Internal Dialogues // The 405 meets El-P
New York rapper El-P has become an established figure within the hip-hop landscape over the past few years. Starting out his career working within Company Flow, El-P soon started a distinguished solo career. Known for his starkly self-deprecating lyrics and unusual production El-P perhaps provides something different to the rest of his contemporaries.
Latest album, Cancer 4 Cure was released on the 22nd of May this year and El-P is just about to undergo a huge tour with Killer Mike. The new album is an excellent piece of work, distinctive and sharp. Featuring collaborations with high profile rappers such as Danny Brown and Despot as well as a song with Interpol singer Paul Banks. This in mind the 405 were delighted to catch up with El-P and ask him about the album and forthcoming tour.
Are you looking forward to your tour with Killer Mike?
Tour starts on the 19th in Atlanta, so I'm looking forward to it. He's a large man, I'm a little bit worried about his ability to sleep in the bunks, but I'm a small man so it's good to keep him around.
How long are you going to be touring for?
Well we're doing America, then it looks like we're heading out to the UK and Europe in September for about two weeks.
Are you more comfortable touring or in the studio?
I really like touring, it's not the only thing I like, but getting out there and disconnecting from reality and connecting with the fans is really fun. It gets very exhausting, every time you feel you're settling a little bit you realise you're on tour and you can't.
Do you feel your material translates just as well over into the live setting?
Yeah, I do. I don't I always have, I think when I was younger I didn't really know how to perform, and I lost a couple of years. I spent a lot of time really learning and really pushing myself to give a great show. I really do, I think it's a unique experience now. I'm excited about it, I really like performing.
You've also been doing some work with a number of other rappers such as Despot, how have you been finding this experience?
Well, I mean, basically what happened is there was a show. I'm basically doing my album, it's great because we really get a re-create my record. Give them something a little different. For me it's all about rehearsal, I'm all about rehearsing. I like to make all of the mistakes first.
Are you pleased with how the release for Cancer for Cure has gone so far and the reception it has received?
Yeah, honestly I have been. I have been really, really pleased. I'm pretty grateful to really get people hearing my shit. It feels like this record has connected with people a little bit more than my others have done. Yeah man, I'm happy. I couldn't really ask for much more.
There was a very long wait for the release of this album. Why did it take you so long?
I answer that question every time I release one of these albums (laughs), actually kinda sad. That's just how it happened, took me a lot to get geared up, to really have a stretch of time where I could focus on the record. Beyond that I do have to take more time, in general, making the music than a lot of people do.
It's the same thing every time, I get caught up in other projects or just my life and having to figure out what the next step is. It takes a while sometimes to really snap into that album mode, to really shut the ball down. I kinda feel like to some degree, that I haven't in the past really churned records out. I have to consider what I want to say, I have to get inspired. That takes a while.
Then there's my life changing, stepping away from the whole label aspect of it. I think that that ultimately cleared up some space for me to really work. I did two albums in the same year, it was a good experience. Hopefully it will happen a lot quicker from now on.
Do you feel the album is a progression musically for you, or is it very much in continuity with your style?
I do think it's a progression but there is a continuity. I'm not re-inventing the wheel, or my wheel, each time an album comes out. But I do try and take the next step, I think that there are some approaches that I took that are different. But ultimately I think that I just do what I do and I'm always pushing towards doing it better, trying to figure out what's at my finger tips to be able to do.
I think if you listen to my records, each one doesn't sound clearly different to the one before it, but if you listened to each one in succession you'd see that there's an arc.
Cancer for Cure seems to have a lower amount of sampling in it than it's predecessors, would you say this is true?
A slightly lower amount of what?
Sampling, sorry English accent.
Yeah, I'm sorry. I thought you said sulking and I didn't understand it because there's just as much sulking in this record.
Yeah I would say that that's true, as much as that may have a stigma or whatever, it's just the truth. It's just the trick with the way I have been producing. It's still very sample based but it's just different. You aren't going to find a record that I've looped up on this record, there's no loops or anything like that. My approach is more about sound and manipulating samples and cutting them into something else.
