It’s been five years since El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, his last studio full-length for the currently dormant Definitive Jux imprint. Moving on to Fat Possum, the very prolific emcee/producer has made up for lost time by releasing two side-by-side albums – his own Cancer 4 Cure – and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, both of which he produced in full. Released within a week of one another, the two share similarities, but are different projects, end-to-end.
El takes to his own Cancer 4 Cure as a body of work, not something to be listened to on “shuffle”. Each track blends into the next, and throughout the course of the album, El builds a solid groove from track-to-track. His production takes the forefront here, as this record is designed more like a rock album, as the tracks abandon the usual 16-bar-verse-then-hook rap song structure. As a matter fact, El boldly starts the album instrumentally on “Request Denied”, not providing any lyrics until after the three minute mark. Clearly rooted in the drum programming styles of the 1980′s, El offers a glimpse of an alternate future where hip-hop production stayed pure and evolved naturally. Tracks like “True Story” or “Tougher Colder Killer” clearly borrow elements from hip-hop’s golden era and builds atop them with android parts. If Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music was The Bomb Squad meets Ice Cube all over again, then this is Public Enemy meets Nine Inch Nails.
His lyrical content has always been designed in Ghostfacesque, wordy poetics, hardly ever breaking things down into simpler terms. At surface value, what we do get from El’s rhymes are that he’s sort of a disgruntled, robot war-fearing product of post 9/11 New York, as these reoccuring themes present themselves over and over on songs like the boom-bap heavy “Drones Over Bklyn” or the melodic “Works Every Time”. The time to be taken to decipher each line is optional, but El’s unique, angst-ridden delivery is better viewed as an instrument in itself. In other words, his voice completes the symphony.
If you’ve heard El’s previous albums, you have an idea of what to expect here, and he certainly delivers on that promise. It’s clear that El is hearing things the rest of us are not, as he has demonstrated in his multi-layered production both here and on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music. In an age where people have forgotten how to make albums, whoring out their album tracklists to 50 different producers and guest artists, El has proven himself to be perhaps the most self-sufficient, endlessly consistent “producto” in hip-hop today.
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