Friday, 30 December 2011
Death Grips Like No Other Record of 2011
Before we begin let's make one thing clear: 99% of people who click on the video below will take a serious dislike to what they see and hear. That's not because the clip is offensive in any way. It's more because what they witness will strike them as a sensory assault. It is music video that is designed to disorientate and perturb the listener. Its minimalism and Spartan beats disturb rather than entertain. In a year where Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday was awarded 'Favourite Rap/ Hip-Hop Album and Artist' at the American Music Awards, it's no surprise that the video underneath might not conform to what most people consider a tolerable image of US urban music.
You've probably never seen or heard anything like Death Grips' Guillotine, and because of that reason, it is understandable why you may overwhelmingly hate it.
Death Grips started life 12 months ago in Sacramento, California as a team effort between its members, led by founder producer Flatlander, prolific drummer Zach Hill, vocal contributor Mexican Girl and main rapper MC Ride. The union of these core members produced a creatively combustible and sonically combative mixtape aptly named Ex-Military. The record progressively captured the attention of listeners and journalists around the world, with everyone from NBC to The Guardian writing features on how spectacular its thirteen tracks are. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that Ex-Military is an album that will register as something that is perhaps too nihilistic to be appreciated in its own era, but may, in time, be viewed as an essential record for the volatile epoch it was creatively forged in.
Death Grips seems the ultimate panacea to the bloated and derivative nature of current American hip-hop. It also puts to shame the repetitive and shapeless British urban 'grime' scene that is popular in our country. The Death Grips mixtape is not at all concerned with the acquisition of women or wealth―motifs that typify much of the rap products populating Billboard's charts. Nor is the record a singularly monotonous rant the way most of Eminem's work is, nor does it incorporate the juvenile frivolity of say Odd Future's output. Rather more, Ex-Military is thematically charged with aggressive diatribes against injustice, materialism and greed. In fact, when members of Death Grips were asked about anything specific influencing their work, the group simply responded by saying "Poverty and Bass." This thematic hook serves Ex-Military very well and the results are both tinged with abject nihilism and meaningful satire. It serves as a reminder of how music can, even in the age of mass-produced sanitised pop confections, remain a medium with a message.
Death Grips has taken its anti-establishment agenda to the next level by experimenting with the sales methodology for Ex-Military. While the mixtape can be purchased from Amazon for £6.99, it can be just as easily downloaded from the band's website for free. It is this very egalitarian nature of Death Grips distribution methods that further enhances the irregular and mischievous nature of the group.
Ex-Military―for the 1% that gets it―is arguably the best album of 2011. Ever since its low-key release last spring, Ex-Military has become a countercultural tour de force. It's an album that powerfully emanates a startling energy, rebooting the rap genre in ways we never thought possible. Ex-Military presents a slew of wondrous and weird production techniques that will have listeners detecting new layers of sound every time they spin it. Its kinetic and cantankerous attitude makes Ex-Military a perfect case study of how to make a rap record that both honours the genres that inspired it, and advance it in directions that haven't yet been envisaged by hip-hop's more established peers.
Music critics across the length and breadth of America have engaged in lengthy and detailed analysis regarding the unique nature of Death Grips' sound, using scientific and metaphysical analogies in an effort to try and make sense of its leftfield aggressive splendour. Even the British music press, which typically avoids American rap music, has also devoted column inches to deciphering Death Grips' matchless industrial scale experimental sounds.
Death Grips is a brilliant remainder of the omnivorous and exploratory nature of American popular music. It's a solid memento of how the US instigated and founded some of the most important music trends the world has seen. Although genres like punk, techno, house and rock 'n roll may have been better developed and crafted in European territories, their origins are distinctly grounded in US music culture, forcing the rest of us to acknowledge that America, despite some of its artistic faults, is actually a truly pioneering and innovative source of groundbreaking composition styles.
Ex-Military is a demanding record that requires the listener to actively engage with its hostile beats and violent lyrical content. It is an uncompromising piece of work that will repel more than it will attract, but that is part of its endurance test. It does not exist to simplify complex ideas or water down its maleficent undertones. It seeks to unrest the listener and alters their expectations of what contemporary hip-hop can be. The masses will abjure Death Grips anti-society mantra, but there are many who will not be able to get enough of it.
Death Grips are a group that can, if it wanted to, become the most important movement in modern American music. Upon hearing Ex-Military you should have no doubt that these guys are the real deal: the kind of rappers that devour white guys with guitars for breakfast, lunch and dinner―only to regurgitate them and consume them all over again.
This is a seriously important record and this blogger cannot recommend it highly enough. It is superior stuff indeed. Depending on where your own personal taste in music stands, Ex-Military may be the greatest or worst thing you've heard all year.
Both viewpoints are understandable, though only one is acceptable.