Emceeing has lost its way. The days of Rakim, KRS-One, and GZA moving crowds are gone. Hip-Hop is dead. Well, not really, but it certainly is ailing. Sure, I'm old fashioned, but at least I'll admit to it. Don't get me wrong, there's still a number good rappers around; Aceyalone, MF DOOM, and El Da Sensei, for example, but there's just not enough of them. And while it's unrealistic to expect a breeding ground of Pharaoh Monchs and Raekwons, one can dream. I'm a purist. You know, one of those guys who think lyrics should never take a backseat to beats and rhythms. Not to say that production isn't important, but I've all too often heard a rapper that can't cut it without the production crutch to lean on, and even then struggles.
In comes El-P: El Producto by name, MC, producer, and Def Jux CEO by trade. Released yesterday, I'll Sleep When You're Dead is his true sophomore album and first since 2002's Fantastic Damage. He's quick on the mic, witty, and bursting with literary functions that would make even the Genius smile. But what really separates him from the rest of the languid genre is his fierce enthusiasm. My heart tells me that he's reminiscent of Chuck D, but the brain knows no-one will ever re-create Public Enemy's boisterous and racially-motivated anthems. Still, his emceeing is compelling to say the least. It's shrewd, while still maintaining grit and sharpness. And most importantly, it's explosive. El-P has that sheer determination to succeed; that enthusiasm I mentioned. Edgy production further accentuates the experience, providing a sort of Bombsquad noise assault to match the chaotic vocal escapades. He doesn't hide behind the beats, he uses them to complement his rhymes, creating a state of emergency, and a bleak one at that.
The album also features a slew of guest performers: from his label-mates Aesop Rock and Cage, to NIN's Trent Reznor and Yo La Tengo's James McNew. However, it's clear that El-P's cold and cynical execution is the main drawing point at hand. Dude knows his history too, with lines like this, "I'll be drunk on the back of a train / Takin' a piss / Pumpin' BDP through a Raheem kit / With a double D Duracell destiny mega mix, like this" causing me to stop listening and laugh aloud.
To date, this is his premier opus. It's an excellent album, and El-P's vision fully realized. It's aggressive, it's hard, it's capricious, and it's a must-buy.
MP3: El-P - Tasmanian Pain Coaster
MP3: El-P - Up All Night
MP3: El-P - EMG
MP3: El-P - Run the Numbers
El-P's interview with Chuck D
I'll Sleep When You're Dead at Metacritic