To say that the noise-rap trio known as Death Grips sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the vapid ranks that comprise the average modern major label roster is probably the understatement of the century. Yet somehow the Sacramento, CA-based group managed to ink a deal with Epic Records, bringing their utterly unique brand of confrontational hip hop to the masses with The Money Store, the first of two albums set to be released in 2012. I don’t typically look to the majors for such a high level of craftmanship, let alone innovation, so it is a complete shock to the system hearing Death Grips’ singular brand of musical mind-fuck coming from that often dunderheaded corner of the music biz.
While the overdriven barrage of The Money Store does feel a bit more measured when compared to Ex-Military, this is more a case of Death Grips evolving and honing their sound, rather than an attempt to commercialize it. Trust me, shit like “Fuck That” “The Fever” and “System Blower” still won’t be even remotely palatable for the kids brought up on the pop rap that dominates the billboard charts, rap radio and MTV (on the practically nonexistent occasions when the channel shows music videos or performances of any kind). It’s somewhere between the Burroughs-ian acid rap of Dr. Octagon and the apocalyptic skronk and squeal of The Bomb Squad, and while there are nods to various forms of dance music, Death Grips are more likely to clear the club floor than fill it; either that or turn it into a bloodbath.
All of this isn’t to say that The Money Store doesn’t have any hooks; hooks are plentiful, it’s just that they’re presented in such a radical way, it simply will not compute for listeners who think rap music begins with Eminem and ends with Kanye. Fans of early Public Enemy, Dälek, El-P, Cannibal Ox and Techno Animal, or even Alec Empire/Atari Teenage Riot will probably feel right at home and appreciate Death Grips’ abstract, assaultive approach to hip hop. Rapper Stefan Burnett’s flow is pure blunt force trauma; he spits with an energy and aggression that recalls hardcore more than it does any contemporary MCs. The beats/production by Zach Hill of Hella fame and Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) is a corrosive, quasi-industrial/electro blast of intensity that perfectly compliments Burnett’s lyrical bludgeon, characterized by malfunctioning synths and distorted beats designed to batter brains and melt faces. This is rap music repurposed to antagonize and annihilate.
Death Grips are quickly evolving into an uncontrollable musical beast, and with the mega-exposure a major label deal affords, they just might change the way people think about rap music. With their next album No Love set to drop later this year, it will be interesting to see where they take their bellicose beats and rampaging rhymes next. In the meantime, The Money Store is an incredibly potent opening salvo that could jar mainstream hip hop out of its complacency.