In Salute of El-P…

Even though yesterday’s post about Goretex’s 2004 album The Art of Dying didn’t exactly ignite an inferno of comments, I feel good about it. Why’s that? Well, it’s a sense of (perhaps misplaced) accomplishment. If not for that self-written blog, Goretex’s name might not have ever been uttered on this website, for (justifiable) reasons mostly having to do with his recent inactivity, not to mention longstanding obscurity. But, when the calendar hits and it’s my turn to once again man the staff blog for a five-day clip, I consider it time to let my eccentric flag blow in the Internet’s breeze. For better (the occasional, “Finally, so-and-so-rapper gets some love on this site”) or, more likely than not, for worse (see the amount of comments bestowed on yesterday’s post).

Not that I’m complaining; rather, I’m just observing a truth and thinking out loud (via my laptop’s keyboard). And, unsurprisingly, today’s blog is centered around another unsung underground artist usually absent from this site’s pages, though, unlike Goretex, today’s recipient of my blog love (pause?) is an undisputed titan of the independent hip-hop scene: El Producto himself, producer/rapper/former label head El-P.

The best part about it, though, is that the one-time artistic director of the now-defunct indie record-brand Definitive Jux did just release a new record, so the timing here is convenient. Last week, his Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3, a mixtape comprised of instrumentals and remixes distributed by Gold Dust, was unveiled, and it’s a typically bombastic array of solar funk, heady boom-bap and dizzying electronica. Meaning, it’s quintessential El-P while still exhibiting some musical progression. I’m more into his older stuff, but I can still rock with the new.

Understandably, El-P’s music polarizes rap lovers into two factions: those who swear by his one-of-a-kind style and those who dismiss it as nonsensical noise pollution. I, obviously, fall into the former category. To be more precise, I subscribe to the notion that the Brooklyn-born El-P is one of hip-hop’s most overlooked production behemoths. Stumble into any random “best producers in the games” discussion amongst rap listeners and the chances of hearing his name muttered are slim to none. And don’t even get me started on “best producer-rappers in the game” debates. I’m no dummy, however; I get it. It takes a certain type of ear to mess with El-P’s sonics. Doesn’t mean that his naysayers are inexcusably wrong—just means that they’re not on the same wavelength as a head such as myself.

Full disclosure, at the expense of my fellow El-P fans: I became a supporter of his work after Company Flow. Of course, once I signed up for his fan club, I immediately went back to Co-Flow’s seminal Funcrusher Plus (Rawkus Records, 1997) and I’ve hailed it ever since. But, for me, the saga began with his solo debut, 2002’s mind-boggling Fantastic Damage (Definitive Jux). The only reason why I ordered the CD online without having even heard a single track was that every review I’d read of it on the Internet praised it as some kind of avant-garde masterwork. Granted, I was logged on to mostly underground-favoring sites, but whatever. Something told me that I’d dig it, and, as you can tell, I did. And then some.

Listening to Fantastic Damage for the first time was on par with giving Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) its first viewing—cue Redman’s “Blow Your Mind.” Fantastic Damage pummeled me, in a good way—the chill and claustrophobia of “Deep Space 9mm”; the hardcore franticness of “Accidents Don’t Happen”; how the beat of “Lazerface’s Warning” sounded like a soundtrack to the alien invasion we’ll combat 20 years from now (I do believe); and the futuristic gloom of the tragic “Stepfather Factory.” As a rapper, El-P confused the hell out of me—thankfully, I’m older and more able to dissect symbolism-heavy lyrics nowadays. Yet, El-P’s claim to fame will, as far as I’m concerned, remain his production. It’s not hyperbole to say that dude is in a class all his own—it’s actual fact, word to Lord Finesse.

