It only comes once or twice a decade: that special thrill of discovering not just a single new band, but an entire self-sufficient musical community. Los Angeles' Mush Records and the Bay Area-based Anticon collective are currently the twin epicenters of an underground hip hop earthquake whose after-shocks will eventually reach us all.

Just follow the trail of overloading drums, haunting piano loops, skittering samples, eerie psychedelic vocals and unnerving 4-track echo effects to a world of shifting creative alliances and endlessly mutating thought patterns.

A place where MC's who've swallowed not only the dictionary but also Roget's Thesaurus, Brewer's Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable and the complete works of Jack Kerouac hook up with producers who can, in the words of Anticon co-founder Doseone, "yell, scream and cry through sampled music".

From the compressed eloquence of a 21st century beatnik like Sage Francis, to riotous instrumental hoedowns hosted by professional beat-misers Jel or Boom-Bip, via the mesmeric psychedelia of cLOUDDEAD and Reaching Quiet, the range of musical territory covered seems more or less infinite. The most obvious common denominator among the Anticon fraternity - apart from the fact that they are a fraternity (the advent of the first Anticon she-rapper is eagerly awaited) - is the problematic shared heritage of Caucasian skin-tone.

"Our bond wasn't our whiteness," insists Doseone (Adam Drucker on his birth certificate). "It was years of getting shunned and then suddenly feeling, I can't get shunned anymore: I've got 10 people around me that feel the same way."

Brought together from such non 'urban' locations as Portland, Maine (Anticon's other co-founder Sole), Cincinnati (Dose and why?) and Halifax, Nova Scotia (rappers Buck 65 and Sixtoo) by the magic of the internet, these warriors of the MP3 have untethered rap's sense of place - the idea, as Sole puts it, that "if you're born in Brooklyn you have to represent Brooklyn" - and redefined it as a state of mind. Single-minded pursuit of their oft-stated goal of "picking up where De La Soul's '3 Feet high And Rising' left off" has taken them to locations they'd never have dreamed of.

Anticon's explicit reference points are all in hip hop. The label's other co-founder, Tim Holland (aka Sole), describes it as "an art-based No Limit rip-off", in ironic tribute to Master P's ruthlessly bottom-lined minded Southern rap franchise). Yet the clearest historical parallel seems to be with the US hardcore diaspora - the Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Husker Du - which huddled around the SST label to exhilarating effect in the early - and mid - 80's.

However, Sole and co's complete ignorance of these, and other, white rock traditions (all were weaned at hip hop's generous nipple, except solo star in waiting why? - real name Yoni Wolf - who, like all good Jewish boys from Cincinnati, grew up on "shitty Christian death metal") has made it possible to come at them afresh. These are kids who have little knowledge of rock's glorious heritage. Some Mojo readers may find them alarming. Among the next wave of Anticon releases is a fine new record from Themselves, who used to be called Them.

"Apparently," a bemused Sole reveals, "there used to be another group with that name."

Take Five Sidebar

Deep Puddle Dynamics - The Taste Of Rain... Why Kneel (Anticon 1999): Easier to find than the same year's first Anticon release (the keynote sampler 'Music For The Advancement Of Hip Hop'), this hectic and fascinating collaboration between Sole, Dose One, Alias and Slug established a new gold standard for posse etiquette.

cLOUDDEAD - cLOUDDEAD (Mush/Big Dada 2001): Initially released as six 10-inch singles between 1998 and 2000, but making a spooky, dream-like kind of sense as a single disc, this unearthly cornucopia of found sounds and disembodied voices puts down deep roots in the listener's inner ear. It's hard to argue with any art-rap landmark which contains the line,"I taught myself to survive a four-story fall wearing a space suit and a dead Englishman's socks."

Sole - Bottle Of Humans (Anticon 2000): "This isn't spoken word," claims Anticon's gruff-voiced motivational dynamo in the midst of this impassioned and soulful personal manifesto, "it's the reinvention of Sugar Hill." Elsewhere, he's not so sure: "Maybe this is instrumental hip hop and I don't know when to shut up."

Reaching Quiet - In The Shadow Of The Living Room (Mush 2002): A little abstract on first hearing, entirely addictive on third: the overall effect of this later, less celebrated but equally compelling collaboration between why? and odd nosdam (2/3 of cLOUDDEAD) is not dissimilar to coming back to consciousness after a particularly blissful nap.

Boom Bip - Seed To Sun (Lex 2002): Dancing on the faultline between analogue and digital, the string sample on the opening track sounds like an undiscovered Nick Drake number but actually turns out to be an orchestral version of Nintendo theme 'The Legend Of Zelda'. Elsewhere, think minimal folk electronica on holiday in the midwest.


Mush Records