Hip-hop Group Subtle Releases New Album

The hip-hop group Subtle's new album, Exiting Arm, places its narrator in a science fiction world where he is forced to write pop songs for mass consumption. Subtle's leader Adam Drucker drops by to discuss it.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

So every once in a while a guest comes in here and blows our doors off. Doseone, leader of the Oakland, California-based alt/rap group Subtle was such a man. His real name is Adam Drucker and the guy might be a little insane. He's definitely a genius. Subtle has just issued the third disc in an unbelievable elaborate sci-fi rap trilogy starring a charter named Hour Hero Yes. Think of the chat you are about to hear as a glimpse into a world that's at once ridiculously intricate but also listenable and really intriguing. I just wanted to figure out how Adam Drucker, a guy who once faced Eminem in a rap battle, does his thing. So I asked him about Subtle's new album, ExitingARM.

Mr. ADAM DRUCKER (Subtle): "Exiting Arm" completely embodies our surrealist motifs and the epic of Hour Hero Yes, who is a little striped face hommie behind it all, who of course is me, sort of.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. DRUCKER: At my best and worst. You know For Hero: For Fool, quite literary explains it, the name of the last record.

PESCA: And the concept is this guy is trapped in the world and he has to use pop songs to get his message out?

Mr. DRUCKER: He's not trapped in the world. He actually is trapped in the world above us, which is run by these gods of absence, apathy, and emptiness which are created by the off thumb of man. I have reversed the God makes man touching, the hands touching of Michelangelo, man made its god. It's an old theme. This is no new turf here, but it is looking for meaning is what drives people the I love and live with and myself. So I tried to give it allegory and give it wings.

PESCA: And when people listening to ExitingARM, they could appreciate it on a few levels. The songs are poppier than any of the songs you've done before. And the narrative of the record is that this guy has to make pop songs, but songs also have hidden meanings - this is his way of sort of rebelling - and so Hour Hero, yes, is putting in subtle meanings. My question to you is, can you remember pop songs you've listened to, or even the first time you heard a pop song where you are like - Oh my God, it seems to be sounding like one thing but it's really saying another?

Mr. DRUCKER: The best example truly to me, that is timeless, is "Eleanor Rigby." It is pure poem. You could turn it in over a desk to a teacher who is taught, and you could also read it to a friend as though you wrote it, and then you can sing along with it in the shower. And that is in ways the template for what we're doing, because I feel like in my world, success, blowing up, having pop songs really represents an artistic failure. It represents a complete dissolve of who you are in the saline solution that is your songs people will then sing. And I wanted to embrace that and avoid its teeth. I don't' want to get stuck in my favorite thing in the world, what I fashion what I love and have followed for so many years into something viable as a career.

PESCA: Ahah.

Mr. DRUCKER: Then I have to hate it forever? That sounds like torture.

PESCA: So, as you write songs on this record, from the perspective of a guy who's sneaking Subtle - name of the band.

Mr. DRUCKER: Ahah.

PESCA: References into poppy songs, and since you're the kind of guy who sneaks subtle references into poppy songs, what was harder? To make the references more subtle? To make the songs more poppy? Or did it all kind of flow really easily?

Mr. DRUCKER: Wow, yeah, you know. What was the joy, was the subversive nature and having these three layers. Having the way the songs relate to me, the way they relate to a myth, the epic of Yes, and the way they relate to our band in the scheme of success in the music industry. The hardest thing was writing - for me, it was actually writing about the core of the myth. The songwriting was a joy, because I wrote 20,000 words - I wrote a book. And then we would have this beautiful pop demos. And for the first time, in the course of these three records, I waited until the end to sing, and my best friends in this band let me go crazy on this and support me, and they know I'm getting sane. It's an adventure in getting well, not the opposite.

PESCA: And so when you come to them and you said, oh yes, the reverend has invented a board game and that board game becomes life and two twins come from these guys necks, are they like, yeah, Adam, whatever? Or are they like, tell me more, that's fascinating?

