Saturday, May 19, 2012

El-P - Cancer for Cure

Cancer for Cure begins by making you feel as if you’re slowly waking up from a nightmare. An encroaching tension grows around you as the sound of an alarm pulls you into the grip of El-P’s reality, then suddenly a voice comes on the loudspeaker and tells you to get your ass outta bed and into the yard. Wake up! The revolution started yesterday - you’re late! Here’s an update: we’re losing, and the reality is worse than the nightmare.

“Request Denied” takes off and doesn’t slow down for 3 minutes at which point El drops a rapid-fire set of 32 that gets the head spinning immediately and reminds you to grab hold of something for spatial reference and balance. This is no instrumental album. This requires your full attention or else people could get hurt. Take the ride first, and buy the ticket later once you’ve survived.

And I think I know what El-P means when he says that C4C is a “fight record.”  C4C doesn’t ask questions. It tells it how it is and then threatens to “kick the shit out yer groin, boy.” Yeah, he has only grown more comfortable with conflict, even when he is at conflict with himself. And so you get to hear El exorcise the demon a little more, pick a few fights, take a few shots, dodge a few bullets, catch a few more, throw a few plates and then pick up the pieces.

He manages to be insightful, self-reflective, aggressive, bitter, contradictory, cold, pathetic, paranoid and proud... he manages to be completely real. The El-P you’ve come to know... the one you love to hate (to love). “Works Every Time” comes to mind, in which he explores addiction, identity, and escape:

“Don’t make me suffer this dimension straight / when we could bend face, let space pixelate / 60 dollars for a newborn you / pay no attention to these savages they don’t own truth...”

And while Killer Mike and Despot show up strong on “Tougher, Colder,” it’s El-P’s first verse that gives the song significance. He is facing his own mortality in the form of a letter written by a soldier to the fictional mother of a fictional man he has fictionally-killed:

“Came a long way from young and alive / when i was not blind, now I cannot see / Grace in reverse at best it gets worse / and I wanted you to know since then I don’t sleep”

“True Story” marks a shift in the feel of the album and the truth is: only the first half of C4C feels like a fight album.  The second half feels like the hour after a fight: letting the adrenaline and testosterone subside, letting the pain set-in, assessing the damage, mourning any lost teeth and moving on.

“They want to cure you, you’re the cancer / How’s that make you feel? / I should’ve stayed asleep / Waking up can get you killed”

I think it’s fair to say that El-P has never believed in the bit of wisdom from a safer-America that it is possible for a man to be too-careful and that paranoia is never justified. But when El-P speaks of paranoia, it isn’t just his, it’s ours too.  He is what Capt. Yossarian would have been had he grown up in Brooklyn during the 80s and 90s - looking around and seeing the whole city as a catch-22.

The production on the album is noticeably more sparse than on his previous release, opening up more space for the lyrics to get frisky and molest your brain. Many of the kicks are filled out with sub-bass that mingles and mates and argues with the bass line at times, sometimes serving as a bass line itself.  El has taken the musicality he experimented with on I’ll Sleep... and refined it and made it more purposeful.  He understands better where to be musical and where to trim back the crowded parts (unless they really need to be crowded).

“$ Vic/FTL” closes out the album, and is as patient and controlled as any bit of music that El has put on a rap record, but doesn’t quite reach the edge and take the jump - leaving the listener with plenty to contemplate. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all? If I had to guess based on what I know about El-P, it means everything and nothing... which is just some smoked-out, kite-flying lye-speak... but there will come a moment soon when the more time you spend analyzing it the further you get from understanding it.

I do know one thing that it means:  El-P had previously-solidified his place in the world of hip-hop, but with C4C he writes his name (in his own blood) into the Book of Legends. No one can take it from him now. He’s built a trilogy, each album of equal value as an individual work. The trinity. The strongest shape in geometry. The Hip-Hop Godhead.

Woah now, let’s not get carried away. Better wrap it up soon. You’re not even getting paid for this, Graham. There’s only so much praise that makes sense before people start to look at you funny. But really, he done done it again. Give this man something platinum to commemorate it.  Or just a pound of weed and an anechoic chamber, then sit back and see what he comes up with next...

‘til next time.

--Slaphappy Mortician

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