Fantastic Damage

El-P’s new album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead drops today. I haven’t heard it, and truth be told, I’m not sure I’ll go too far out of my way to get my hands on a copy. There’s some artists that you want to listen to, and others you simply don’t—regardless of how much respect you have for them. El Producto has never had a sound that I can get into. I find many of his tracks too sonically dense, too cerebral, too abstract, too dark. His lyrics, on the other hand, fascinate me.

The New York Times ran a big article on the rapper last weekend, positing that El-P is fixated on 9/11 and that his records are an attempt to process the horror, and the despair, and the apocalyptic mood of the times. Apparently the new album picks up where Fantastic Damage left off, with its strung-out, insomniac narrator representing both El-P himself and his traumatized hometown. “I feel like New York needs therapy, man,” he tells the Times. “And I’m one of the people.”

Four years ago—right before the war in Iraq started—I was in New York on assignment for a Vancouver newspaper, writing an article on antiwar rap. I interviewed J-Live (remember “Satisfied”?) and dead prez in person, and then I interviewed El-P over the phone. He was drinking his morning coffee and seemed to be in a reflective state of mind. Things got a little deep when we got around to talking about the insane state of the world. Here’s what he had to say:

I think that we are headed toward the inevitable destruction of our society, period. Roman Empire-style. But what can you do? That is a lot of what my record is about. I am just trying to enjoy the same rights of passage that people before me did. I am trying to grow up, I am trying to fall in love, I am trying to build something for myself, I am trying to figure out how to exist—and I don’t want that to be interrupted. It’s not fair. Unfortunately, that selfish desire and the reality of what’s happening are conflicting. I don’t know what to do. I’ll be honest with you—I really don’t know what to do.

I felt like he captured what so many of us were feeling at the time. He continued:

But I’m not here to bludgeon people with negativity. I see hope and I see beauty. That’s the whole point of the album Fantastic Damage. Out of these things—out of the damage—comes this inspiration. On the one hand I wanted to present you with all of my horrible negative fear. And on the other hand, I wanted to present the reason why the fear of destruction is there. Why else would you fear it unless there were these things that were beautiful? I see a lot of power and a lot of excitement and energy and beauty in our generation.

So many of us are in the clubs, furiously dancing away as the world crumbles around us. [1] It’s no surprise that so many us can’t face the sense of darkness that pervades this era, that we can’t manage to confront what’s happening. You have to admire El-P for being willing to try.


[1] I know, I know. Debbie Downer. But what are you going to do?

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  • king blair

    i smoke weed to deal with my problems and i listen to hov for my grown man rap not that over the top political shit that begs for disc eject after the second song these type of dudes diss the south for killing the art without bringing anthing other than their conspiracy theories to the table i rather hear “top back”

  • EReal

    I say fuck it and keep my Karma str8. Dosent really matter what happens, we’re humans and we’ll adapt. Im not so sure that change in this country would be a bad thing. I mean we came out of the 60′s into the 70′s with such freedom and hope. There was great times until crack hit in the late 80′s and all that changed. Ever since then it’s just been one bullshit reason after another to take away our civil liberties and make us slaves to the government, on some V-Vendetta shit. What are you gonna do? They keep the youth busy with images of what they think are important, material possetions. Most of our youth are distracted, de-sensitized, under-educated and selfish and narcissistic. To ask even the 80′s babies to rally around a cause is laughable.
    IMO, the pervasive fear that surrounds us is fear of our own government, namely Bush and how much more he can fuck this country over the next two years. Bush created this climate of fear, Bush took away our rights with the patriot act, Bush gave us the biggest trade defecit and national dept EVER. Maybe things will change after Bush is out of office, if our country survives that long.
    (Im a republican by the way)
    I feel like its out of my hands, so I live a good life, keep my Karma str8, stay chillin with Marley, and thats about it. Whatevers gonna happen, let it happen, maybe it’ll make this weak ass country a little stronger. Remember all the patriotism and anger and all that after 9/11?? People forget that, it seems a lifetime ago now, its ridiculous. Maybe we need another attack to remind people what the hell is goin on in the world, maybe not. who knows, just some random thoughts.
    Support Your Troops. Shout out to my homie Mike Napier, stationed in Tikrit, Iraq. See you when you get home Killa Mike, get some confirmed k’s for your boys in the 407. He’s on his 5th tour of duty and is 23 years old. One of the gutsiest, craziest, most american cats youll ever meet.

    another good one Tara-Squad, you’ve been on it lately.

