Monday, 14 May 2012

El-P - Cancer 4 Cure review

El-P – Cure 4 Cancer

At times Hip Hop can be a genre of music bereft of innovation, where tried and tested formulas provide almost risk free investments for both artists and labels.  Where there is innovation it either avoids the mainstream or like Kanye floods the market and is no longer innovative.  The steady formula of three 16 bar verses split with either a chanted or sung chorus with maybe a little generic scratching has kept Hip Hop going for years now.  Yes you do have legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock who stick to that formula and yet still manage to create a unique sound but the majority of the mainstream Hip Hop is simply boring and safe.  El-P however is one of those rare producers who is prepared to break the mould.
            Emerging from the NY indie scene in the mid 1990s was Company Flow, which El-P handled the production for and also rhymed in.   Their sound bore similarities to the sonic confusion of the Bomb Squad’s Public Enemy production.  The total disregard of the typical Hip Hop template lead to some of the most innovative and interesting hip hop in years.  El-P went onto produce the phenomenal Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox and two solo albums; Fantastic Damage (2002) and I’ll Sleep When you’re Dead (2007) all three released on his own label Definitive Jux.  Over the years he has produced for  such diverse acts as Del, Sir Menelik, Murs, Mr Lif, Cage, Ghostface, Young Jeezy and most recently Dirty South  Legend Killer Mike.  Now in 2012 he comes back around with his third solo album Cancer for Cure.
            The album starts off with Request Denied.  A fast, almost drum and bass fast track that until three minutes into is instrumental only.  However when El-P does start to rhyme he does it with such urgency that his pace almost matches that of the drum.   It features dark electric noises that create an ominous feeling which is the perfect backdrop for El-P’s rapid-fire intricate rhymes.  This is followed by the slower Full Retard (Tropic Thunder?).  With some crisp snares and a vocal sample over a deep electric baseline El-P spits his acerbic lyrics with a hint of bitterness reminiscent of an OK Computer Radiohead track.
            Works every time is the third track and starts off with a somewhat subdued monologue styled verse from El-P over an almost double-time beat.  Ominous keys linger in the background throughout the track whilst El-P tells us “Its like a fresh start in a new world”.  This is followed by the slightly more upbeat Drones over Bklyn which sneakily grabs a piece of the sample used on G Rap’s Road to Riches but it only pops up sporadically throughout out the track.  Yes he sounds angry again but it sounds so good and works well alongside this beat, which towards the end of the track goes off on an interesting tangent before El-p tells us that he’s bringing it back accompanied by an electric guitar solo.
              Up until now the album has been fun and somewhat interesting but with Oh Hail No El-P turns it up a notch.  This track works on so many levels; the beat is sick layered with numerous samples and sounds, El-P’s lyrics are on point and the two guests fit in nicely.  After the first two verses the beat flips as the nasal toned Danny Brown takes the mic in an almost comedic style with this fantastic line
  “I’m Ric Flair/ with thick hair/ yelling out whooo/ getting head in a directors chair”  
Following this the intensity keeps up with the fantastic Tougher Colder Killer feat Atlanta Legend Killer Mike and Despot.  This track is a perfect example of why I love Hip Hop: you have two entirely different artists from totally different sides of the Hip Hop family reaching the same sound via different routes.  If this is an example of what El-P will be giving Killer Mike on his new album then I’m pre ordering that one now. 
            The seventh track on the album is True story and this features an almost early eighties electro drum break alongside El-P’s Lyrics which this time are broken up by a stuttering vocal sample.  I have to be honest I was not 100% sure what exactly he was rhyming about but it sounded good. 
The next track starts with a bass heavy synth riff as El-P goes through a conversation with someone whom El-P obviously has beef with and little respect for.  The track, The Jig is up, is a middle finger at authority as only El-P could conceive summing up the feelings of anger and paranoia that runs through today’s society.  He follows this up with the Sign here, which is obviously the other side of the conversation.  His verse is indistinguishable from any standard corrupt government official’s language offering the interrogated false hope.  This is a style of rhyming that El-P has used before but this time it is somewhat more disturbing, more insidious.  We have ways to make you speak he says and I believe him.
            For my Upstairs Neighbor starts off with another Lo Fi beat as El-P describes a meeting with his neighbour in such detail that you feel like you are experiencing the uncomfortable situation he is describing.  He tells his neighbour that “If you kill him I won’t tell” over a dirty beat that somehow makes it sound more normal and honest.  Stay Down is the penultimate track and features Island’s Nick Diamonds who provides a melodic haunting vocal alongside some disjointed horns and crashing cymbals.  The album closes with the intimate $4 Vic/FTL (Me and You), an eight minute long opus.  Another hauntingly honest track that could almost be a modern interpretation of the blues despite an almost optimistically defiant flavour running through it alongside a nice guitar riff. 
            Company Flow introduced us to the warped production style of El-P and his honestly intimate and thought provoking rhyme style.  With Fantastic Damage he invited us further into his somewhat dark world and I’ll sleep when you’re dead showed us the paranoia that had engulf America in the post 9/11 era.  However with this album he is no sitting back and taking what is being forced upon us, he is fighting back with his trademarked unrelenting lyrics and bass heavy chaotic beats.  This is a confrontational album from start to finish with a somewhat more cohesive sound creating an album that flows easier that his previous efforts.  I have found myself finding something new in it each time I listen to it.  A must for any Hip Hop head looking for something deeper my only complaint is it could have been longer. 
4.5 out of 5

Track listing
01 Request Denied
02 The Full Retard
03 Works Every Time
04 Drones Over BKLYN
05 Oh Hail No [ft. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire and Danny Brown]
06 Tougher Colder Killer [ft. Killer Mike and Despot]
07 True Story
08 The Jig Is Up
09 Sign Here
10 For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)
11 Stay Down [ft. Nick Diamonds]
12 $4 Vic/FTL (Me and You)

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