About an hour after the Santos Party House doors had opened, I skipped the long line on Lafayette, one of the few perks of the freelance/poverty lifestyle, only to be groped mercilessly by a security guard upon entering. Trying my best to employ cultural relativism, this being my first rap show since moving to NYC last month, I shook it off and headed for the bar. El-P’s record release show drew an interesting mix from all boroughs, including familiar faces such as Dapwell from Das Racist and Mr. Len of Company Flow. Other special guests, performing guests to be specific, included Atlanta veteran Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Heems, and Nick Diamonds from Islands. To no one’s surprise, the hometown hero El-P sold out the downtown Manhattan venue and left little elbow room to be spoken for. Leaving one’s position to order a drink or succumb to a small bladder led to poor views and slightly less damaged eardrums.
Local emcee Despot took the stage first, piercing the multi-colored spotlights and idle chatter of the audience with his abrasive yet endearing delivery. Bearing a stature akin to Phife Dawg, Despot was made ten feet tall and bullletproof by the electro cum hip hop soundscapes of Ratatat, who have supplied a fair amount of his recent canvases. “Look Alive,” an underground classic of sorts from the Def Jux days, highlighted his opening set. The real gem of any Despot set, however, is his aerobic routine. A bastardized version of the running man followed by two hands in the air either in triumph or jumping jack mode was set majestically to a beat reminiscent of MF Doom’s Special Herbs series. Despot also played uptempo tracks from his forthcoming debut LP, which he’s “been working on for 47 years.” His breathless cadence, backed on this evening by the DJ stylings of Das Racist-affiliate Lakutis, was excellent ignition for the man everyone came to see.
El-P emerged from the curtains with the swagger of someone who’s been at it for about two decades finally getting their due. Digitally thumbing through recent reviews of Cancer 4 Cure, his first non-instrumental release in five years, it’s hard to find any naysayers, prompting guest emcee Killer Mike to suggest to El that, “Finally, the world is on your dick.” With the confidence certainly imbued by such sentiments, Brooklyn’s indie rap kingpin grabbed the mic brimming with energy and played his new album front-to-back accompanied by a stellar backing ensemble. Chin Chin’s Wilder Zoby, in particular, shined bright with his exhilarating keys.
The paranoid, walls-closing-in feeling that has pervaded El-P’s catalogue was on full display. “I wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have me,” a refrain from “The Jig Is Up,” was an ironic utterance juxtaposed with the sold-out crowd eating his every word. “The Full Retard,” El’s gut-punching, futuristic lead single, brought the masses into spasmodic madness. The balding, middle-aged gentleman in front of me, who had been still as a corpse prior, looked to be having a half-seizure when the beat dropped. Onlookers continued to revel in the gloomy, industrial boom bap collages of El-Producto throughout the live recreation of his new album, peaking somewhere around the Nick Diamonds-assisted “Stay Down.”
Though this was a record release party, El was obviously going to play some old stuff, and not just for the drunkards shouting “EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!” halfway through his set. As chants of his name crescendoed, El-P returned to the stage for the aforementioned request from I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Killer Mike, whose critically-acclaimed R.A.P. Music was produced entirely by El-P, joined the headliner once again for an acapella rendition of “Butane,” which was acapella largely due to the fact that the wrong beat was played initially and style points necessitated quick improvisation. The duo pulled off Plan B without a hitch and the piece segued nicely into the finale of “Deep Space 9MM,” the chaotic cultural dissection narrative that began El-P’s slow climb into the much-deserved fruits of the now.
Few musicians in any genre can summon the sound of the world crashing down as well as El-P. As co-leader of legendarily abrasive, indie hip-hop trio Company Flow and as producer for Cannibal Ox, he created a singular sound full of gritty textures, grinding metal shrieks, and beats that spew out in concussive fits. Then he did the same for his own solo releases, most notably 2002’s Fantastic Damage. In case his less-than-sunny disposition has eluded anyone, El-P’s first new album in five years cranks up the head-rankling crankiness — “The Full Retard,” his ire-strewn first single, comes across as both heavy and heaving in its sense of wordy purpose.
Fast Fact: After a couple of reunion shows last year, El-P and Company Flow will rage again at Coachella this month.
Willie Evans Jr, the Floridian emcee/producer, has been paying dues for years with his work alongside The Alias Brothers (formerly known as Asamov) while collaborating with folks like Mr. Lif and Akrobatik for their Perceptionists album Black Dialogue, released on the legendary Def Jux label.
