GRIMIER THAN GRIME: Death Grips “Ex Military” Mix-Tape [Download/Review]

Quite a few weeks back, I received a Facebook message from a friend of mine that read, “I just saw this and it immediately seemed like something I should post to your wall.”  Accompanying that comment was one of the most surprising videos that I have seen in a long time.  It’s true that there’s always gonna be new footage of some random goon snapping off their leg grinding a rail, a toddler stealing a car, or some ignorant bastards blowing shit up that they didn’t intend to blow up, but this was different.  It wasn’t a pet with a box on it’s head or even of one mock playing an instrument -let’s face it, Youtube is the America’s Funniest Home Videos of the new millenium.  What I was sent was a simple music video.  It didn’t have amazing special effects or a groundbreaking, elaborate storyline, either, and it wasn’t some young new tween talent to discover, who will inevitably get signed by someone like Ellen Degeneres or wind up starring in some traveling Broadway fiasco.  In fact, the production quality looked budget as fuck and the “vocalist” of the “group” was anything but “accessible”.  Even more surprisingly, it was a rap video; a genre that seems all too content with riding auto-tune until the wheels fall off.  The surprising part was that this track felt real, both in intention and in delivery.  Shiny chains, ridiculous wealth, and terrible pop hooks are like drinking gallons and gallons of warm milk, these days.  The sheer fact that what I was witnessing was the antithesis of that, might have been enough to draw me in at first, but after researching more and more and discovering more and more about what the creators, DEATH GRIPS,  have to offer, I can easily say that this crew is producing some of my favorite shit right now, hands down.

The title of the video was: “Death Grips – Guillotine (It goes Yah)” and both the visuals and audio were beyond raw.  The footage was of a thugged-out-looking cat with a wild Kimbo Slice beard and tattooed forearms, rolling around in the passenger seat of a nondescript sedan, while the driver apparently filmed him.  Patches of the frame were missing like that data-moshed Chairlift video, but instead of being stacked with alternate/overlapping coding, it looked more like the blotches from a bad green screen effect were filled in with the noise created from poorly functioning bunny-ears on an old shitty black and white cathode ray TV set.  The beat was sluggishly drawn out with pockets of crater-deep thumps and accented with the occasional robotic glitch.  The lyrics were delivered aggressively in less of a cadence than the sporadic urgency of a junkyard dogs warning barks.  This dude looked so bugged out that it felt like he was the type of guy that could lose his shit at any moment.  He looked both paranoid and in control… or… maybe it was more like how feeling paranoid might make someone try to take control.  It was as if someone had video-taped him going through one of his psychotic rants and built the beat around it on an old 4-track tape recorder, after the fact.  “Who the fuck made this?!”  I didn’t know, but it was just good enough for me to go on a quick mission to find that out.

Tie the chord kick the chair and your dead – yah…

…Head of a trick in a bucket
Body of a trick in a bag
And thrown in the fire like fuck it
Gotta burn it before it goes bad….

Considering the lyrical content and having no other material to go on, I realized that the quality of whatever else DEATH GRIPS had to offer -if anything- could go either way.  The horrorcore genre can often play itself out quickly, sounding way too cartoony and overly ridiculous.  With a video that looked like it was filmed on a busted outdated Hi-8 camera, I could have just as easily assumed that the project was old and/or that I wouldn’t be able to find much else, except that the end of the video was labeled with the words “Ex Military Mixtape (April 2011)” and the website ““.  The site didn’t hold much information and absolutely nothing in regards to the background or members of the project.  What it did have, however, was a tab that said “Ex Military Mixtape” which featured a full-soundcloud stream of all of the tracks and a free download of the entire album.  That would do.  I downloaded it from the site, uploaded it to my ZUNE, and then went to sleep, planning to listen to it throughout the following day.

