Wolf, whose esoteric music masks a highly disciplined songwriting approach, felt those aspirations were "unrealistic." "There was almost a utopian idea about record-making, that it could almost be a socialist affair," he says.
As Anticon evolved from a movement into a traditional company, it meandered creatively and financially. Some released material that paled in comparison to past efforts (Sole's Live from Rome, 2005). New signings, such as indie-pop multi-instrumentalist Dosh (self-titled, 2003) struggled to gain recognition for music that had nothing to do with hip-hop. Eventually, though, Anticon Records learned how to promote releases by its onetime collective as well as its growing indie-rock and electronic roster.
"The way it's perceived by artists, particularly rock artists, I think they see it as a natural progression," says Sole of Anticon Records' development. "All the outside-of-hip-hop-world friends we've made over the years see it as a natural evolution because what we've done has always been pretty melodic and rock and musical anyway."
Some of the onetime "cult" members who felt overshadowed during those early years forged individual identities. Alias, who always felt "awkward" when he rapped, moved back to Maine with his wife and focused on production instead. His efforts yielded 2007's Brooklyn/Oaklyn, an evocative collaboration with Brooklyn singer Rona "Tarsier" Rapadas.
After a somewhat uneven solo debut (2003's Oaklandazulasylum), Wolf formed a trio under his old WHY? moniker. Their next two albums (Elephant Eyelash, 2005; Alopecia, 2008) impressively blended Wolf's prior talent for harmonies, loquacious wordplay, and poetic imagery with the band's newly-minted melodic rock arrangements. By scoring rapturous national press, he epitomized Anticon Records' new status as a fast-rising independent label.
WHY? just released its fourth album, Eskimo Snow, which consists of unused material from the Alopecia sessions. Wolf still does a fair amount of rapping, or rhyming in rhythm, even if the results can no longer be classified as strictly hip-hop. "I've incorporated it into my pantheon of musical styles," he says, adding that "the next record could be a disco record, for all I know."
BRAND OF OUTSIDERS
Anticon hasn't abandoned hip-hop. Doseone and Jel just released their third album as the cryptically-named Themselves; their 2000 debut was notable for producing the indie-rap classic "It's Them." With CrownsDown, Doseone returns to the arena he once flourished in. "There's purity to the construction and presentation of this record that is derived from Guru and Premier," Doseone says, referring to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.
This year has also brought Chicago duo Serengeti & Polyphonic's Terradactyl; and Bike for Three!, a collaboration between Buck 65 (formerly of Sebutones) and Belgian electronic musician Greetings from Tuskan. The difference between now and 10 years ago is that these albums aren't the latest missives from Anticon the collective. They just enhance the label's reputation for honest, lyrically-driven, complex music.
Amid all this activity, Anticon's original theorists seem like the odd men out. Back in the day, the Pedestrian was the crew's sardonic (and sometimes arrogant) prankster, sending out eloquent and confrontational press releases inspired by Dadaism and Situational Ethics. By 2002, however, the former high-school dropout went back to school, enrolling in Laney College. He transferred to UC Berkeley, earned a degree in literature, then enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he's working on a PhD in ethnic studies.
"There was once an aesthetic collective.