G is for Deep

(Anticon; 2012)

By Brent Ables | 1 June 2012

“Who is your inspiration?” Better yet—who the hell are you? And what do you want? Do you “dance your head at death?” Or do you stay in your egg and lick your wounds? Would you eat your best friend at the end of days? Would you siphon his blood on the best of days?

“What, exactly, do you not understand about the blues?”

On G is for Deep, his latest solo record under the stalwart Anticon banner, Adam Drucker asks hard questions. He doesn’t offer the answers because there are none to be given in words; these are, one comes to understand, the kinds of problems that have to be resolved through living out one’s own life and dying one’s own death. He’ll literally spell it out for you that no one who is going to spell anything out for you: there is “N-O-A-N-G-E-L” coming to stoke your nightfire, “this ain’t thine death bag,” and nobody has any intention to “pretend to mourn your death.” Sigh.

One could protest that it’s really quite rude of him: interrogating our shared humanity at the deepest levels and ruthlessly unveiling “the great nothing much” that’s been hiding right before our eyes without even setting up a safety net to catch us when we, inevitably, lose our balance and fall through the floor of his rhymes. As if Doseone hasn’t tasked himself since at least A New White (2004) with the immanent explosion of middle-class values and mores. As if anything could be more necessary in this era than some bad manners and hard questions.

But G is for Deep is by no means a confrontational album. A band like Death Grips expresses abstract political frustration through sheer sonic assault, and so whatever intricacies or insights might lie behind their music get lost in the noise. In addition to being infinitely more listenable, Doseone’s ongoing critique of the irresolute complacency of middle-class consumer culture is more nuanced and a great deal more compassionate than that. As he told us in a 2007 interview:

“‘Middle class.’ It’s edgeless and spans the world, taking in the yolk of all folks. It promises nothing, but it’s a grind and there’s no return from that grind, you collapse into the end that’s coming to you…I guess I’m talking about this doomed sense of ‘career forever,’ when that eclipses your youth, when you spend more time in that time than you did as a kid playing with toys, your life reaches a ‘seriousness’ critical mass where you have no choice but to start that grind, to become it, really.”

Doseone’s talking as much about himself here as he is about you or me; he’s a career musician, and every bit as beholden to the middle-class grind as anyone else. “The only dance I know is debt” is the first line of the album. We’re all stuck in the same endless loop between the bed and the bills, his music suggests; what matters is how we resist the despair. With Subtle’s Hour Hero Yes trilogy, Doseone used the tools of surrealism and allegory to create a reality parallel to our own where problems of class and race were spectacularly defamiliarized and thus brought to light. With Themselves, abstract raps provide the sought lines of flight. And with the lyrics of G is for Deep, while still operating on a highly abstract plane (“Fire’s had its way with all my building / It’s an every kind of goodbooks angels absence guilting”), Doseone’s aim is pitched at a more personal level than anything he’s done to date. Some will cry “emo,” but this is a confessional album in the best possible sense: one restlessly ingenious guy’s examination of problems that are, at once, unique to him and shared by everyone.

There’s a beautiful moment on “Thy Pattern” that illustrates the empathy and humanism which leavens G is for Deep. As the beat pauses, Dose audibly struggles to articulate a vague sentiment about twenty-something women: “I keep trying / To finish writing / This line about women hiding,” he sings; after a few botched tries, what he comes up with—that he hasn’t “met yet a girl in her twenties who knows what she wants”—almost feels like a truism. But the illocutionary force of his hesitations refocuses the power of the basic sentiment: purposeless twenty-somethings, for all our ubiquity in modern America, might just be the saddest fucks around. Again, Doseone’s not here to reassure anyone about anything. He’s not attributing any romantic value to the ennui of privileged westerners. Instead, he’s asking us to critically examine our own purpose (or lack thereof) as human beings. This, as a recent guest editorial for Impose would also suggest, is the basic impetus behind the questions and challenges posed by G is for Deep.

Heavy stuff, right? But you wouldn’t think so just listening to this record. From the very first notes of “Dancing X,” G is for Deep is magnanimous with its skewed hooks and startlingly straightforward in its emotional appeal. Genre labels never seem to fit Doseone’s music very well, but to call this an R&B-tinged pop album isn’t incorrect. Doseone not only demonstrates his mastery of the genre, but expands its boundaries at the same time. No club beat, for example, is ever going to be as restless as the synthesized drums of “Dancing X,” but you can dance to them all the same. Which is a paradigm for the appeal of the album as a whole: these songs don’t grow and develop like anything else, but when they bloom—that chorus in “I Fell”; the chopped apex of “OwnShark”—they make everything around them look like cheap pastel knockoffs.

Much of the pre-release attention paid to G is for Deep has focused on the fact that Doseone is singing rather than rapping on this album. For a guy who made his name as a champ on the rap-battle circuit, such a change is indeed noteworthy—but it’s not drastic. Dose has always incorporated melody and harmony. He’s simply exercising more prominently skills he’s always possessed but never put in the foreground. What is more interesting to me is how he sings: with half a dozen distinct voices, through layers upon layers of intersecting harmonies, in a thicket of choral vectors and velocities. That these songs still manage to feel organic, their transformations and transitions somehow justified, is no small accomplishment.

To say that these pieces transcend established verse-chorus structures is something of an understatement. These songs never stop moving. If structure designates a fixed pattern of repetition that governs the directionality of tonal movement, it would be better to say that they have no structure at all. Thus some of my colleagues have complained that the album is “dynamic to the point of distraction”; that the great moments, of which there are many, are lost in the shuffle. It’s a criticism that I understand as an expression of personal taste, but, for me at least, repeated listens reveal that there is a logic to the way this album progresses, even if it’s not one that can be mapped out in advance. Take, once again, that beautiful refrain in “I Fell,” around which the first half of the album pivots. Each time it begins, Doseone drops out the percussive chug to give the refrain its proper weight. By the time he repeats a variation at the beginning of “Thy Pattern,” we’re already well-acquainted enough to hear it, in all its eccentricity, as a natural evolution, as something that feels earned.

Ultimately, I don’t know that a higher compliment can be paid to a work of art than this: that it reaches familiar destinations through covert circuits, and conversely takes well-trodden paths only to end up in undiscovered spaces. That colors outside the lines not by coloring over the lines, but by recharting the figures. That G is for Deep does these things in abundance while still managing to be funny, relevant, incisive, compassionate, and even profound—this is the stuff a Great album made of. It’s not going to save your life or change the world, but it might provoke you to appreciate both a little bit more. By way of an escape, it will teach you a new set of dance steps. And it will leave you with a hauntingly tactile image of what a universe devoid of sympathy could have in store for you if you forget them:

“You at fifty, in the study, with the nightstick, by the endlamp, in your onebed, and your norent, by your onesome, in your ownright, in the lowlight, with your onewing, and your noising…”