Song one of the mixtape begins just like Jane’s Addiction‘s debut studio effort, Nothing Shocking, with the bassline to their opening track “Up the Beach“.  However, it is made substantially more ominous by layering audio from an old Charles Manson interview on top of it.  Admittedly, I identified the interview sample immediately, even before recognizing the unaltered bassline… (honestly, not sure if I should be proud of that one or not).  This introduction is incredibly effective and establishes a few things about the project.  One is that they know how to sample.  These days it’s easy to deny/forget that Jane’s Addiction were ever worth a shit and much harder to remember when they were.  This is a dark and classic intro and, without altering it, DEATH GRIPS manages to make it their own.  So much so, that I feel that I’d now have trouble listening to the original track without expecting to hear the notorious psychopath claiming that he “runs the underworld” and “rolls the nickels“.  Manson‘s rant in the opener also establishes that shit’s about to get dark and, whether intentionally or not, it helps to address the constrictions of the music industry and to the adherence to any structural limitations outside of ones own creative visions.  The chant of “I am the beast I worship” throughout the chorus doesn’t hurt to make that point either.

After “Guillotine” is a track called “Spread Eagel Cross the Block” and, like most of the shit that DEATH GRIPS is offering up on this release, it reveals itself as more and more brilliant the more that you listen to it.  The first thing to mention is that the base of this song, unexpectedly, floats on the dusty methadone cloud of Link Wray‘s classic instrumental surf groove, “Rumble“.  As for the lyrics, they seem to be about exactly what the title would suggest, some skanky hoodrat.  The slut that he’s talking about is music itself.  “I fuck the music. I make it cum.  I fuck the music with my serpent tongue.”  This isn’t the first time that someone’s taken to addressing the decrease of quality hip-hop by relating it to a chick that disrespects herself by geting around too much –Common did it with his classic “I Used to Love Her” back on Resurrection (1994)- but the approach here is noticeably different.  Plus, Common hasn’t put anything respectable out in forever; that guy’s complete trash these days.  DEATH GRIPS don’t offer a lament for dead hopes or guidance for a musical artform that has lost it’s way.  Instead, they just tell everyone to get the fuck out of the way, so that they can handle their own business.  They might reanimate certain structural elements of rap, but they’re perfectly happy with letting that zombie corpse mob around and vomit blood on everything.  When they put mommy in the pet cemetery, they don’t expect her to come home to read them bedtime stories and make them a home cooked meal; they expect her to be wielding a bloody kitchen knife and fall face first through a glass coffee table, while maggots eat through the back of her rotting skull.

This raises another important point: conscious rap isn’t only dead, it barely breathed as a fully formed, full term creature in the first place.  When you have people that have fancied themselves as intellectuals folding under their whole marketing angles to rap about parties and money, that’s the first sign that something’s wrong with your movement.  For me, the label of “conscious” rap is an issue in itself, because the implication is that, if you listen to anything else, you do so out of ignorance.  The reality is that most folks who are content with labeling themselves as “conscious rappers” don’t really say much more than most gangster rappers these days.  In fact, most gangster rapper’s don’t even rap about gangster shit anymore, either.  They rap about havin’ thangz and living in neighborhoods next to CEOs and plastic surgeons.  Conscious rappers basically just tell other people to be “conscious” and listen to “real” hip-hop, but, far too often, they don’t really offer anything of detailed substance.  More so, they just talk about how they are about to say something deep, just like how some rappers would rather rap about how they have skills, instead of simply demonstrating them.  DEATH GRIPS comes at everything hard with the knowledge that what they’re creating comes from a real place, being enough.  “That’s right it’s all mine.  It’s all mine never was yours.  Like how you wait in line.  While I walk straight through the door.”  In reality, they’re not walking through the door, so much as they are kicking it off the fucking hinges.  These guys are making their own entrances.  Nonchalantly knocking out walls that happen to be in their way, they just keep moving forward like a pack of mangy wolves.  This work is cinematic as all get-out and the final product paints such dark visual landscapes and evokes such raw emotion that it doesn’t need to waste it’s time talking about key grips and lighting structures behind the scenes.  We’re making a movie here folks, not holding a board meeting; creating imagery in the same way that a classic novel would.  If it’s working right, the texts become pictures and the words become more than just sound.  To quote Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, “Don’t think, FEEL.  It’s like a finger pointing to the moon. If you concentrate on the finger you will miss all that heavenly glory.

