Once upon a time, Hip-Hop had venom, it had power and it had some exceptional artists under the genre’s wing. There was NWA, Public Enemy, Eric B + Rakim, Gang Starr, Big Daddy Kane plus a whole host of other great Hip-Hop acts. It was during this period, from the 80s to the mid-90s that the genre was at its best and it was also where most of the influences of many artists today, stemmed from.
Forward the clock to the present day and some of those acts are probably turning in their gold-rimmed Cadillac’s or in some cases, graves. Mainstream Hip-Hop today has taken the genres good name and to some extent, dragged it through the mud. It’s all about penning a number one club hit than actual making a great record and even artists who used to be good have gone to the dark side. Eminem, Dizzee Rascal, Ludacris, Nelly and many more, have become former shadows of themselves, much to the mainstream audience’s adulation.
Enter Death Grips, an experimental Hip-Hop group from Sacramento, California. Their mixture of abstract music and raw lyrics are a breath of fresh air, in a world that is obsessed with ‘getting bitches’ and being ‘fucked up’. Comprising of MC Ride on vocals, Zach Hill on drums (member of Hella) and producer Andy “Flatlander” Morin, Death Grips first formed in 2010 and this year they released this fine debut album, ExMilitary.
Starting with a recording of a speech made by the psychopathic conspirator Charles Manson, ‘Beware’ kick starts ExMilitary and whether you like what comes after the madman’s words or not, you have to give DEATH GRIPS props for their original start. What does come after however is a great opening song, with MC Ride’s gruff and jagged voice rhyming over some breezy, electronic beats about being ‘the beast of worship’ and telling us that ‘to pray is too except defeat.’ Listening to this first and great track, its clear that ExMilitary was not made to join the ranks of club loving rappers out there, but instead it was made to show the alternative, deeper role that lyrics can play in music, re-living the malice of Hip-Hop’s earlier days.
After ‘Beware’ things get even better for ExMilitary. From the minimalistic deep roaming baseline and angry bursts from MC Ride on ‘Guillotine’ to the engaging yet muddled samples and beats of ‘Lord Of The Game,’ Death Grips never make the same song twice on this record, with each track hosting its own unique sound. However, even when an album is as good as this, there has to be a diamond amongst the gems and ‘Klink’ is just that.
Using a sample throughout, from the beginning of Black Flag’s ‘Rise Above’ plus a smattering of sample shouts of ‘Rise Above’ also taken from the track, Death Grips slow down the tempo of the sublime punk songs entrance and make it work in ways that even the biggest of Black Flag fans has to appreciate. Combining this with Ride’s visceral shouts of “what’s it like when they come for you, a gang of hating pigs” and “…from the real ones that understand what its like to have your rights read to you” plus a surprising but excellent ending, ‘Klink’ is definitely the best song on the record, if not one of the best songs of the year.
Following this, we are treated to more alternative goodness with tracks such as ‘Culture Shock’, ‘Thru The Walls’ and ‘Known For It’ continuing on the abstract musical theme and each featuring more furious lyrical deliverance from the very talented MC Ride. Even the 43-second instrumental ‘song’ ‘5D’ is entertaining and gives the listener a short blast of presumably, Flatlanders capabilities.
In terms of pure Hip-Hop, this may not be exactly that but ExMilitary is still a far cry from the tripe that flaunts under the genre these days. With some experimental elements prowling their music and a grizzly force in MC Ride, Death Grips are an underground trio to be reckoned with and hopefully ExMilitary will catapult them from underneath the surface to on top of the mountain. Watch out 2012, Death Grips look certain to have you in their sites.
Original article first appeared on Altsounds website on 28/12/11