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 XXLMag.com 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 XXLMag.com, 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