The album continues to mix in the most unexpected samples and venture into incredibly varied territories, while never feeling overly contrived or having its fluidity suffer.  Just throughout these first 3 tracks, DEATH GRIPS has already presented sounds that touch on the demon rap equivalents of stoner sludge metal, post-apocalyptic dubstep, and the musty lo-fi of projects like Dirty Beaches.  “Lord of the Game” starts with the glitchy, rapid reggaeton vocal hiccups of an M.I.A. track and pairs it with a sample of “Fire” from the notoriously macabre, Arthur Brown.  The anti-police sentiments in “Klink” ride on a sample of “Rise Above” by Black Flag and outros with The Castaways‘ solitary hit, “Liar Liar“.  The ending blends smoothly into David Bowie singing the words, “so softly a supergod dies” from the end of his song “Supermen“.  This is the beginning of a standout track called “Culture Shock“.  The Bowie sample wafts in and out of the industrial clanks and hydraulic warps that can only be likened to the soundtrack of a factory dedicated to the production of cybernetic war machines.  Also weaving in and out of the track is audio taken from a video message by a group of energy channeling light-workers who call themselves “Galactic Federation Of Light Ashtar, Sheran and Intergalactic Fleet“, who are instructing listeners to transcend their conscious minds, access their inner light and chakras, and letting them know that they “need to vibrate higher“.  The lyrics also refer to the current and future infiltrations of technology on our human vessels and psyches.  The music drops out at the end and, as the sample continues to speak about ascending to the 5th dimension, it segues into the brief 43 second instrumental “5D” that’s basically just a Pet Shop Boys loop from “West End Girls“.  Without warning, “Thru the Walls” abruptly drops in with it’s ridiculously heavy Reggaeton thumps and lyrics like, “Feel my fists push black holes.  Through your bitch ass decor“.  Earlier track, “Takyon (Death Yon)” further addresses scientific phenomena and the transcending of time/space/light, while launching off with the words, “Triple six, five, forked tongue.  Subatomic penetration rapid fire through your skull“.  These tracks -along with those lines in particular- provide a great example of the type of grimy, bleak, futuristic, demonic, murderous, environments painted on Ex Military.  There are moments that evoke imagery of desolate anarchic Beyond Thunderdome wastelands or the dark sleek back alleys of Blade Runner, but it isn’t as simple as a one-dimensional space rap effort or even a release about the end of times.  This album is just as much about modern day poverty, desperation, and empowerment as highlighted in films like City of God or even on classic rap releases like Straight Outta Compton and Enter The WU-Tang: 36 Chambers.  It’s definitely not a release that can be solely identified by elements of “consciousness” and spiritual elevation or even gangster rap, porno rap, or horrorcore, but aspects of each are present.  It’s the way that everything seems to have been effortlessly melded into one unique vision, that has yielded something the likes of which don’t really resemble anything that I’ve ever come across.

I listened to Ex Military over and over for weeks, never knowing much more about the project than the music it birthed and the image of the frantic vocalists in the video.  After pulling espresso shots all day, this is the type of aggressive shit that I like to blast throughout a place of work, the minute that I lock the doors.  One night when the head roaster had stayed late, I was closing with the album cranking through the speakers.  He kept asking me questions about the release and I didn’t have many answers to give.  “It sounds like some grimy hood shit.  I’ve been guessing that it’s from somewhere like Detroit.”  He didn’t think so.  It reminded him of the grime music that he’d heard, so he was convinced that it was coming from somewhere in the UK.  For me, it sounded more like the “acid raps” of Detroit rap pioneer, Esham who -beginning at the age of 13– helped to pioneer the horrorcore and rap metal genres with his doom-laden beats and lyrics about hallucinogenics and Satan.  The more lo-fi elements and blunt, honest vocal delivery were reminiscent of the old homemade Southern Rap tapes, where you could hear some reckless thugged-out bastard like Tommy Wright III openly threaten to murder someone on a track, while providing detailed directions to their mother’s house.  The one other region that came to mind was Sacramento, with Black Market Records in the 1990s and Brotha Lynch Hung‘s baby eating, subterranean, hardcore gangster rap classic Season of the Siccness.  He couldn’t help himself anymore, so the roaster went in the back to check the internet and see if he could find out more.  When he came out, he told me that he couldn’t come up with anything substantial about the group, other than the fact that he was wrong about the UK affiliation.  The project did in fact come out of Sac-Town and involved “someone by the names Zach Hill“.