    I’d also like to say a big “Suck my Nuts”(no weezy) to Trannah Smith, Bol’s tranny Girl/Boy-Friend. Kill yourself.

    1 hunned.

  • Miss J

    Are people choosing to not face the sense of darkness or are they just ignorant to it? It’s hard to tell these days.

  • Moe Real

    Using 9-11 to promote Fantastic Damage. What a slug (no Slug). And emo rappers furiously dancing? That is a downer.


    Blinded by the light, miss J.Blinded by the light.

  • hannah Smith

    “I’m a Republican by the way…”

    That’s when ya lost.

  • jacquez

    I remember when El-P was romping around Montreal. He looked lost for real.

  • thoreauly77

    damn ereal, a republican?

    tara- i enjoy el-p’s music; yes, it’s dense; yes, it is conspiratorial; and yes it can be fairly inaccessible. however, in a genre of music so incredibly devoid of sincerity, devoid of music with replay value, and addicted to all things shiny and new (and consequently focused on the power of the single as opposed to the power of the cohesive album), el-p consistently makes albums that, though difficult to market and for some, difficult to process, exemplify everything that we (and he) love about hip-hop: dope beats; dope rhymes; a real and sincere passion for the art-form.

    as an aside, i think it’s about time you and i got married tara.

  • Dart_Adams

    I relate to a lot of El-P’s material being that I grew up as a Cold War kid who saw “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” in the 1st grade and remember the Summits and the whole Nuclear Arms Race, the invasion of Grenada, and all of the anti-Russian propaganda growing up. As kids we saw those shows like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Amerika” that made us fear either a Mad Max/Fist Of The North Star dystopian/apocalyptic future or the Communists invading through Alaska.

    Any of those kids from that era that read Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, Octavia Butler, etc. would feel just like El-P does (or relate to it). I’ve always liked his joints since “Juvenile Techniques”. Good one, Tara.


  • My Effin’ Opinion

    I pro’lly won’t cop or even listen to this “LP” (pun intended) but you can’t knock a brother for seeing things for what they are now-a-days …

    Nas & Jay-Z = Black Republicans
    Trannah Nicole Smith = Fat Democrat

  • rec

    anyone here read “1984″?

  • EReal

    hannah Smith Says:

    March 20th, 2007 at 12:18 pm
    “I’m a Republican by the way…”

    That’s when ya lost.
    Really hows that Trannah?

    LMFAO @ Effin

  • Dr Flav

    “I’d rather hear top back.” (roffle) I know thats right, king blair.

  • Meka Soul

    being a republican = being a democrat. to me, those shits are basically one & the same.

    >So many of us are in the clubs, furiously dancing away as the world crumbles around us.>

    well, perhaps some people are temporarily dancing away the pain from the troubles of their own personal world. in that sense, clubs could have a much more [almost spiritual?] nature.

    but who am i kidding? we all know people go to clubs to stunt.

  • alleyeCNtower

    Tara, this is an excellently written piece here… your work is only improving: rapidly! :)
    Thanks for the insightful things El-P had to say in your interview with him… that’s really dope. Is that available anywhere? Please post a link if you got one…

    as “weird” as El-P is, you can’t front on the banging drums or the honesty, which most MCs don’t even come close to having these days…

    ‘ISWYD’ is the best New York hip hop album of the new millenium. Period.

  • D

    I am a fan of El-P. I think there is a place for his music and I feel him on his abstract shit. His music is art work. It’s like appreciating an off the wall photo or painting. I think he is stuck in his mind, which may be the best place to shelter your ego.


