El-P- Cancer for Cure
May 22, 2012; Fat Possum Records
"I should have stayed asleep, waking up can get you killed"
... so a lot has happened since El Producto's last album, 2007's mighty opus I'll Sleep When You're Dead. A new President in the White House. The war in Iraq coming to an end (more or less). A financial crash and worldwide recession that still has everyone in a slump four years later. Bin Laden's death. And Def Jux going on hiatus in 2010, just as a new and promising wave of hip-hop stumbled onto the scene.
Five years later, though, and most of the ol' bullshit is still hanging over our heads--Orwellian doublespeak, drone strikes on TV, TSA strip searches, domestic wiretapping, a failing war, a country split in two squabbling over the same political garbage while the same fat wallets get ever fatter.
Welcome to the New Normal, that 24/7 fog of overstimulated paranoia, creeping poverty and angry helplessness. And one Jaime Meline is very, very pissed off about it.
"Kids sing along, this is all we have left bitch, sing a song"
That's not to say Cancer for Cure represents a retread for him. If anything can be said about El-P it's that he's one of the most forward-looking producer/MC's in the genre, and this album is the culmination of nearly twenty years behind the boards and the mic. The usual roster of Def Jux regulars--Aesop Rock, Cage, Mr. Lif, Vast Aire, et al--are out, but the replacements more than hold their own. Killer Mike, still rolling hard after his breakout success from this year's R.A.P. Music, drops in on "Tougher Colder Killer" alongside Despot. The bangin' centerpiece "Oh Hail No" has both a ground level, rhythm-in-your-bones verse from Mr. Motherfuckin' eXquire and a thoroughly ill blast of coked up imagery from Danny Brown that will have many heads rushing out to pick up last year's XXX (if they haven't already). Nick Diamonds provides a sublime, hazily crooned hook on late album highlight "Stay Down."
El-P's been keeping up. Worlds away from his halting and occasionally disjointed flow on first solo Fantastic Damage, the triple-time of "Request Denied" will leave jaw-shaped holes in the floor. However he hasn't traded an ounce of lyrical venom, and there are an elliptical flurry of bitter and incisive punchlines that will leave everyone within earshot puckering. From the overcaffinated Tropic Thunder-referencing (among other things) lead single "The Full Retard" to the sick interrobang of "Sign Here," El's dark worldview never wavers but has picked up extra layers of sarcasm and humor on the way through a miserable half-decade.
"To the mother of my enemy, I just killed your son"
But as usual, El-P's greatest asset are his beats, jammed full of dissonant piano hits, grimy loops, bent synths and droning klaxons, an aesthetic that still hasn't gotten stale--and these are some of the best he's ever dropped.
Residing somewhere between the stutter-step cyberpunk bangers of Fantastic Damage and the iron galaxy sprawl and industrialized funk of his last album, taking the best aspects of both and ramping up the aggression, Cancer for Cure's backdrop forms a perfectly grimy synthesis with the razor tongue screeds--abstract and exotic enough to retain the spaced vibe of old, but organic textures like the wounded animal horn skronks of "Stay Down" and the crashing jazzy percussion behind "Drones Over BKLYN"'s verses keep things primal and raw.
"You cannot throw me in the briar patch, bitch, that's where I live"
Cancer for Cure's greatest moment arrives in the form of eight minute closer "$4 Vic/ FTL (Me & You)"--a rant styled similarly to I'll Sleep When You're Dead's "Poisenville/No Wins," El dedicates the album to fallen Def Jux labelmate Camu Tao (from lung cancer in 2008) and then proceeds to tear through that beat like raw steak and fucking dismantle all of society's dross with a hard focus worth more than a dozen lesser MC's. It's a triumph, one of the greatest things I've heard in a long time.
No one does this better right now on the bleeding edge of hip-hop, and if this album has disappointed anyone, they aren't listening hard enough.
"And I can no longer contain what's under my disguise, I've always had the cancer for the cure, that's what the fuck am I"
Pump this shit like they do in the future.