El-P started working on Cancer 4 Cure soon after Camu Tao’s death in 2008. But the record progressed slowly, and he took a break to produce Killer Mike’s new album, R.A.P. Music. The pair really hit it off. “He’s a mean little fuck,” Killer Mike says. “He really is Brooklyn, New York. He is Brooklyn to the bone. A lot of artists are sensitive to not hurting each other’s feelings—a lot of White artists, in particular, are just too fucking nice. With El, he’s just a tough, nose-to- the-grindstone type dude.”
Working with Mike gave El-P a creative boost towards finishing his own album. He wasn’t feeling as emotive as he was in the making of his last two, he says, and instead went for a little more “punch-you-in-your-face energy.” But Cancer 4 Cure is a solid continuation of his previous work, which means it isn’t really for everybody. It can take multiple listens to grasp onto themes, and the lyrics are, to put it mildly, verbose. But El-P is a gifted MC, equally adept at kicking a double-time flow or slowing things down to a spoken word- like delivery. He can steer effortlessly from satire to self-assessment to story- telling, all within a verse. The production is just as sophisticated, with layer upon layer of moving pieces—heavy synths, drums and bass.
El-P admits that his music is an acquired taste. (“No doubt,” he says.) But now, nearly two decades into his career, he feels more respected than ever. “People are giving me my due a little bit, and hopefully I’ve earned that,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve grown to have a relatively Zen perspective on the whole shit. I know what I’m doing. I’m not going to change or flip my shit. It’s always been me; it’s always been genuine. I think sometimes the attitudes and what people pay attention to changes.”
Cancer 4 Cure recently leaked onto the Internet. Surprisingly, El-P shrugs it off. There are too many good things going on at the moment. He’s still getting props for his show-stopping verse on Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s “The Last Huzzah (Remix).” And after capping off a string of reunion shows at Coachella, Company Flow announced that they intend on recording new material.
“Everyone is paying attention to everything now and giving it its proper due,” he says. “I think that’s the way music fans feel right now. There is no real dividing line. A lot of rappers over the last six years have really started taking interest in other genres of music. Before there was this clear line; now I don’t see it anymore. I never believed the walls existed in the first place. I was waiting for everyone else to see that. I think it would be wrong for me to be anything less than optimistic. Don’t you think things are getting better?”