For those who don’t know the name, Zach Hill is one of the craziest drummers alive right now.  Among other projects, he is known for making up 1/2 of Sacramento‘s experimental, high-octane math rock duo, HELLA and supplying the hyper-technical rhythm’s that are interwoven with Marnie Stern‘s guitar shredding on all 3 of her releases.  Hill‘s inclusion on a recording is generally something that’s immediately noticeable, but this album is different.  After learning that he was affiliated with the project, however, it wasn’t overly surprising.  His production can be heard through some of the more unorthodox time signatures on the mixtape and, in the past, Hill has even gone to the length of paying tribute to the Brotha Lynch classic by posting his own remixes of tracks from Season of the Siccness on Youtube.

Even less surprising, however, was the discovery that DEATH GRIPS was coming out of Sacramento. At the age of 18, I spent the summer of 1997 living in and around the state’s capitol; primarily out of a 1980 Datsun 510 wagon.  A lot of LSD and pizza were eaten in dirty trash-ridden parking lots and everything seemed to have a consistent film on it, during those muggy heat-drenched weeks.  Along with Season of Da Siccness, albums like Xorcist – recorded over the phone from Sacramento County Jail by fellow Black Market recording artist,  X-Raided, while he was awaiting a murder trial; of which the prosecution’s case was based heavily on the detailed lyrical content and a murder weapon featured on the cover from his previous release– were still a major source of pride, in heavy rotation among the Sac-Town youth.  We watched films like High on Crack Street, smoked unreasonable amounts of bammer, and made low-quality 4-Track recordings in random apartments.  On the first of the month, droves of welfare recipients would line up to collect their checks at a spot that was located next to a little shop that almost exclusively sold shirts with images of cholo clowns and the Virgin of Guadalupe cruising in low riders.  They would immediately go next door to cash in at the same pizza joint that we would record upstairs in (they accepted food stamps).  A man with a wadded up newspaper offered to spread the dead gnats around my windshield with some watered-down, budget glass cleaner, for a small fee.  Regardless of where we were, there always seemed to be a shopping cart within shoving distance.  Word was that Shock-G (aka: Humpty Hump) lived in the area.  A kid we knew bought me some Wiener Schnitzel for picking his ass up, after he got into a meth related ordeal.  Another guy that we crashed with sometimes would randomly get into any parked, shitty Honda‘s and unsuccessfully try to steal it, without warning, no matter where we went.  We walked in a group to the local mini-mart to buy a copy of High Society that promised images of nude Spice Girls.  The whole town had the aesthetic of a busted television.  Grit in my teeth, a rock in my shoe, thick unwashed jeans, denim lint in metal resin-caked weed pipes, pizza grease, 2-liters of generic soda, layers of sweaty skin rubbing off in my dirty palm, and a 3-legged dog drinking the malt liquor that had been poured generously into his bowl. I’m aware that this is, most likely, no more than a poorly rounded impression of an area, stemming from limited reference and chemical-based nostalgia from 14 years ago, but that’s how I remember it… and I swear that I can feel that residue smeared all over this mixtape.  For something that’s only been released in a digital format, there’s something remarkably tangible about this music.

Earlier I implied that, after viewing the “Guillotine” video, I needed to know who made the music for it, but it turns out that wasn’t entirely true.  All that I really wanted was to know was where I could hear some more, because, after getting my hands on the 13 track mixtape, the actual individuals behind the music became immaterial to me.  I didn’t continue my search into their background, rather opting to delve deeper into the fruits that their focus and energy had yielded.  I’m not so sure that DEATH GRIPS would prefer to have their work received any other way.  Everything from its title to the anonymous weathered figure on their equally weathered cover art, feeds into the same damaged, yet resilient energy behind the release.  Like an aimless, mentally unstable soldier set loose in a society where everything that he’s been trained to do and his primary purpose have not only been rendered obsolete, but forbidden, the tension rests under the surface of the tracks and personal identities take a back seat, being misplaced and smothered by a complex intermingling of energy, abstract pseudo-realities, and thick emotions.  Still, regardless of how unnecessary the actual names of each singular participant are, or the fact that there is no mention of their identities on the site, it would be irresponsible to insinuate that Zach Hill is the primary driving force behind DEATH GRIPS, because he’s not.  He’s just the most recognizable name.  Based on my current understanding, the crew is a total of 5 members deep, with Hill providing production work along with founder/producer, Flatlander [also responsible for directing all of the crazy low-budget videos that they’ve been consistently churning out] and co-music/video producer, Info Warrior.  The other 2 names that have popped up in correlation to DEATH GRIPS are Mexican Girl (featured prominently on “Lord of the Game”) and the most public face of the operation, MC RIDE.

