People who know me, this will probably seem a strange choice for me to write my first review. I do love good rap, but I am not, say, an aficionado.
But here I am, really desperately wanting to like El-P’s new album Cancer 4 Cure. You know those albums? I haven’t heard much of his music before this album dropped, save a quick spotify skim to familiarize myself, but the strength of the two preceding singles, “The Full Retard” and “Tougher Colder Killer” made me extremely excited to give this esteemed artist a shot and hope that it stuck with me.
The album opens incredibly strong, “Request Denied” starts off with a shiver inducing slab of electronic, drums kicking and lasers firing, with bass drops aplenty only to have El-P come in with 90 seconds left and tear the track apart with the closing lines “We are not dying, not for you, not for you.” The battle cry has been sounded. And then the album kicks into “The Full Retard,” with the immediately memorable hook “So you should pump this shit like they do in the future.” It’s deceptively anthemic for a song that bubbles with venom and anger.
Speaking of, prepare to listen to some of the angriest rap this side Death Grips. El-P is on the attack, and I’m not here trying to pinpoint exactly what he’s trying to dissemble, but prepare for an audio assault. This being the case, album long listens, I would imagine for most listeners, will be taxing. Let it be said here: THIS IS NOT PARTY RAP. Unless of course, you are trying to start another Occupy Movement.
Moving along, “Works Every Time” and “Drones over Bklyn” start eliminating the hooks of the previous two songs, and in my time with the record, provide the hardest to get through. (“Drones” nearly six minute run time does no favors.)
In a move of genius album pacing, El-P calls in two of the hottest up and coming MCs to drop verses over a slinky smooth subtly dubstep wobble. on “Oh Hail No” Mrmuthafuckinexquire does a great job on his verse, but I have an open bias to Danny Brown as my favorite rapper out right now. And his craziness and looseness is a perfect contrast to El-P’s sometimes-over serious production. El-P again pulls this trick on “Tougher Colder Killer” with furious rapping guests Killer Mike (whose album R.A.P. Music was produced by El-P) and Despot. Then, as if a reward for being pummeled, a lovely vocoder hook seeps its way into your brain.
However, after these two highlights, the album dips into the dark side. The following songs all have great production and El-P’s flow sounds as if its going to fall over itself but never falters. An impressive feat. Alas, he also flies solo for much of the remainder of the album, losing the colors that he had with guests earlier. In this, the album becomes something of a blur. A very enjoyable and respectable blur, but nothing that will pop. For example, I was listening to “The Jig is Up” and admiring his flow, but noticed nothing when “Sign Here” started. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t noticeable.
The album ends with an eight minute epic “$ Vic/FTL (Me and You) which, after an albums worth of intense, industrial sounding rap, heavy on synths, cuts out at 5:40 with a lovely piano outro, only to have a synth come back in. You wonder what’s coming. And then El-P surprises with a positive sentiment “Something good that I’d die here for.” Finishing this album with such a shift, such a shock of optimism makes this album slog all worth it for me. It’s a truly surprising moment and one that hit me like a ray of sunshine after a world of El-P’s darkness.
Check it out.