    ^nah “the best NY rap album of the new millenium” =

    Talib Kweli “Quality”

    That album is excellent, a slept on classic. I feel it’s stronger (rap blasphemy alert) than even the Blackstar album or the Reflection Eternal album, & Kweli’s best album.

  • NoMamesBuey

    ^nah “the best NY rap album of the new millenium” =

    Talib Kweli “Quality”

    That album is excellent, a slept on classic. I feel it’s stronger (rap blasphemy alert) than even the Blackstar album or the Reflection Eternal album, & Kweli’s best album.

  • Incilin

    ugh! ur post, bol’s post, and an all music guide review make it seem like i have to listen to this guy or the world will acutally end. i knida wish i already had, then i’d have a better comment to make.

  • Bol

    I like how Tara wrote an article about El-P without listening to the dude’a album. Idiotic? Yes.

  • comistress

    Basically, if you felt Fan Dam, Funcrusher, and Cold Vein, you’re gonna wonder “Wtf” when you pop in the new el-p. Unfortunately it is borderline rap, few sick tracks

  • Atl’s own

    neva heard of dude; but from the description given i think i’ll pass.

    i agree wit dude at top i’d rather listen to “top back”.

    i’ll let u pessimist keep all them gloom and doom tunes.

  • Hashim

    “El Producto has never had a sound that I can get into. I find many of his tracks too sonically dense, too cerebral, too abstract, too dark.”

    I’ve wondered how do people who don’t live in New York, and who haven’t spent their lives riding on the dark, dirty, noisy trains even understand what El-P is trying to get across in his production.

    So even though FanDam is one of my favorite albums, I can’t blame people for not liking it.

  • Notorious A.G.C.

    WHO THA HELL IS EI-P ????????????

  • Lazy

    best NY rap album of the new millenium= the blueprint
    i might pass on el-p too, i dont want to listen to hip hop emo.

  • Cuban FUCKING Link

    Fuck Lazy, El-P isnt emo rap, P is a fucking genius.I love his rhymes, and his beats are awesome.Its not over the top like Immortal Technique, who I feel just kinda bitches about problems instead of rapping about them.The album is hot. straight up.

  • TDB

    I know this is way old, but I felt compelled to reply b/c of how fucking dumb you fucks are. Half of these replies are just plain ignorant and retarded as shit. I guess that is an accurate potrayal of the hip hop masses. I listen to all kinds of shit and I spin DnB and hip hop so I guess my perspective is different than most of the so-called “true hip hop heads”… That said it still makes my brain hurt to read so much stupidity.

    First of all, comparing El-P to Hov or Fitty or whoever is straight apples and oranges you fucking idiots. El-P makes intelligent thought provoking music and lyrics. Yes it sometimes is less accessible than most, but that is kind of the ENTIRE fucking point.

    If the only hip hop you want to hear is dumbed-down moronic club bangers than fuck off and go listen to that shit please! El-P, Aesop, Lif, Def Jux, and the similar indie artists are simply not for you.
    If thinking about things other than money, pussy, and crime is too much for you then please stay off to the dumbass side of the fence where you belong.

    If you prefer your art in a watered down form, fed to you in a little shinny spoon then shut the fuck up and fuck off. You have no business talking about shit you simply do not and can not comprehend with your little pea-brains. (And if referring to music or hip hop as “art” seems strange to you, do us all a favor and kill yourself you uneducated waste of cum.)

    El-P is a fucking genius. Everything he touches is gold. ISWYD is brilliant. If you do not like his sound because it is too dark, bleak, or sonically dense I can take that for what it is…
    BUT Talking shit purely because it is not the same old run of the mill gangsta /jiggy / playa / thug / krunk / hyphy / bounce / whatever / bullshit simply shows you for the ignorant fucking tard fucks you are.

    Go to school, read a fucking book or three, think for yourself for a change you mindless fucks. Jesus. How fucking sad is it that your only complaint is basically the fact that this artist is simply too far over your head? It must suck ass to live life like you with those blinders on… I’m thankful to not be from your gene-pool.