The troupe represents themselves as a collective, concerned more with the collective results of their collaboration than in hyping the members individually.  Regardless of their respective roles, MC RIDE is the one spitting out the vocals, the one whose face is appearing in videos, and the one who’s position as the “voice” of DEATH GRIPS (in the most literal sense) will garner him the most individualistic praise or critique.  As for the aptness of his adopted moniker, the MC does manage to unwaveringly absorb whatever chaotic assault is thrown at him beat-wise, and ride it out admirably.  But RIDE isn’t a  Twista or Busta Rhymes style rapper, skipping along with each break and agilely surfing on any twists in the instrumental.  It’s much more like he has dug his heels in, while everything -including a few kitchen sinks- is dumped down all around him in clusters, like jacks or a collapsing metropolis, “à la Inception.  Somehow, without any recognizably intentional assimilation on his part, the music actually feels like it has adapted to RIDE, as opposed to the other way around.  Like a less conflicted and much more ragged version of Magneto or Darth Vader, the rapper plants himself firmly as the eye of the tornado, while a dust storm of shrapnel, rusted appliances, noxious fumes, rotted animal carcasses, and wire-frayed/short-circuiting gadgetry swirls around him in a curiously controlled suspension.  This electrical storm of sound both engulfs and magnetically clings to RIDE‘s verses like static.  Even moments which may come across as disjointed, sporadic frenzies, gradually unveil themselves as much more aware and as calculated production elements, upon additional listens.  It’s as much focused, highly-concentrated moonraker beam as it is scattered buckshot.  It’s raw, but that doesn’t make it lazy or ignorant.  There are no accidents here.

My enthusiasm for DEATH GRIPS and Ex Military is simple: the project and release epitomize much of what the major purpose of this site is, altogether.  My desire to create a forum for us to help highlight projects, conduct interviews with artists, etc. goes hand in hand with the obsession to find new music, film, art, and information, while maintaining an awareness about how many people/sources have introduced us to such things and the assumption that there are others out there who are on a constant mission to unearth any new, innovative and/or quality work that may exist out there.  Far too often, both media and general enthusiasts are forced to settle on something that falls short, but edges out the majority of the other offerings just enough for it to be hailed as a “triumph” or the “future” of the genre.  Rarely, if ever, are such bestowments warranted, if only comparatively to the other more obvious trash being produced.  It sounds so cliche and disingenuous, but it’s with much forethought that I feel that I can honestly make the claim that I’ve never heard anything quite like the music coming from this Sacramento 5-piece.

Being a sample-based release, featuring a black man with an “MC” title screaming lyrics over the beats, will undoubtedly find Ex Military being filed under the general category of “rap“, but once one tries to narrow it down any further, that’s when things become a bit more murky.  “Hardcore”?  Maybe.  The term is generic enough to encompass a lot of things and this album is definitely “hardcore” something.  Ironically, as the album successfully avoids simple categorization, it also offers up some of the most effective elements from any of the genres that it seems to defy.  It’s too well rounded to be a straight up gangster rap album, but there’s definitely some hood shit on here.  It’s not a straight ahead horrorcore album, riding extensively on Freddy VS Jason style dramatics, either.  Instead, there are some legitimately frightening moments on the release that seem to cut a lot deeper than movie makeup and blood packets.  It’s not a Space Rap album in the typical sense, offering up imagery of neon, split level New York flat tops, floating hover cars, laser gats, and da club as a modified space station.  The futuristic references on here are often as technical and scientific as they are bleak.  Perhaps that’s what really helps set it apart from most hip-hop releases that you’re going to come across, the lack of steam-cleaned, chrome-plated imagery.  It’s cinematic, sure, but it feels more like a gritty documentary than a script that’s been raped to death through the manipulation of hollywood producers, product placement, CGI, merchandising, and auto-tune.  With all of the cooks in the DEATH GRIPS kitchen, there is a surprising cohesion in this work.  Even I Want It I Need It (Death Heated), the one song on this album that IS about getting fucked up at the club, samples the early Pink Floyd cut, Interstellar Overdrive, mentions a slew of drug references that are not typically brought up on a hip-hop track (DMT, LSD, MDMA ), and is more about trying to hold your shit together than having it together.  Clearly, the violent content, occasional sexism, and lack of remorse, would never find Ex Military being embraced as a “conscious” rap album, or even a backpack rap effort.  It’s too intense.  However, at the deepest level, there are moments that actually outmatch the heady, spiritually focused, new age, bike riding, tree planting, Mother Earth warriors at their own game.  When DG gives nods to energy and spirituality, they do so on an accessible level that doesn’t feel contrived or pretentious.  In fact, it actually makes you consider what they’re saying, as opposed to simply hoping that the purchasing of their MP3s and the throwing up of your hands for “real hip-hop” will operate as a suficient moral equivalent to carbon offsets.  Perhaps, even more impressive is the fact that it, somehow, doesn’t feel like a conflict when DEATH GRIPS are singing about murder, rape, or drugs shortly afterward.

