Although theFREEhoudini is billed as a Themselves mixtape and meant to be the precursor to that group’s upcoming LP, Crownsdown, it’s more a reunion of the Anticon roster than anything. In addition to Doseone and Jel of Themselves, the album features Yoni Wolf from Why?, Sole, Pedestrian, Passage, Alias, and production from Odd Nosdam. For those anticipating a follow-up to 1999’s underground proclamation, Music for the Advancement of Hip Hop, this may be the closest to a full-fledged comeback record that you’re going to get. With the almost overwhelming number of side projects and collaborations splitting off of the core group of Anticon originals, it’s hard to imagine getting all of the necessary players together again for a cohesive full-length.
That Jel and Doseone were able to get such a cast together for this release is both a blessing and a curse. For those who follow underground rap, this is a feat of impressive magnitude. For example, along with the Anticon stable, they’ve brought in big names like Busdriver and Aesop Rock for guest appearances. For those with only a passing interest in the genre, though, the diversity of styles among the dozen-plus artists presented here will only be perplexing. Obviously, with such various rappers and DJs following one another, the album will seem spotty for all but the most devoted of rap aficionados. With such a deep roster, theFREEhoudini sometimes has a rushed, thrown-together feel to it. Many of the tracks clock in under two minutes, making would-be highlights like Pedestrian’s and Sole’s verses get lost in the crowd of voices. It takes a truly distinctive flow, like Busdriver’s, to get noticed in such a wildly discursive playlist.
The mixtape comprises excerpts from the Crownsdown LP, a few exclusive Themselves tracks, collaborations with various rappers, and a couple of freestyles. Since this is primarily a promotional tape for the upcoming proper album, it bodes well that the Crowndown excerpts are by far the standouts. “TheMark” is the most intriguing track here, with its insistent chorus of “Tell me is or ain’t that face paint?” As for the collaborations, of course, they vary in quality from one rapper to another, and it depends largely on the listener’s dedication to the Anticon scene whether they will be consistently enjoyable. The freestyles are remarkable mainly for exhibiting Dose’s improvisational prowess (he had his start in freestyle battles like Scribble Jam), which doesn’t have a place within the carefully crafted lyrics of proper Themselves LPs.
Though the quality on theFREEhoudini is extremely variable, fans of underground rap will likely find little to complain about, and even casual observers of the movement will be able to find several undeniably impressive songs. The participation of so many major players in independent rap makes this at least of interest as a historical document. If it doesn’t always work as an album, as a promotional tool and a declaration of unity from the Anticon originals, it more than serves its purpose.