The No Music

By Anne Hilde Neset, 28 November 2002

99% of rap – once such an important musical vehicle for African American political discourse, distantly derived from the vocal toasts chanted in slave camps in America’s deep south – has now lost all political credibility. With today’s Hip Hop having succumbed to glamour and mindless machismo, interchangeable with R&B (or should that be R&C – Rhythm & Capitalism) and fronted by deeply insincere clothes-horses (P Diddy) or bratty thugs (Eminem), you have to look hard to find any which strains the narrow limits of its own form and references something other than rival Hip Hop albums.

Themselves, and the oddball Anticon collective they belong to, fit into a marginal strain of US underground mavericks like New Kingdom, Sensational, Antipop Consortium and the Def Jux collective. The Oakland based producers behind Themselves, Doseone and JEL, are whiter than their Hip Hop ancestors but far from attempting to mimic blackness to add bogus authenticity to their rap, they are heretics with their own unique sound, less by design than their own scatterbrain genius and freak imagination. Themselves rarely rap with rhyme, their beats rarely fit the bars and their words, always cloaked beneath a couple of layers of noise, are free associated half-thoughts with a surreal and impenetrable logic to make J H Prynne jealous.

The No Music boils the essence out of Sun Ra, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Smog, kneads it into a mutant mash and cuts deep blunt beats down the middle, producing an anamorphous and strangely compelling sticky dough. Starting off with a two minute noise rash, shortwave radio signals interspersed with mumbling vocal contortions and beats filtered through a pair of old underpants, you may think the first track is some sort of abstract introduction, but no, welcome to the soundworld of Themselves. The thinking girls’ Hip Hop? The Stockhausen of rap more like it.

Themselves // The No Music // Anticon ABR0025CD

Anne Hilde Neset is assistant editor of The Wire magazine