“Accidents Don’t Happen (Instrumental)”

“Lazerface’s Warning (Instrumental)”

“Deep Space 9mm (Instrumental)”

“Stepfather Factory (Instrumental)”

By the time I’d sat with Harlem-based duo Cannibal Ox’s equally brilliant debut The Cold Vein (Def Jux, 2001—my chronology is all off here, since I caught on to El-P’s catalog a bit late in the game), wholly produced by El-P, El Producto had become one of my top beatmakers in hip-hop, which he still remains to this day. I defy anyone to listen to Cannibal Ox’s “Iron Galaxy,” or “A B-Boy’s Alpha,” and tell me that the instrumentals aren’t (positively) on some other ish.

“A B-Boy’s Alpha (Instrumental)”

So what’s been the point of this here blog? Isn’t it obvious? Simply to bestow the much-deserving El-P a place to shine on, for being one of rap’s silent giants, and giving quirky rap-fawners like yours truly one more reason to sweat the genre. If you’re also a fan of El-P’s, show your love in the comments below. If you’re not, hopefully you’ll give Mr. Producto’s music a chance after reading this. Not all of you will, and that’s cool. The rest of us will take our collective tuned-mass-damper and kick rocks toward our own private Strangeland.

Before I go, though, there’s one thought I have to get down. You know how some producers have ventured into scoring films? The Rza with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill two-part epic; Swizz Beatz with the forgettable dance flick Take the Lead; Pharrell Williams and his work in the recent animated hit Despicable Me. Well, there’s no producer better suited for cinematic sound-tracking than El-P, though his technique would need the right genre. Namely, science fiction. Or, something as out-there and visually forward as controversial French filmmaker Gaspar Noe’s upcoming Enter the Void. The nearly-three-hour examination of what happens after we die (seen through the first-person POV of a just-shot-to-death drug dealer living in Tokyo) is a must-see when it hits a few select theaters this September; I was able to catch an early screening last month, and it’s the kind of far-reaching artistry that could change the movie game if given enough backing muscle. But it probably won’t. Anyway, check the trailer out here and tell me (after you’ve sampled a few of the man’s instrumentals) that El-P’s brand of music wouldn’t fit right at home within the picture.

And I’ll conclude right there. —Matt Barone

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  • dex


  • gaddic

    Not too keen on abstract lyricism but El is dope as cocaine
    His instrumentals are pure genius!!!

    The concepts are creative and probably THE MOST UNIQUE IN HIPHOP INSTRUMENTALS FOR THE LAST DECADE
    Truly silent giant
    I Haven’t checked out the new disk but i heard a joint of it on recently and it was arrant fire!!!

    What about “I’ll sleep when your dead”?
    You didn’t mention his best album’s production?

  • El Tico Loco

    This layout is not working for me but it is good to give the overly slept on some shine tho. You need to do a drop on the Old Maid Billionaires I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

  • RJ

    Props for this.. everything you said was absolute truth. El has been one of the most consistent in the underground for years now, it’s nice to see his name and such high praise from XXL. I’m a huge fan, actually have a Weathermen (group consisting of El-P, Cage, Aesop Rock, Yak Ballz, Tame One) tattoo

  • Mas

    El-P’s production has always been next level. That year I’ll Sleep When Your Dead and None Shall Pass came out, I couldn’t believe the quality of product def jux was putting out there. I slept on megamix3 though. I have never been a fan of instrumental albums.

  • EmCDL

    I’ve heard of El-P but never really heard his sound…or maybe I have but didn’t know it. But from listening to a few of those instrumentals alone, I’ma have to dig up more stuff by him; he got a different flare to him compared to other producers, got a different sound.

  • Anonymous

    Check out “Linda Tripp” and see how to break someone down on a diss record. CoFlow 4 life, independent as fuck…

  • spitler

    didnt he already score that graf movie?

  • whocares

    He did “Bomb The System.”

  • johnny nolove

    Are you serious? THIS LAYOUT IS ASS. No one will read this. Thanks for nothing. CCWM.

    • The Mighty Spade

      Dumb ass nigga, obviously you did….Fuckin dummy the man got skills, you on the other hand just suck cock for sport, and swallow outta thirst….


