon was undoubtedly too weird for a generation raised on 2Pac and Jay-Z.
Most damaging were assumptions that Anticon was full of rich, ego-driven art-school snobs who made hip-hop for white people.
Those accusations struck Jel as funny. The Midwest native has been devoted to hip-hop for most of his life, and his placid, straightforward demeanor results from a staunchly lower-middle-class background. "All the shit that came out of nowhere about us not paying dues all comes from the racism that was involved," he says.
The Pedestrian admits that part of the problem was attitude. "When we were doing that whole pretentious 'Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop' shit, for me it was about representing these underground aesthetic movements," he says. "I didn't imagine we would look as white as we did. It really surprised the shit out of me. And in retrospect, we should have done things differently.
"In those early years, the crowd was pretty fucking white," he continued. "I know there was definitely a consciousness about it we were thinking about it. But we were fucking kids. We didn't know how to deal with these really difficult situations."
By the summer of 2002, when Anticon held a series of come-to-Jesus meetings to determine the label's future, all of its members realized they weren't a hive-mind group of crazy MCs à la Wu-Tang Clan (with Sole as the RZA), but eight very different people.