El-P Still Loves H.E.R.
El-P's relationship with hip-hop is similar to that of a naieve do-gooder and an unfaithful broad whose "nookie" keeps him coming back, despite how much he hates her guts. The Def Jux head honcho has earned a spot as one of indie rap's highest ranking producers with his soundscapes for labelmates like Mr. Lif and Cannibal Ox, and his work with Rawkus Records in its heyday earned him the respect of less adventurous backpackers. But his relationship with that same label, who many have seen as the epitome of dope hip-hop, is the stuff of Industry Rule #4080 legend. On "Deep Space 9mm," from his 2002 album Fantastic Damage, he notably raps, "Sign to Rawkus? I'd rather be mouth-f****d by Nazis unconscious." While that line was rapped years ago, it seems like that--along with rap's decreased creativity--still gets to El from time to time.
After getting upset about the would-be wifey for so long, though, you get to the point where moving on is the most important thing.
El-P Goes to Bed with Hip-Hop, Wakes up Alone
With that in mind, it's understandable that El-P blows off hip-hop for much of I'll Sleep When You're Dead, looking to forge a new path altogether. The intro, "Tasmanian Pain Coaster," begins with a seemingly abstract dialogue about falling through space before launching into an apocalyptic smorgasbord of daunting keys, panicky guitar riffs and spacey buzzes and screeches, with a telling hook: "This is the sound of what you don't know killing you."
While his Def Jux crew - Cage, Aesop Rock, and others - all show up and contribute solid 16s alongside El, guest spots from outsiders like The Mars Volta, the Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Cat Power seem more fitting. As the title of the album's previously-released single implies, in El's steely eyes, "Everything Must Go;" he's ready to tear down everything he hates and start anew.
Comedic, Candid...and Confusing
But maybe it's just El-P's general disdain that's the issue. I'll Sleep is filled with angst and confusion, anxious for a voice to hear its despair. "The Overly Dramatic Truth" features an older man pleading his underage vixen to leave him, and "Drive" has El spewing lines like, "C'mon ma, can I borrow the keys? My generation is car pooling with doom and disease." Later on, "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies" sees a comedian El schizophrenically switching between nonchalant quips and escalating rants. While the beat's seesawing calamity follows him perfectly, manufactured audience laughs follow every bar, clueless to El's anger up until his concluding exclamation, "And we haven't even gotten to the part where it's a joke!"
The Bottom Line on I'll Sleep When You're Dead
Even when El-P's lyrics aren't decipherable--and much of the time, they aren't--the angst in his voice and the organized (or disorganized) confusion of his layered, multidimensional instrumentals make the point for him. Hip-hop-wise and otherwise, things have got to change--and El-P's ready for a revolution.Top Tracks from I'll Sleep When You're Dead
- "Tasmanian Pain Coast"
- "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies"
- "Everything Must Go"
- "No Kings"