by NOAH PRILL
Death Grips is in your area, and they’re obliterating everything in their path. Be it the conventions of hip hop or your ears, nothing is safe from Death Grips mutated assault on hip hop.
Death Grips is an experimental hip hop group from Sacramento, California, but they are not merely hip hop. They’re the furthest thing from conventional hip hop possible, going so far away from the standard that they challenge even being referred to the genre by name. The Money Store is the group’s second effort, and is significantly more polished than their previous release, ExMilitary.
ExMilitary was a much more aggressive album, and while The Money Store isn’t as abrasive, it still retains the hard hitting aggression expected of Death Grips. Instead, it uses the anger in a much more refined way. Putting rambling rapping, hard hitting noise, grimy rock, harsh industrial, glitchy electronics and more into a bowl and mashing them together, The Money Store raises quite a racket.
One of the core characteristics of what makes Death Grips so unique is rapper MC Ride’s style of rapping. But Ride does not simply rap. To call his manic yelling “rapping” is a disservice to how much he puts into the vocal, which is more akin to a crazy bearded homeless man shouting at you on a street corner than a typical cool and composed MC. A good comparison would be an enraged Charles Manson yelling at a blank wall, only to have the ear splitting reverberation of his shouts fill the padded cell.
The beats that supply the groups rhythmic backbone are created by the sporadic drum kit mastermind Zach Hill, formerly of the intricate math rock band, Hella. The beats are more akin to a technical electronic song or a challenging industrial beast than a lumbering, bass heavy hip hop track that’s true home is the club. The beats are all over the place, but in the best way possible, with every powerful snare hit and bass kick being perfectly calculated.
The group’s synth and keyboards are supplied by Flatlander, who completes the visceral sound with booming synths and abstract noises that propel the choruses never ending momentum forward. Many noises are not of the typically discernible type, with many of them leaving you scratching your head and thinking, “how did they make that sound?”
With the ethos and aesthetics of punk rock and the sound of an industrial grade melting pot, it’s difficult to compare the sound of Death Grips to others, as they are so unlike anything else. There are groups that share the component parts, but nothing resembles what The Money Store accomplishes as a whole.
One of the most impressive things about The Money Store is its ability to stay extremely catchy, given the abrasive sound and subject nature. But the tracks are comprised of very well written song structure, with shouted anthemic choruses that you can’t help but yell along to. Every single song has something interesting, with very memorable hooks and sounds that are bound to manifest themselves deep inside the crevices of your skull.
Another essential part of what makes Death Grips so unique is the lyrics. They are, for the most part, incomprehensible. For a large majority of tracks the sound and feeling of the vocals takes precedent over the actual words that are being said. But after revisiting the songs that once sounded like the ramblings of a madman, eventually the lyrics become easier to grasp. At that point the brilliant portrayal of the darkest depths of humanity is staring you down, and you can’t help but stare back.
The lyrics on most songs serve as a sort of exposé for the worst parts of humanity. For the majority of tracks, MC Ride takes on the persona of the most deplorable people in society, acting as a character of the dark gutters of society. He’s insane, paranoid, violent, and most of all terrifying, a manic painting of a world that hasn’t before been illustrated in this much startling detail.
On the most atypical song of the album, Hacker, MC Ride takes on the persona of a burglar, as he yells that he’s “In your area” over a rumbling rhythm and swirling synths. On the pounding, noisy behemoth of a song, Punk Weight, he sounds terrifying. With overmodulated bass and the aggressive flow and lyrics of a serial killer, it’s goal of murdering the listeners sanity in cold blood is accomplished quite well.
On System Blower, Ride addresses the group’s forward thinking, head on attack of hip hop convention. On the surface it would seem that he is rapping about rocking a stereo system to destruction, something not too uncharacteristic of the group, but that isn’t enough for Death Grips. Instead he’s discussing the system of hip hop, and how they’re challenging everything and blowing it out of the water.
By far the most important track, I’ve Seen Footage, is the explanation for all of the hell that Death Grips raises. Ride raves about the horrors he’s seen in his life, from police killings to child soldiers. He’s desensitized and paranoid, and using The Money Store as the tool of expression, retells the footage he’s seen in the form of an album. It takes the it from great to spectacular, leading to a clear picture of the intent behind everything.
The way these lyrical topics are presented is as realistically as possible, with the abrasive sound matching the grim themes. Underground realist rap that exposes the harsh realities of life’s underbelly is nothing new, far from it. But never before has the sound complimented the lyrics and topics as Death Grips does. These themes and lyrics couldn’t work over a Kanye West produced beat, and for once the reality of underground rap lyrics matches the sound.
Death Grips sets out to subvert the genre of rap, by personifying all of the usual tropes in the genre, taking the usual stereotypes and turning them up to a deafening volume. Be it drug abuse, violence, or sex, they shove the ugly reality of these topics in your face, not letting you turn away for a second.
Death Grips takes everything to the extreme, be it the violent vocals, vulgar lyrics, varied and catchy song structure, or bombastic production. Glorification is replaced with documentation, and the result is the shock to the system that hip hop is in dire need of.
The Money Store is not an easy album. Death Grips know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and embrace their unique nature wholeheartedly and sprint away as far as they can from the conventional spectrum. If you’re interested in thought provoking, genre bending experimental hip hop that remains insanely catchy, The Money Store is at least worth a listen. It’s by far one of the most innovative and unique thing to happen in hip hop in quite some time, existing in a league of its own creation. And that league is utterly fantastic.