Sole – Bottle of Humans

Bottle of Humans

The indie hip-hop scene is definitely dominated by a small number of labels. The names are pervasive and immediately bring a sound to mind: Def Jux, Lex Records, et al. But none strikes so resounding a chord than Anticon. Anticon is the brainchild of rapper Sole and has quickly risen as one of the most innovative labels with one of the most coherent label-wide sound out there. In its five years of existence, Anticon has released consistently unique (if inconsistently quality) records by smart (if not particularly talented) artists.

Interestingly, the Anticon group can’t be pigeonholed by their music alone. They share two traits in particular: every Anticon rapper seems to be white and nerdy. For most people, this is immediate reason to question their validity, and they’d have a point. Wasn’t hip-hop born out of the struggle of race and class of the black minority? Isn’t it a product of urban decay and violence? Just what business does a chubby white guy have making post-modernist rap?

Apparently Anticon’s founders hasn’t felt the need to justify themselves in their music. In sharp contrast with the Def Jukies, Anticon(ers?) have been probably the most quiet camp on this issue. Other than the particularly bold move of naming one of their compilations Music for the Advancement of Hip-hop, most label members rarely name-check themselves or lambaste other emcees. A lot of them seem content to usher in a new and suspiciously contradictory genre of music: emo-hop.

Though Sage Francis has come surprisingly close, no emcee has topped Sole in capacity for emotional, introspective, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Whether this has something to do with no emcee having topped Sole’s whiteness (he’s a bit chubby with red hair and a red beard) is just speculation. Regardless, Sole has made a name (and a style) for himself with his emotional, personal, stream-of-consciousness lyrics spit mostly at astonishing speed and with impressive enunciation over chaotic, at times beautiful, beats.

Bottle of Humans opens with the snidely titled “Dismantling of Sole’s Ego,” a song about the theft of Sole’s car. It starts as a mid-tempo, low-key song with a calm Sole gently rapping over synths and clicks. Later, a crash cymbal announces the arrival of the heavily percussive romp with an increasingly intense Sole belting out increasingly desperate lyrics over hard drums and rattles. “I Don’t Rap in Bumper Stickers” follows, an old-school drum, bass, and guitar jam. Sole is later joined by label-mate Why? On “Center City,” an apparent rapping footrace between the two over a fantastic, rolling beat. “Year of the $EXXX $ymbol” is an urgent song propelled by straightforward drums and garnished with a waxing and waning guitar line.

The highlight of the album by far, and the best indicator of Sole’s potential as a powerful emcee, is “Bottle of Humans.” The song begins with a melodramatic vocal sample: “I’ve seen many places / in my life and time / yes I’ve sung a lot of songs…” Soon, strings drenched in melancholy slither in and announce the coming of the drums. Here, we see Sole at his tragically eloquent best: such gems as “Can’t say I’m ahead of my time / I’ve got a feeling my time will never come,” “This is my gold tape / everywhere I go I don’t belong / I’m known by most / hated by many / adored by the rest” gain special emotional effect when belted out as if they were Sole’s dying words. The effect is overwhelming, but it works for a full six and a half minutes.

Though most of the songs on Bottle of Humans are impressive, some of them end up sounding mediocre in light of the standouts. As an album, it plays well, but the sequencing sets up the desire to skip some of the less affecting tracks for the standouts. Of course, Sole’s lyrics are always entertaining, and there’s a lot to be mined within his dense songs, but this becomes tiresome if the beats aren’t up to par with his vocal work. In the end, the bunch of fantastic songs creates the memory of Bottle of Humans, and it’s one that will likely find you returning to it again and again.