Those are some bold, brash and angry words being spouted by Avant-garde and MC extraordinaire, El-P. He was shouting that he would “rather be mouth fucked by Nazis unconscious” as opposed to be singed to the indie Hip Hop label Rawkus records. By the time he rhymed this screed he put it on his first album of epic proportions titled Fantastic Damage. The title is apt as this is El-P’s modus operandi ever since he started in the 1990’s. To me it was the year 1997 that mainstream rap music became a cottage industry onto itself. In 1997 Biggie was killed, Tupac was shot a few months earlier, and Puff and his crew brought up rap music to the top of the international charts. Hip Hop grew exponentially in 1997, with the many releases reaching peaks that were unheard of in the earlier part of the decade. In the early part of the decade groups like N.W.A., Public Enemy, and the many other talented hip hop artists reached record level sales. However, by the release of Tupac’s last album, before his untimely death, and the release of Life After Death record sales for these albums, and other Hip Hop works reached an immense proportion. Of course like the rock and roll scene of the 1970’s Hip Hop became bloated with the excessive abundance. This meant that the formula was forged, which remains to this day. This means that in order to get a record deal you had to follow this formula which is demeaning, exploitative and racist. Rappers mainly speak of their riches, and both sexual and violent conquests. This cocktail of nihilism and ultra capitalism has lead Hip Hop to where it is today. However, in 1997 Hip Hop also expanded in many directions as a reaction to this growing excess.
1997 marked the expansion of the many Hip Hop groups and methods of their deliveries and styles. One of the most dynamic of these groups was El-P’s Company Flow. I was among the throng of disenchanted fans and I too thought that Hip Hop was becoming soulless, and full of pretenders who are giving authentic Hip Hop a bad rap. When I first heard Company Flow’s early singles I was hooked on how different everything was. The group consisted of El-P (An Irish Jew), Bigg Jus (of Philippine background), and DJ Mr. Len (who is African American). What got me was the beats that harked back to the hard hitting breaks of the early Run-DMC hits. But, the production, mainly done by El-P, was bizarre with many soundscapes of downbeats cut sharp by their unique rhyme styles. They didn’t rap on any scheme of bars, but with their insane bludgeoning beats they made it work. Instead of rhyming about stacks of money, women at their feet and their violent conquests they took a different approach. Each had their delivery spliced with images from Italian horror movies, space travel, and the oppressive corporate state. El-P also used these ghastly images as a social critique with a dash of wit. They also used far out samples such as from the cult classic film The Holy Mountain on the song “Population Control.” They signed to “the” indie underground Hip Hop label at the time with its signature razor and hanging man on the vinyl. Rawkus records supported the indie Hip hop acts, but as we see the label also took many liberties when it came to fair pay. Co-Flow disbanded and eventually left the label, but El still had his parting shot on his amazingly hard hitting and fast paced single “Deep Space 9mm.” His first two albums are amazing in how different they are from anything most human ears have heard in the past. El-P’s production style is so unsettling, as he porfessed recently that he wants you to feel uncomfortable when listening to his music. His second album, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, is more off the wall, more bizarre, more dysfunctional, and more excessive with the wrist cutting sounds and stagnant feelings heaped on the listener. His last album, arguably his best, and one of the best releases of 2012, is another testament to his rising pitch perfection. Titled Cancer for Cure he delves into the strange with the familiar sound of that El-P hit. He also produced Killer Mike’s entire last album, which is also considered one of the best albums of 2012 as well.
What could be more swell and dandy than for them to team up and make one of the best records of this past year. I also saw them live so I can testify to their perfect performance skills and energy packed charisma they beam into their audiences. Their album, titled Run the Jewels, is short, sweet and directly to the point. From the lyrics you hear the rush coming through your pores as your inner coil can feel the energy of this album. All other rappers and their emotional bag of gimmicks are being pushed aside. All the idols are being smashed and your preconceived notions are being tossed on their heads. El-P has risen to the top and is being regarded more as a respected artist in the mainstream. Killer Mike announces El-P’s dominance when he raps on the song “Banana Clipper” that the “producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck outta here.”
El-P always stays true and I’m not surprised that a Jew can change the landscape of Hip Hop the way he has. He remains defiant to the end on his never ending quest for honesty and authenticity. Although it is hard to find his roots, unlike other more Jewish rappers he still drops those subtle hints. As I wrote on the header saying that as opposed to being signed to Rawkus was a big thing. Jews and Nazis have their past so to conjure it up in this way is very caustic, and it invokes to true wrath and betrayal El-P felt at the time. There are other hints like when he shouts out “Oy Vey” on the song “The Full Retard” and other subtle lines coming from within. He deserves a lot of credit as he remains true and trudges along the hoopity blah of the mainstream Hip Hop world. It can all be summed up nicely with an except from Patrick Neate’s book, Where You’re At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet. In his book Neate looks at the various Hip Hop movements in many locations across the globe. First is the heart of the scene, or at least he thinks, which is New York City. Arriving in the city he is surprised at how small the output of rap music actually comes from New York City circa 2003. He visits the indie label Def Jux where he interviews the owner of the label. When he asks where Hip hop is in the city a dormant El-P shouts from the other end of the room that the real Hip Hop is only over here. For all the praise and blah of NYC rappers, he remains the cream of the crop. So go listen to his album and fuck Rolling Stone Magazine for not putting in their top 50 albums of the past year, bitches!!!
Here is a great Co-Flow video to their single “End to End Burners.”
A Video for his song “Deep Space 9mm” from his Album Fantastic Damage:
A video for his song “the Full Retard” from his latest album Cancer for Cure:
And, last but not least, a video for the song “36” Chain” from the magnum opus of the year!!!! Run the Jewels: