If the anticon. collective and music label has one signature legacy, it’s their complete unwillingness to compromise in any way. They were not bound by the conventions of popular music, of hip-hop culture, of so-called “backpacker” rap fans, or by the critics who endlessly debated their worth. Going so hard against the grain gave them a rough edge that alienated many people, but it also inspired equal numbers of outsiders who felt like square pegs being forced into round holes. It’s a bit ironic that the very thing they were often critiqued for is foundational to hip-hop itself — breaking the rules and doing things your own way no matter what anybody else says.
Jeffrey James Logan b/k/a Jel is one of the founding eight members of the collective, but he may have been the least likely to rub anybody the wrong way, simply because he’s the one you never saw. As an avant garde music producer, Jel rarely made himself the star of the show, preferring instead to provide the soundscape for other stars to shine. He’s one half of Themselves with Doseone, one-sixth of Subtle, and an even smaller fraction of 13 & God. You don’t have to read between the lines to see that he prefers to play the background. In fact you don’t have to read the lines at all because he’s not the one rapping on “Soft Money.” Guest stars provide the bars including some that surprised me decades after its release. I did not foresee Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers spitting on “WMD,” but I was very glad to find him here.
Other guests on “Soft Money” are the names you’d expect from the anticon. fam, like Yoni Wolf aka Why? and James Best a/k/a Pedestrian, while Odd Nosdam provided all mastering for the finished album. It is immediately identifiable as an anticon. release based on everyone involved in it and around it yet also the most likely to be played at a party without anyone noticing or commenting on it being underground rap. While labeling things as “hipster” usually says more about the person doing it than the thing named, it’s hard not to imagine people with beanies, beards and bikes enjoying tracks like “Know You Don’t” while sipping martinis. This is not even a negative. I want to sip a martini to this track. It’s mixed like a perfect drink — subtle with just a little bite.
Among a collective celebrated for being iconoclastic, Jel proves on “Soft Money” that you can stand out without even saying a word. You have to have a certain amount of ego to put your name on an album and release it expecting people to buy it, but I’m hard pressed to call anything here an egotistical exercise. “Nice Last” is an appropriate song title because it’s not about winning the race but simply crossing the line. I have to imagine extolling the virtues of this release will fall on deaf ears, but not for the same reasons people used to deride anticon. as trying to be too cool for the room; rather, the room itself no longer exists. The landscape of music has changed so much since 2006 that the value of music itself is in danger of crashing like ¢rypto. The next song you hear may be entirely generated by AI. There are real people behind this release though, even if one of them prefers to hide in the shadows and pretend you can’t see him.