May 8, 2012
Review: El-P – ‘Cancer for the Cure’
El-P – Cancer for the Cure
Over the years, Brooklyn’s El-P has been largely responsible for the majority of underground, off-centre hip hop to emerge from New York. As one-third of cult group Company Flow, he put out one of the form’s finest LPs: 1997’s dark, cold and neck cramp-inducing Funcrusher Plus. Two years later he came together with Amaechi Uzuigwe to form the Definitive Jux (née Def Jux) label, an uncompromising imprint that gave a home and creative platform to the likes of Aesop Rock, RJD2, Del the Funky Homosapien, and El-P’s own offerings.
Now the rapper/producer (government name: Jaime Meline) leaves his fellow Def Jux conspirators behind to drop his fifth solo album on Mississippi independent Fat Possum, continuing that label’s foray into rap circles (they recently put out releases from Odd Future cohorts MellowHype amongst others).
With a change of label comes a (slight) change of approach from Meline. The futuristic-electro b-boy productions first explored on solo debut Fantastic Damage are still in evidence, with tracks like ‘The Full Retard’ and ‘True Story’ pairing distorted beats with aggressive and depressive rhymes. But it’s with the delivery of those rhymes that the real progression is found. Where previously Meline opted for obtuse couplets over any sense of a tight flow, here he seems to have struck upon an attractive compromise. The rapid-fire flows of ‘Drones Over BKLYN’ and opener ‘Request Denied’’s verbal acrobatics over mid-period Prodigy breakbeats show rhythmic skills not hitherto demonstrated.
Lyric-wise, Meline still leans heavily towards the bleak and cheerless, his dystopian rap style summed up in the Paul Banks-featuring ‘Works Every Time’ as the Interpol frontman joins in with a chorus of “It’s like a fresh start of a new world / and I’d do anything to go home”. But there’s a sense that Meline feels less lonely than on previous, self-pitying releases — a point manifested in a very literal sense by the inclusion of guest MCs on a number of tracks. Sometime-Outkast collaborator Killer Mike, whose upcoming R.A.P. Music album Meline produced in full, returns the favour here as he trades verses with Def Jux man Despot on ‘Tougher Colder’, while Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Danny Brown throw some of their blog-hyped bars on ‘Oh Hail No’.
‘For My Upstairs Neighbor’ recalls the sentiments of ‘Last Good Sleep’ from Funcrusher Plus, this time told from the opposite perspective with Meline acting as the noise-polluting perpetrator in his NY apartment block. It’s a clever lyric, albeit one slightly marred by an unfortunate attempt at a bit of singing on the hook. The track also comes at the end of a run of four very similar productions, their razor-tooth basslines and speaker-rattling drums causing a certain amount of fatigue on the ears, and serving only to highlight further the album’s weaker traits.
The somewhat self-involved moaning grates in parts — ‘The Jig Is Up’ and ambitious closer ‘$ Vic/FTL (Me And You)’ prime culprits in this respect — and the insistence of certain leftfield rap artists to prioritise esotericism over aesthetic quality (admittedly the M.O. of many) again proves problematic. Those that first encountered Meline in his Company Flow days and may not have stuck with him through testing solo releases may again wish to stay away, but on the whole this is a more focused El-P album, one that distils Fantastic Damage and 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’s flights of creative fancy down into a tougher, leaner set.