El-P, “Cancer4Cure”


Jaime Meline, a.k.a. El-P, took five years to make Cancer4Cure. He spent much of that time mourning the death of his close friend Camu Tao, dissolving his record label, Definitive Jux, and coming to terms with his demons as he looked into an unpredictable future. Lucky for us, he somehow managed to put all that pain down on wax and emerge rough and ready to take on all comers.

For 21st century hip-hop production, especially of the post-apocalyptic variety, El-P simply has no peers. Kanye is the only one who can touch him, but that’s apples and oranges. Meline’s beats are so detailed, so dynamic, and so deep (like a Radiohead record), they’ll make your giant, $300 studio headphones worth the money. You can listen to this album, not even pay attention the words, and still come away amazed. Case in point: “Tougher Colder.” It’s marked by a thick, plodding synth line during the opening verse, and the layers in the chorus only make it harder. But then the drums drop out for a little monologue from Killer Mike, and when the beat returns, El-P rips it open, shredding the synths and inserting old-school horn hits on the off-beats. The combination of his Def Jux futurist–style with those old-school stabs creates a controlled chaos that elevates the guest verses from Killer Mike and Despot to a new level of aggro. The first time I heard it, my jaw dropped like a dumbbell, and I hit rewind about 37 times in a row. And that’s just one song out of a baker’s dozen.

As for the words, bring a dictionary ’cause El Producto’s like David Foster Wallace with a rap degree. He’s clearly just as fussy about his lyrics as he is about his drum tones, and he packs every line with as many images as the syllables can bear, blazing through your brain with multiple internal rhymes and allusions that get dense like cockney slang. Sensitive souls might want to take this in doses. The album ends with glorious catharsis, but the album-long path is laden with Meline’s dystopian worldview, overflowing with wild verses of intimidation, threats, paranoia and visions of torture and war. Rest assured, though, El-P eventually brings it around to a soul-fortifying conclusion, and in the album’s most fiery moments (e.g. “Regust Denied”), the album will have you marching off the couch to occupy anything that gets in your way.

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