CANCER 4 CURE: EL-P Wednesday 27 June, 2012

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C-3PO said “thank the maker” when he bathed his nuts (and bolts) in oil. I thank the maker every time El-Producto releases a new album.

He’s back again to ruin you for other hip hop artists. Once El-P has his fiendish hip hop hooks in your cerebellum you won’t be able to listen to music in the same way again.

It’s been five, long, hard, years since El-P deigned to grace our headphones with his presence. Five long years of waiting to see in which direction he’ll push the artforms of making beats and being verbally and sardonically angry.

Cancer 4 Cure takes us even further into the dystopian future nightmare of his mind then we’ve ever been before. It’s a thrilling and at times exhilarating journey. El-P has long been my favourite producer and he confirms that (like EPMD) it’s business as usual with this album. He’s no intention of relinquishing his place among the best producers in the world.

The album starts off with Request Denied which sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on Chemical Brothers’  ‘Exit Planet Dust’. It’s almost as if this is the track that accompanies your descent into the world of future horror. It made me feel like I was Snake Plisskin on that glider entering a broken New York.

It’s often been said that El-P’s music is Blade Runner-esque. This is probably because the man himself is (apparently) such a big fan of the film and it’s all a bit futuristic sounding. That may have been more relevant to previous releases but not so this time. I think it’s far less the future vision of Ridley Scott that El-P inhabits and far more the future of John Carpenter’s dystopian fantasies. For all of Blade Runner’s bleak future depiction there is still a clean, crispness. A suggestion of order. That’s not to say that El-P’s music isn’t crisp it’s more to say that his music manages to give a sense of the seething volatility of a repressed society. A society waiting to explode. It’s this explosion and the aftermath that we find so readily in Carpenter’s films and El-P’s music.

El-P deals with scenarios of a future where The State is in complete control of our every move and thought. He even goes as far as mocking the hopes of a future utopia on ‘The Full Retard’. El-P modifies his voice to sound like a blissed out child as he talks of a place “where harmony and love reign”, a time when “no longer do we live in a society bent on it’s own destruction” and “children of every race creed and religion frollick through fields of golden dandelions”. Beautiful sentiments right? This is El-P though and that little interlude is punctuated by the sound of machine gun fire. You’re left in no doubt as to what El-P believes will happen in our future.

Along the path of this album El-P deals with futuristic drugs ‘Works Every Time’, approves of a victim of domestic violence killing their abuser ‘For My Upstairs Neighbour (Mums The Word)’ (which has the best chorus line ever: “If you kill him. I won’t tell”), Brooklyn being attacked by drones and the effects of violence on the perpetrator and victim ‘Tougher Colder Killer’.

It’s testament to the pure talent that this guy has that after all of that, overtly miserable subject matter, your first impulse, after listening to the album, will be to play it again.

It’s rare that you come across a hip hop producer who has such muscular control of his lyrical output but that is exactly what we have in El-P. Not only is he at the crest of the wave in terms of production but he’ll also give most MCs a run for their money. His lyrical rhythms are complex, dense and demand your attention to decipher their meaning. He’s also a master of imagery in the stories that he tells.  It’s difficult not to be envious and if I wasn’t so enamoured with his music I’d probably hate him.

Musically this album is very obviously El-P. It has all of his signature style but it’s still a progression from ‘I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’. This album feels much more like a prog-rock album in places than a hip hop album. I guess it’s prog-hop. It’s not really sonically that that parallel most accurately describes it. It’s more in the spirit of experimentation and willingness to explore the far reaches of a musical style.

There is a line of progression that can be traced through from Cannibal Ox’s amazing ‘The Cold Vein’ (which was produced by El-P), through ‘Fantastic Damage and ‘I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’ but that line is really audible in the nuances of the sound that are particular to El-P. The fidgety beats, the choked brass stabs, the ‘space’ synths. This album is as far away from ‘traditional’ hip-hop as El-P has taken us though. Don’t get me wrong, this is still pure hip hop. It’s just that it’s far more musical. It’s not just a bunch of loops sewn together. There is real melodic intent here.

I can imagine that this album would appeal to fans of music and not just the hip hop heads. It is a powerful and aggressive sounding album. It paints pictures of disaffection and takes a stark and unflinching look at the human condition. It’s bruising listening but also strangely uplifting. I’d like to say it’s his best work yet but I feel like I’d be betraying his earlier works. What I can say though is that this is the work of at an artist who just keeps getting better. I would say he’s at the peak of his powers but I suspect the El-P is not even close to that plateau yet.

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