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)

Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music review

Killer Mike made his debut on Outkast’s legendary Stankonia album back in 2000 before appearing on one of my favourite Outkasts track a year later ‘The Whole world’. Since then he has gone on to release five solo albums on the Grind Time Official label. To some he is an Atlanta legend appearing on tracks with Outkast, T.I., Bun B, Young Jeezy and other Dirty South legends. He has often presented a more eloquent view of rapping touching on such diverse subjects as politics, religion and the plight of the poorer members of our society. Although I usually would not take more than a passing interest in most of Mike’s catalogue, apart from a few of the more interesting songs, I immediately became interested when I heard his latest album would be produced entirely by El-P. The reason why this made it an interesting project is that although El-P and Killer Mike are from different sides of the Hip Hop landscape. However over time the Indie NY scene and the Dirty South ATL scene have evolved to the same sound but via different routes. Something similar was tried a couple of years back when DJ Shadow attempted to harness the Bay Area Hyphy sound in my opinion without a great deal of success as it seems contrived and without understanding. Mike and El-P’s collaboration however seems more natural and evolved rather than forced.

The Album kicks off with a track that slaps you right in the face lyrically and musically. ‘Big Beast’ is an intense journey featuring three Dirty South Legends; UGK’s Bun B and T.I. over an El-P beat reminiscent of his Cannibal Ox days. It has everything you could possibly hope for in Mike and El-P collab and will no doubt tear up clubs across the globe. A fantastic track that shows why this album works. This is followed by ‘Untitled’ featuring Scar. An apocalyptic marching beat that could have come from Funcrusher Plus (Company Flow’s debut) with Mike spitting thought provoking metaphors. Mike’s rhymes ride the beat perfectly showing the value of timing that some rappers often forget. The sung chorus sits nicely with the beat and I say this as someone who often cringes when I hear there’s a sung chorus but this one works.

 The next track ‘Go’, is a short and intense joint featuring a what sounds like an electric guitar sample and some lovely scratching across the chorus. Its only 1:43 second long but damn it bangs like a barn door in a storm. ‘Southern Fried’ is a four minute expedition Down South with El-P providing a sick beat that I will not even attempt to identify the parts of. Mike Once again shows his skill as a strong lyricist who does not fall into the stereotype that many rappers from his part of the world does. Mike starts off the next track saying that “This album was created entirely by Jaime and Mike” with Jaime being El-P before another unusually perfect beat coming in. Mike tells a great story on this beat that could (dare I say it) easily sit alongside some of Slick Rick’s best. The beat is a lively drum lead joint that sounds like it was inspired by the breaker’s jams of the mid-eighties.

‘Reagan’ is a dark dystopian flavoured track sampling a famous Ronald Reagan speech over which Mike points the finger at Hip Hop for selling a hollow life to its fans. Mike really excels on this track showing his political beliefs and not falling into the unoriginal “It’s the Illuminati” stance but questioning the policies of numerous administrations and theior oppression of their people. A thought provoking intelligent track. The seventh track on the album is ‘Don’t die’ which starts off with Atari sounding effects over which Mike discusses police violence and violence towards police. Mike spits one of my favourite lines on the album on this track “Like John Connor’s Momma I be running everyday”. ‘Ghetto Gospel’ has Mike rhyming about the trappings of fame and money over another hard-core El-P beat. ‘Butane’ is the track I had been waiting for on this album where not only does El-p provide the beat but he also drops some lyrics too. The beat is a slower joint with crisp snares and a bass heavy electric sample that Mike drops two verses over before El-P comes in. El-P’s flow is an acquired taste but on this it sits very nicely alongside Mike’s verse to create a well suited duet.

 Emily Panic joins Mike on ‘Anywhere but here’ to provide a haunting chorus that fits the track and Mike’s lyrics well. The subject here is ghosts of our urban landscape and who takes responsibility for their creation. Like a lot of the album it is a dark track creating a haunting soundtrack to our cities despair. The penultimate track on the album is ‘Willie Burke Sherwood’ which is a double time beat that somehow still manages to keep a slower tempo. How many times on your average Hip Hop album will you hear the emcee paying reference to ‘the Lord of the Flies’? Not often I can tell you but Mike dopes and that is why he is a step above your average emcee. He waxes lyrical about his upbringing and the things that his family have been able to see him go through on his path. A deeply personal track that works well. The last track on the album sounds a lot like some of El-P’s Cannibal Ox work and has Mike professing his love for Rap music. In this case R.A.P. is an acronym for Rebellious African People Music. He pays homage to all of the music’s that gave birth to Hip Hop.

  “I've never really had a religious experience in a religious place. The closest I've ever come to seeing or feeling god is -- listening to rap music. Rap music is my religion”

When Mike says the above quote you get the feeling that he believes this completely and this is why this album works so well.

To summarise this album is without a doubt great. Simple as that. It brings together to strong elements of Hip Hop to create a project that is stronger than its parts. Mike at times remind me of Scarface and at other times Big Boi. He is political and philosophical without falling into the usual stereotypical pitfalls. El-P provides a beautifully chaotic soundscape for Mike to rhyme over made up of crisp drums, heavy bass and synths. The two work together to great effect and I hope that this is not the last time work together. The album is cohesive and consistent providing thought provoking intelligent rhymes over original beats. A strong contender for album of the year in my opinion and I hope it will reach the audience it deserves. 5 out of 5.