El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
It's been a very long wait for El-P to release his lates album- to be precise it's been a whole five years. And if you've noticed, the genre that he calls home, hip-hop, has very much changed in what feels like eternity since the release of the critically acclaimed I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Now the Drakes and Nikki Minaj's are conquering the scene with young upstarts A$AP Rocky and the Odd Future crew arriving from the underground circuit to make a name for themselves. So this bears the question: Where does El-P fit in this reinvented world of hip hop? Is there still room for indie hip hop to be noticed? With this album not being released on Def Jux, the label known as the "the Motown of indie hip hop," can it still be a cult classic like The Cold Vein and Fantastic Damage?
This doesn't feel like a reinvention for the New York native, this is El-P simply doing what he does best. That's being a pioneer for the underground scene with his ambiguous notions of anti-capitalism soaked up by bombastic beats which pound through any system you're listening to the album through. Nothings changed, his production is sharp as a tack, his visceral flows rage through the tracks feeling like verses of protest to a changing world. A lot has changed in five years and this seems to be El-P venting in a style which isn't obvious for fresh ears, but for fans who have been following his career since his solo debut in 2002 a familiar feeling comes back when you travel through this hurricane of an album.
A hurricane, a whirlwind or a typhoon is a perfect way to describe Cancer 4 Cure (the album's title is in a typical dark poetic fashion that you've come to expect from the abstract minded rapper), the opening track ('Request Denied') bombards your ears with heavy drum jabs for two minutes before El-P even delivers the opening line. It's like a klaxon or an alarm siren from him, a wakeup call for listeners to let them know what they've missed for five years. 'Request Denied' feels like a shot of adrenaline; the kind of song you would expect to see on some adrenaline junkies' advert involving people mountain biking down vertical cliffs. It gives you a rush which pulsates through your brain for the opening half of the album.
The standard of production seems to have upped the ante when it comes to the guests El- P has invited on Cancer 4 Cure. Everyone seems to have stepped their game up, including fresh on the game rappers Mr. Motherfucking Exquire and Danny Brown, who both had promising 2011's. 'Oh Hail No' seems like a showcase for these two up and coming artists to flex their flows on. Both rap so differently: one brash and unconventional, the other uncompromising and gully. El-P's beat compliments both of their styles so well and both rappers show their gratitude for their producer with blistering verses. This can be said for Killer Mike who features on 'Tougher Colder Killer', the grizzly Atlanta based rapper who is best known for being an Outkast affiliate seems to have had his fire relit by his new associate. It seems El-P brings out the best in his new guests, or maybe these new friends are showing respect to the studio genius that he finally deserves.
It feels like Cancer 4 Cure is split up in two halves. One half showing El-P's master class in music creation and beat making, and the other his true lyrical ability in rapping the social and political themes that some rappers tend to veer away from. There's a deep message in this album, a deeper message than I'll Sleep When You're Dead, where the messages he spat out in that were more for the everyday person- the nine-til-five New Yorkers who struggled in the lives they led. Cancer 4 Cure's second half seems to prod at the bigger issues ('True Story' and 'The Jig Is Up'), the constant use of the word “they” gives out a scent of paranoia from the Def Jux leader. His ambiguous lyrics never state who 'they' are or what they do and this all adds to the schizophrenic El-P persona, there always seems to be two different ways you can view his songs. 'Sign Here' plays out like a government interrogation situation on one hand, but then on the other hand you can view it as a man's twisted view of sexual dominance over a woman. His tracks are like open stories for listeners to fill out with their own imagination.
The LP ends with '$ Vic_FTL (Me and You)', a grandiose eight minute feature that is probably the closest thing you'll get to a love song on this album. A love song which is built in two parts, one half feels like an open letter to New York, it’s like a call out to all the misfits that call the city home and then a lightning bolt to the privileged upper classes. El-P comes across as some kind of freedom fighter for his city, rallying his misguided characters. The second part, a dark tale of obsession with the kind of poetry which is best kept secret… the kind of words that would be thought of as too extreme by a lover if read out loud - "They can torture and interrogate and shackle to my boot, I will gnaw off my own leg and hop the fuck right back to you." The twisted orchestration and menacing bass add to the murky undertone of the song which displays El-P at his most sinisterly affectionate.
No matter how many rappers fight the power or stick a middle finger up to the government, they still don't seem to do it as intelligently, creatively and innovatively as EL-P. A few days before release he tweeted "Since 1997 I been putting out albums out with the idea that if you stick to doing you and come from the heart it will pay off. Still believe it." This just shows that he hasn't had to fit into the new hip hop scene, he hasn't needed a new image and he hasn't had to make up new words to trend worldwide. He's carried on rapping his message in his own style, just like he did with his previous releases.
It may seem confusing and too abstract at times, but Cancer 4 Cure is a perfect album to lead a revolt for a genre which right now is too focused on the shine and swag. Cancer 4 Cure grounds hip hop, taking it back to when it was seen as the new punk rock. It's an album which doesn't need an image for attention; it simply demands you to listen to it using sheer force and focused intent.