Seven months after the release of theFREEhoudini – the celebrated mixtape that announced Themselves’ return- Doseone and Jel drop CrownsDown, a careful and vicious exhibition of mastered rap tactics and sampling ethics. Themselves’ third album proper has been gestating in the gut of this seminal group for some time. It’s both a return to form and a honing of what’s come before (Subtle, cLOUDDEAD, Deep Puddle Dynamics)- both the opus that these lionhearted two were always meant to make, and the album that their hip hop obsessed teenaged selves always hoped to hear.
On CrownsDown, Themselves weld brute skill to a concrete set of tracks that represents an essential ten commandments of rap. In preparation, Doseone and Jel revisited their beloved hip hop collections (e.g. Gang Starr, Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Saafir) and whittled down the recurring themes that made thir favorite records so sturdy. Each song on CrownsDown represents one of these archetypes- there’s the “don’t bite” song, the diss song, the story rap, the “bootleggetrs beware” song, and the “don’t fuck with my DJ” jam, and more. In this way, Themselves revisit something classic in order to invent their own future-school entry to the annals.
Naturally, things kick off with “Back II Burn,” a “guess who’s back” track (co-written by Pedestrian) that bangs forth on good ol’ fashioned synth hits and heavy thump. “Oversleeping” follows with a Bomb Squad-style sampler salvo and a whirlwind of rhyme that reference-checks lyrics from both Nas and Subtle. Next up is “The Mark” wherein Dose cautions would-be style thieves, while borrowing his own cadence from Ultramag-era Kool Keith. “gangster of Disbelief” finds Dose dropping science (the fourth archetype) in a rich baritone atop eerie production that harkens back to his and Jel’s debut. “Daxstrong” takes on the spread-love model, paying proper tribute to Subtle founder Dax Pierson, left paraplegic after the sextet’s 2005 tour accident. Bandmates Jordan Dalrymple and Markus Acher (13 & God, The Notwist) join Dose for an end-song sing-along. “You Ain’t It” features an auto-tuned guest spot from Pierson himself, playing the melodic foil to Dose’s jagged and rapid fire words.
On “Gold Teeth Will Roll,” crux of CrownsDown, Dose casts Themselves in the final archetype: righteous defenders of the culture. This sentiment cuts to the core of the album. In carving out their own classic, Doseone and Jel not only aim to topple those wrongly kinged, but lay down their own sweat-and-blood made crowns at the feet of that which they admire most.