Mr. DRUCKER: Well, you know, I mean - they all get it. So for this record, the other wonderful thing like ExitingARM, first chorus, is actually sung by Jordan. I took all the words before I had made it the almanac, and I printed it out, I think it was like - it was 20,000 words, 65 pages of print - and I gave it to Dax. Dax had to get it in digital, cause he's a quad, so he does it on the computer, and Jordan got it on paper. And I gave it to him and I said, you guys, before I put vocals down, you have them as well. Anything you ever hear, if you hear a melody, look up the word, steal it.

PESCA: Let's hear something where - do you want to pick something that was really collaborative? I mean, the whole thing was. Do you want to pick something that exemplifies it? A track?

Mr. DRUCKER: Yeah, I mean "ExitingARM" is a great example.

PESCA: Are we going to play this or - you want to play it now? All right, let's play "ExitingARM."

(Soundbite of song "Exiting Arm")

SUBTLE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

PESCA: You mention that Dax, your keyboard player, is a quad. This was a horrible car accident that the band got in. You know, when did that happen and what did you learn from it?

Mr. DRUCKER: It was three years ago, just outside Omaha, and we hit black ice doing 40 and slowing down. Our vegan, straight edge soundman driving on holiday-spiced Pepsi.

PESCA: Ahah.

Mr. DRUCKER: The trailer started to slip. The trailer took us off the road, causing the crash along with the black ice, and then it saved our lives by not allowing us to roll multiple times. We knew instantly that Dax was very hurt. We saved his life, we cleared his air passage, by bringing his leg down because it looked so inhuman, and we were all delirious at the time.

PESCA: Ahah.

Mr. DRUCKER: And he started to breathe. And he hadn't breathed for, I guess over a minute.

PESCA: Do you know what vertebrae he broke?

Mr. DRUCKER: He broke C4.

PESCA: C4. OK, so that means, I mean, it means that if you work hard, if you're lucky, you can get some limited mobility in the extremities.

Mr. DRUCKER: Well, yes, actually.

PESCA: Yes.

Mr. DRUCKER: One higher, he would have been a head. A talking head...

PESCA: OK, yeah, yeah

Mr. DRUCKER: Great band, horrible thing to be.

PESCA: Right.

Mr. DRUCKER: And, if you - imagine it visually - he still has complete control of his shoulders.

PESCA: Ahah.

Mr. DRUCKER: No fine finger. So he has braces that have pencils, severed pencils on them, that he uses to type and key and work the keys, and he can actually do an amazing amount of things.

PESCA: He's still the band's keyboardist for this album.

Mr. DRUCKER: Oh my God, yeah. The first thing he said to Jordan, in rehab, was I want my hands back to play music. He didn't say to pick my nose, or to sign checks, you know.

PESCA: Is there anything in the album that maybe relates back most explicitly to him or that or?

Mr. DRUCKER: You know, there is a little something where - Dax is the most amazing keyboard player I've ever seen. I don't say that lightly. You know that thing Chubby Checker does where he slides all the way down the piano.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. DRUCKER: He would to that, and he programmed a full on - all the way down, on the base line on "Day Dangerous," and when I heard it in the studio, man, I just started to cry. I got full-body chills, and I'm like, Oh my God! It's not gone.

(Soundbite of song "Day Dangerous")

SUBTLE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

Mr. DRUCKER: So this song is actually about being in this band, and how that became so dangerous for everyone. Following our dream took us to the edge of mortality. And that is as close as I'll ever get to saying we spent Dax's body on our dream.

(Soundbite of song "Day Dangerous")

SUBTLE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

PESCA: That was Adam Drucker, a.k.a Doseone, from the group Subtle. They're latest album is called ExitingARM. We've got a lot more on out website with Adam, who keeps extensive journals of his lyrics, and also has his own website that tells the story of Hour Hero Yes. It, like everything else Doseone does, raises a lot more questions than it answers - in a good way, in a fascinating way, sometimes in a confusing way. You can also watch Adam freestyle against our own Win Rosenfeld. Basically, Doseone moved into the BPP's studios for a day, and you get to see the edited version of all that.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: And coming up next, couple guys in a dream - a simple dream. They want everything to taste like bacon, and they're on their way to that dream. They have invented Bacon Salt, and they're in our studios because this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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  • Album: Exiting Arm
  • Artist: Subtle
  • Label: Lex
  • Released: 2008
 

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