I live in Seattle, a town that some would say has a strong hip-hop scene.  Most of the people who would say that are actually from Seattle.  I, on the other hand, am not one those people.  The latest, and arguably biggest, hype is a group called Shabazz Palaces, featuring Ishmael Butler (aka: Butterfly) of Digable Planets fame.  After the rough reception of Butler‘s post-DP project, Cherry Wine, his career wasn’t looking as amazing as it could have.  Early hype for Shabazz Palaces spoke of how Butler was keeping his identity shrouded in mystery, how the album had “leaked” via a few select outlets (the biggest local outlets available, mind you), and how the new project was so “innovative” that it marked the “future” of Seattle hip-hop and the entire rap scene in general.  Days after the first local performance came (the first week of last year) it was already mentioned on the front page of THE STRANGER, which hailed it as the best show that was destined to happen all year.  I was at that show, wasn’t permitted photography access, and received no response to review a copy of the CD.  Hiding your identity is simple –the Residents have been doing it for 40 yrs– and the show was mediocre at best.  Their music has a few interesting elements to it, I suppose, but their approach comes across a little forced and a little too Allen Payne from CB4.  Their biggest flaw is that, instead of simply representing themselves with their music, they’ve marketed themselves as some new revolutionary, groundbreaking force and they haven’t come close to living up to it.  Whether it’s underground, party, gangster… whatever, acts tend to paint themselves into corners that they can’t get out of.  It happens with all forms of music and art.  I’ve heard a little of the work by Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All and, at first, it seemed intriguing.  Unfortunately, I’m not that well versed on their material.  I’ve heard great things but, after listening to the Tyler the Creator album, Bastard, I wasn’t impressed.  The lines between vulgarity, humor, and delivery got blurred too much and he came across sounding like a kid telling bad poop jokes and his comments about murdering women just seemed like they were there for shock value.  MC RIDE, on the other hand, comes across as a legitimate threat and that’s a testament to his ability to present himself as genuine.  Another rapper that has really impressed us over the last year or so is Freddie Gibbs.  He offers a more straightforward approach to vivid 2PAC style gangster rap, with a solid cadence, remarkable lyricism, and, for the ridiculous amount of music that he’s been able to release in a short period of time, it all seems to be quality stuff (“All killer, no filler“).  He comes from a legitimately rough background and openly takes offense to people like Rick Ross who he claims are full of shit and appropriating that lifestyle.  Gibbs‘ music works, because he knows his role/strengths, is true to his identity, and focuses on being the best at delivering just that.  Part of DEATH GRIPS‘ skill-set involves their ability to move seamlessly from one approach to the next.  Lyrically, they are a completely different animal, but they’re able to provide the same realism and potency of a Freddie Gibbs, while incorporating more unorthodox aspects that can often make lesser groups come across as gimmicky or simply misguided.