Were there any different producers or musicians you took inspiration from in the production of Cancer for Cure?
That's a good question, er, not really, I look at everything and I kinda soak it all up. I'm excited about music in general and I'm sure that I get inspired by what's going on around me to a degree. But I'm sort of in my own world a bit when it comes to the progression of my own sound.
As a hip-hop producer I'm constantly listening to music, even just doing stuff for other records means you're constantly listening to and being inspired by other shit. It would be hard for me to nail down any one particular producer or genre. It all sort of gets filtered into my head and mixed up. Probably the combination of shit that I grew up on and shit that I listen to.
Your music seems to me to seem quite different to most of the rest of hip-hop, is this deliberate? Are you trying to set your self out as different to the rest of hip-hop.
Well, a long time ago I said "I don't try to be different I am, So inevitably my style will survive when your now turns to then." That's maybe a little bit arrogant but really I don't try to be different I just try to do what I do. I started out doing rap music with the same influences everybody my age had. I do believe that growing up in New York and being inspired by Hip-Hop culture and graffiti writers, I always thought that you are supposed to bring your own mark to something, you're supposed to have your own style. As much as you can be influenced and be respectful of the stuff that has been the goal is to bring something fresh to the table. But I'm not doing it just to say that I am, you should all be aiming to bring something, a different approach.
Do you feel there are lyrical themes throughout Cancer for Cure or does each song have it's own message?
I think there's probably a consistent tone to some degree. Records are snapshots of a time in my life and that time spans sometimes a couple of years. Within that there is a general over-arching context I wouldn't be surprised if there are themes that I come back to and try and approach in different ways. Most of it is some sort of struggle to some degree. These records are the way that I work out all the bullshit that is going on in my head, so I don't have to walk around being the worst person in the world.
When you listen to my album, to some degree, you are getting brought into a world. There's a stage being set, and yeah, different shit happens in that world.
Would your describe it as an angry album?
Maybe. There are moments of anger. Anger is a little too simple though, they think it's finger pointing, they think it's one thing as though I am incensed by other people. The reality of it is that there's frustration, there's confusion and sometimes there's an anger. I would say that most of it is directed at my internal dialogue, I don't think taking the finger pointing approach really makes sense, it doesn't ring true to me. Putting out a record that's "telling the world that they are wrong" doesn't really make sense to me. I think I am making records where I am explaining that I am wrong and that through those ideas.
You've collaborated with a number of people on this album who you haven't worked with before on your other albums. Did you find this a particularly new experience?
Yeah, that's part of the fun for me. You don't want to make the same record over and over again, and sometimes stepping outside of what people perceive as your normal cohort just can be a different thing and fun in it's own way. For me everybody working on the record is a friend of mine and somebody that I really respect, for me it just happened that way. It brought something exciting to the table, making this record.
Do you find your collaborations do be a more mutual experience, where both artist brings something to the table, or are you just looking for somebody to provide a new voice as a conduit for you?
They are very collaborative. I always have a real idea of what I want out of a song. I try as much as I can to have that idea before I really talk to people because I believe that a collaboration should only happen if it makes sense for the song. Just getting people to go and be on your record just for that idea is a little simple. I always try and have some progression with what I'm doing on the music then I bring people in. Then of course there's a lot of spontaneous shit that happens, so it's sort of half and half.
Were any verses that you were particularly pleased with?
I really though that the Tougher, Colder, Killer bit worked just because they were all in the room and we really worked together to try and play off each other and it was really fun. But really all of it, to be honest, there was nothing on the record that I wasn't excited about. There were other collaborations, or versions of songs that I had done with people that didn't make it to the record just because it didn't quite come together in the end.
Are you already thinking about a follow up?
It's a little bit early because I haven't even really toured yet but I have been thinking about it. I think me and Mike are going to get together right after the tour and do an EP together, I think that this one is going to be both of us rhyming together. That's probably the next thing, we'll probably give that away, or something. I really want to get into the studio again after this tour.