Here we have the first leak from Introducin’ for the song “Fisbawdup,” a great introduction to the overall sound of the album, which drops July 19th on High Water Music.
Cage's Depart From Me was an instant classic. It’s the type of album that can stay in your car stereo for weeks without getting stale. That being said, the one track I wasn’t really feeling off the record was “Captain Bumout.” The guitars felt a bit too heavy and dangerously close to rap-rock territory. But after catching Alex Pardee’s delightfully evil imagery grad hold of Zerofriends' beautifully-shot, apocalyptic take on the track, it's starting to grow on me. Look out for a Shia LaBeouf-directed clip for Cage's “Maniac" collaboration with Kid Cudi in the near future.
The video for “Time Won’t Tell” is inspired by a childhood memory of director Shan Nicholson, who grew up in the “Old New York” during a time when necessity often bred creativity. This video depicts a young boy innocently finding a way to embrace his imagination amid an urban wasteland. El-P’s all instrumental album Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 is out now.
Brooklyn’s resident sci-fi boom bap impresario El-P is back with the third installment of hisWeareallgoingtoburninhell series, this one an entirely instrumental affair. It’s hard to think of a more remarkably consistent hip hop producer over the past two decades. From the early lo-fi days of Company Flow to the grimy synth palettes of the now, El-P is an artist with a sound all his own that one can recognize within the first ten seconds of the beat dropping.
Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 is El-P at his weirdest and finest, a dystopian symphony of other-worldly drums, funk horns, and brilliantly-culled samples. “Time Won’t Tell” triumphantly shifts and evolves, creating entirely disparate moods in the span of a three minute track. Each song shows hints of where El-P has been and where he plans on taking things from here on. “Meanstreak (In 3 Parts)” and “Whores: The Movie” would have fit nicely in the seams of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. “He Hit Her So She Left” begins with what could be the score to a horror film then builds with maniacal drums and elements of psych-rock into a superbly dark composition.
Having experimented with a number of sounds in recent years, RJD2 seems to have found a happy medium on The Colossus. The release features much less of his singing than 2007’s The Third Hand, his uneven and largely disappointing third full length album. He makes up for his vocal shortcomings this time around by outsourcing a number of tracks to more talented wordsmiths such as Illlogic and Phonte Coleman. Though RJ has been unable to recapture the magic of his early Definitive Jux days, The Colussus stands as RJ’s most solid work since Magnificent City, the 2006 collaboration with Aceyalone.
Those longing for the brilliantly layered concoctions of Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke will only find about half of the new album satisfying. The hip hop-oriented tracks with apeshit horns and vintage breaks are clearly the strong point of The Colossus. “Tin Flower” finds him at the height of his creative vision and is one of few tracks on the album that truly succeeds in creating a distinct and tangible atmosphere. While “Small Plans” finds the producer throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, “Giant Squid” and “A Spaceship For Now” are excellent examples of what RJ is still capable of when he plays to his strong suits.
Plain and simple, The Colossus lacks continuity. It is an album with an identity crisis that struggles to blend hip hop and soul and indie rock from track to track. That’s not to say these genres can’t be fused, but on The Colossus the attempted integration often fails to deliver. His soulful palettes work well at times (“The Shining Path”) while falling flat on their face at other moments (“Crumbs Off The Table”). The posse cut “A Son’s Cycle,” which features emcees The Catalyst, Illogic and NP, is a head-nodder that will leave RJ fans craving another full length collabo with Blueprint or Aceyalone.
The lead single “Let There Be Horns” is classic RJD2 and would fit seamlessly into his Def Jux catalog. The bizarre yet fitting music video for the track features a dejected minotaur trying to find meaning in life through a fog of lust and cubicles. RJ’s horn arrangements shine once again on the album’s closer “Walk With Me,” a feel-good track that not even RJ’s limited vocal capabilities can drag down.
You don’t see the phrase “RJD2 Remix” on nearly as many underground records as you did in the early part of the decade, which is truly a shame when you hear songs like “A Son’s Cycle.” RJ’s signature sound has provided the perfect counterpoint to a number of indie rap’s elite and one can only hope that returns to the forefront of his agenda in years to come. While RJD2 may have lost a step, his unique compositions are still light years beyond the over-produced, glossy garbage that continues to dominates the airwaves.
Song you’ll remember in five years: “Let There Be Horns”