  • Rob

    When I first listened to El-P, back in 2003, I hated him, but something intrigued me. It took me a good 5 to 6 years and innumerable listens to multiple records to finally be able to sit through an entire album. The point is: something about El made me keep coming back even when it wasn’t instantly enjoyable. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is near perfect and I’m itching for his next full length. He helped make me a better listener if nothing else. Bring back Def Jux El, we miss it.

  • $yk

    Can’t read this sh^t…

  • Tosh

    I’m a big fan of Nine Inch Nails, and had never heard of El-P before until I heard his co-collaboration with Trent Reznor of NIN entitled “Flyentology.” After that I did a little more research on the guy out of curiosity and checked out his other albums. I was instantly hooked on both his beatsand his lyrics, and have loved his tunes since. And that includes the new instrumental album which has been on my current playlist continuously. Looking forward to an actual full album with lyrics if he makes one in the future.

  • Clever Tricks

    The funny thing is my first encounter with El-P was his lyricism. On a joint with Latyrx and Lyrics Born called “Lookin’ Over a City.” SInce his verse in that words haven’t been the same for me since.
    Indirectly I picked up Cold Vein not knowing El-P produced it and heard his voice again on it with one of my fave tracks Ridiculoid. At that time FanDam was already out so I had to pick that up and was equally staggered by its abstract yet direct lazer beam into my face.
    Long story short not a day goes by where I haven’t bumped something produced by or led to me by El-P whether it be some Aesop, Mr Lif, Can Ox, C-Rayz Walz, Company Flow, etc.
    Everything he drops I feel like I gotta pick up or else I’ll be missin’ out on that rare sound that nobody else is making.

  • Texture

    El-P’s lyrics are streets ahead of most other rappers. Dense and allusive, savage and beautifully constructed, epically fierce but in touch with emotion… no-one can fuck with him as a producer or emcee. The only other people on some next level shit like El-P are Aesop, Doseone and Noah 23. Big up the underground heads.

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  • Pedro

    El-P is the best. “The Cold Vein”, “Fantastic Damage” and “Funcruscher Plus” are perfect. This is what I was looking for from the very begining. Hip hop from space.

  • Black Benji

    I don’t review loosely, but El-P is an incredible artist and producer.

  • raDioVine

    My friend once referred to El-P as the BombSquad (Public Enemy’s producers) of the 21st century, which I always liked. Ton of flavorful sound, lots of soulful noise, and a good melody. Titan is right, I’ve heard different names dropped as the most underrated artist in hip hop, from AZ to Royce, but it’s El-P. He has a strong fan base, and those who have continued his journey from CoFlo days to now know he’s a beast, but the average fan probably hasn’t even had the good fortune of experiencing any of his material. If you check out interviews on any video site you’ll see what a down to earth and great guy he is, and be amazed at his work ethic, practicing five-six hours for shows all for the love of the music and fans, he’s everything right for Hip Hop and I’m glad you took the time to write this article. He’s an older Titan of the game, but still pioneering.

  • Massy 9ball

    would love to see more artists rock over his production

  • ghidorah

    My second favorite producer, my sixth favorite rapper.

    Of all time mind you.

  • emerald flowsion

    It really is a shame that this magazine shoved its head so far up Asher Roth and Eminems ass that they couldn’t bother to see the real greatest white rapper since 3rd Bass. You hear Bubba Sparxxx name dropped more often as a white great than El-P, and take away the stereotypical greatest white moniker, El-P is one of the greatest rappers ever, his old Company Flow tracks are still ahead of today’s times, and you want to talk production, his technological muscle flexes like the Hadron Collider, if you have never heard of El-P seriously listen to his older material up until now, you will have a new found appreciation of hip hop all together. Even though this will be the last article or mention of him, I appreciate the namedrop, he really is a hidden gem in the game and I’m glad you took the time to write this.

  • Nina Najil

    amen to all these comments

  • cltrsck gack

    i love xxl but im with y’all i’m amazed how little praise they’ve given el-p over the years let alone mentioning, put this man on the cover next month, make it happen

  • Illes1

    8 Steps To Perfection…. NUFF SAID!!!!

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