So… does DEATH GRIPS represent the” future of rap”?  I’m not even exactly sure what that means, but I know enough to know that, if people are constantly asking questions like that, then it’s clear that they have been hungrily awaiting something new.  I’m also aware that I’ve been hoping for something different and interesting to come along, but I’m not sure that I was really expecting it to happen.  So, perhaps better questions to ask would be if these guys are actually offering up something new and if what they’re offering is something that’s worth while.  My answer to both of those questions is a “definitely“.  OFWGKTA has also been labeled with the “future” of rap title, and I think that might be more accurate.  At the very least, I can see kids beginning to adopt similar subject matter as the young Los Angeles rap collective.  That’s not to say that their imitators won’t be exponentially worse.  The real innovators might kick down doors, but they can’t be concerned with the future of a genre, only with forging their own paths, and with their own personal growth and resiliency.  For example, I’ve yet to see another WU-TANG Clan come through, because they are impossible to clone and, if anyone tries, it would just look incredibly corny.  EL-P is another very unique voice that I have tons of respect for, but elements of his “sound” only spread because of the amount of production work that he’s provided for other artists, both on his own label, as well as for Rawkus before it.  Comparisons will be drawn between EL-P and DEATH GRIPS for their gritty futuristic elements, left field approach to beat making, and their crate digging enthusiasms -for the song “Deep Space 9mm“, EL-P sampled the song “Water” by cult 60‘s experimental, electronic psych duo, Silver Apples, for chrissakes!  However, while the DEF JUX label-head is more of a story teller, unfolding scenic details while he hovers in a low-key spaceship over an urban cityscape at night, DEATH GRIPS almost feel more like they are down in the filth, slightly less focused with foresight or hindsight and spewing more about immediacies.  How do you imitate something like that, without sounding like an imitation?  It’s not as much about the physical sounds being created, the subject matter being addressed, or even the samples and structures that are present, as much as it is about the overall feeling being emitted through this crazy collage of ingredients.  The, otherwise disjointed, pieces of the jigsaw click together so well that any borders virtually dissipate.  It’s like one of those digital mosaics, made up of thousands of tiny pictures of Max Hedroom, shotguns, drunken vagrants, sensory deprivation chambers, junkyards, and radioactive mutants.  There are some old-school Sixties samples and futuristic elements in the mix, but neither terms like “throwback” or “future of rap” seem to play much into the agenda of a group like this, who appear to be more focused on creating something much more original.

You’ve just read through another overly lengthy piece that began with the original intention of throwing up a very short post and a download link.  For me, the most difficult stuff to describe often proves to be the most compelling and the most satisfying.  Still, even with all of the rambling and over explanation, no one can really describe the group better than the sentiments expressed through their own music.  Their disinterest in leading a new one-dimensional rap movement or being redundant is laid out nicely on the track “Known For It“.  Not only does it contain a sample of “De Futura” by French jazz/prog outfit Magma (a group that invented their own language, as well as shaped their own genre, “Zeuhl” and helped influence early black metal), but the following lyrics as well:

Keep em guessin endlessly
Never let em know where you’re headed
King of the unknown cloaked in mystery
How ta show em they don’t mean shit ta me

Something else that really epitomizes their work for me are the following lines that finish off the song “Lord of the Game”:

…Don’t waste my time even one more time
When you know that shit is whack
Don’t make me remind you of the last time you
Said you’d never go back.

Fuck where you’re from,
Fuck where you’re goin,
It’s all about where you’re at

With most of us spending the majority of our existences focused on the preparations for some future event or living in the wake of some past triumph or tragedy, I don’t feel that it’s overly absurd to make the claim that we rarely ever exist in our own time.  We were young once and one day we’ll be even older, but, although our bodies are currently, slowly decomposing as you read this, oxygen is also entering into your system, feeding your cells, and rejuvenating your life force.  It may not be living up to your anticipation and it won’t likely resemble much more than a shadow of itself once it hits the history books, but RIGHT NOW is happening, regardless.  If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear a project created by people in the moment; swooping up the shrapnel of the past, mixing it with the technology of the present, and creating something that’s genuinely new, which reflects it’s own image.  If there’s one concept that DEATH GRIPS has left for me with Ex Military it’s simply that they exist.  It doesn’t work as a bad reminder that we do, either.  Go create something.


Death Grips – Exmilitary by deathgrips


Death Grips have recently started playing out and Zach Hill has been bringing his drum kit along for the RIDE.  Make sure to catch them if you live in one of the select locations

Santos Party House
New York, NY

Premiere Event Center
Los Angeles, CA

Club Lambi
Montreal, Quebec

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

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