By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The man on the phone, M. Sayyid of Antipop Consortium, is furious. A minute into the conversation, he's spitting out words for distance and accuracy; his voice is one part disbelief, two parts disgust, with a twist of disappointment. He's tired of thinking about when DMX left the group awhile back to strike out on his own. He doesn't want to be reminded of what happened when Antipop toured with Radiohead, when they returned home to Brooklyn with swollen pride, resulting in a decision to split up the band for a bit. Doesn't want to deal with any of it anymore.
You can't blame him, because, well, none of it actually happened.
See, DMX--the gruff Ruff Ryder behind such hits as "Who We Be" and "Get At Me Dog"--never left Antipop Consortium because he never was in the group to begin with. And while APC did, in fact, open for Radiohead on a number of dates last year, the rest of it--the part where the band turns on each other and splinters apart--that's all the figment of one writer's imagination, the man hired to write a bio for the band that would go out with advance copies of Arrhythmia, Antipop's new full-length for London-based Warp Records. It's standard PR work, a few paragraphs getting music writers up to speed on the group's past, present and future. No big deal. Except, as Sayyid (one of Antipop's three MCs) explains, no one was ever supposed to see this one, unless they happened to be fans of fiction.
"Fucking asshole, man," Sayyid says, as if the writer in question, the man behind the "sarcastic, cynical, angry, angry bio," is in the room with him, cowering in the corner, waiting for a fresh one. He was, at one point, friendly with the group, at least before High Priest, another Antipop MC, asked him to write the ill-fated bio. "This guy had issues, man. For real, for real. He wrote crazy stuff, like, 'Then they go on tour with Radiohead and blow up and get big egos and break up.' Like, whoa. Dude. Easy. Easy. The thing about it is, the last person who called me on an interview level, called me from Canada, and he was like, 'Yeah...so, what's this thing about DMX?' 'Oh, my God, you got it?' I thought, when it came out, 'Yo, he's a fucking asshole. Don't even fuck with him. Let's just go with somebody else.' And somehow, this shit fucking leaked out. And it's so bad. It's like, 'Yo, what the fuck is that?' The dude at the label just has no fucking clue; he sent out 300 of those shits, man. Oh, man, I'm heated--I just found this out a little while ago. I'm heated. But anyway."
Anyway. Here's the real story: Antipop Consortium formed in 1997 when lyricists Beans, High Priest and Sayyid, along with producer E. Blaize, united against the sorrowful state of hip-hop at the time. Puff Daddy and the Family's No Way Out was fertilizing Notorious B.I.G.'s fresh grave; Nas and Foxy Brown and Dr. Dre were being softened up by The Firm (The Album, their one-off 1997 collaboration, looked good on paper and sounded just as thin); shiny suits and happy Hype Williams clips injected mainstream hip-hop with rubber soul and platinum promises. Hip-hop was urban punk rock (or "Black CNN," if you prefer Chuck D's version) once upon a time; in 1997, it was bloated with the same excess that the Ramones and Sex Pistols had in their crosshairs a few decades ago. "Disturb the equilibrium" was the Antipop motto; returning hip-hop to its rights (beats and rhymes) instead of its wrongs (Bentleys and recycled riffs) was the goal. They missed the days of Ultramagnetic MCs, Boogie Down Productions, the Native Tongues Collective.
The Rap Meets Poetry night at NYC's Nuyorican Theatre was a stronghold for those who wanted hip-hop to be about skills instead of bills, including the musicians who would eventually form the Consortium. Through a mutual friend, Sayyid had met Beans at a Rap Meets Poetry gig and tagged along to an open-mike night they were heading to later. Sayyid had been writing rhymes since around 1994--"Something that was an actual joint," he remembers, "like, 'Yo, my first rhyme'"--but the rest of the prospective members of Antipop were further along in their hip-hop apprenticeships than he was. Watching Beans on the mike, Sayyid witnessed the future--his and theirs.
"I saw a bunch of people just kill it," he says. "And I was, like, 'Yo, I gotta do this.' So I just had to work, work, work on skills, because everybody else was much more advanced. Cats had already been rhyming and making songs, on records damn near, yo. I just had to bust my ass real fast."
Soon enough, they were all on a record; Beans and Sayyid teamed with High Priest and E. Blaize, releasing the cassette-only Consortium Tapes (under their own Antipop Recordings banner) before the quartet had even decided on what to call itself. (Obviously, they had a pretty good idea.) Consortium Tapes paid the fare to ride on hip-hop's underground railroad, and over the next few years, they became conductors, leading by example. They weren't alone: Kool Keith (in his various guises, including Dr. Octagon), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, cLOUDDEAD and producers Dan The Automator and Prince Paul, among others, were all getting their tickets punched, as well.