One of the most influential hip-hop figures at the turn of the millennium was white producer and rapper El-P, aka El Producto, born Jaime Meline in New York.
El-P founded Company Flow with dj Lenny "Mr Len" Smythe and rapper
Justin "Bigg Jus" Ingleton.
They debuted with
Juvenile Technique (1993). Their first album,
Funcrusher Plus (Rawkus, 1997), an augmented version of a 1996 namesake EP,
featured a second rapper and already displayed the off-kilter, abrasive
production skills of the founding duo.
But it was the instrumental Little Johnny From The Hospital: Breaks and Instrumentals Vol.1 (1999) that definitely broke with the past, introducing
the most bombastic, ebullient and explosive style of the time, the apolitical
El-P also crafted the schizoid soundscape of Cannibal Ox's
The Cold Vein (2001), a project risen from the ashes of Company Flow
(Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah). El-P probably achieved his artistic zenith in
tracks such as Iron Galaxy.
OXtrumentals is an instrumental version (i.e., a solo El-P album)
of the Cannibal Ox album.
His first solo album, the sci-fi concept Fantastic Damage (2002),
is a disjointed, neurotic affair.
The double-disc Fandamplus: Instrumentals is the instrumental version of El-P's solo debut.
High Water (2004) is an instrumental collaboration with Matthew Shipp's
jazz crew (and belongs more to Shipp than to El-P).
To El-P's credit, his stew of samples and beats blends seamlessly with the
improvisation of the jazzists. Get Modal is the peak of their osmosis,
with Shipp introducing a memorable theme, William Parker's drums dancing around it
and entwining the saxophone, and El-P's vocals treated to the point of being
just another form of beat.
Intrigue in the House of India boasts another irresistible melodic
pattern mauled by Shipp's piano, decaying into a liquid jam led by guitar, trumpet and electronic noise.
El-P leaves a lot of space to Shipp and his comrades, refraining from invading
the most romantic portions of the ten-minute Sunrise Over Brlyn
(with the trombone acting as the main counterpart of the piano).
Shipp's combo concocts a great adaptation of cool jazz to the age of sampling,
but it is not clear what contributions El-P made to this album that justified
his name on the cover.
Mr Len has released the solo album Pity the Fool (2001).
Relocating to Atlanta,
Justin "Bigg Jus" Ingleton released two collaborations
with rapper Orko Elohiem under the moniker Nephlim Modulation Sessions,
Woe To Thee O Land Whose King Is A Child (Big Dada) (2003) and
Imperial Letters of Protection (2005),
as well as his solo debut, Black Mamba Serums (Big Dada, 2004),
recorded in 2001.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Andrea) |
Una delle figure piu' influenti alla fine del millenio fu il rapper e produttore bianco El-P, aka El Producto, nato a New York sotto il nome di Jaime Meline.
El-P fondo' i Company Flow con il dj Lenny "Mr Len" Smythe e il rapper Justin "Bigg Jus" Ingleton.
Debuttarono con Juvenile Technique(1993).
Il loro primo album, Funcrusher Plus(Rawkus, 1997), una versione espansa di un omonimo EP del 1996, introduce un secondo rapper e gia' esprime le obliqui ed abrasive capacita' di produttori del duo fondatore. Ma fu lo strumentale Little Johnny From The Hospital: Breaks and Instrumentals Vol.1 (1999) che ruppe definitivamente con il passato, introducendo il piu' magniloquente, esaltante ed esplosivo stile dei tempi, l'apocalittico successore dei Public Enemy.
El-P diede vita anche agli schizoidi ambienti sonori di The Cold Vein(2001), sotto la sigla Cannibal Ox, un progetto nato dalle ceneri dei Company Flow(Vast Aire e Vordul Megilah). El-P probabilmente raggiunse i suoi massimi livelli in tracce come Iron Galaxy. Oxtrumentals e' una versione strumentale(in altre parole un disco solista di El-P) dello stesso album.
Il suo primo album solista, il fantascientifico concept
Fantastic Damage(2002), e' un album sconnesso e neurotico mentre Fandamplus: Instrumentals e' la sua versione strumentale.
High Water(2004) e' un album strumentale fatto in collaborazione con il gruppo jazz di Matthew Shipp ( difatti appartiene maggiormente a Shipp che a El-P).
Nel 2001 Mr Len si ripropone come solista con il disco Pity the Fool.
Trasferitosi ad Atlanta, Justin "Bigg Jus" Ingleton realizza due collaborazioni con il rapper Orko Elohiem, The Nephlim Modulation Sessions, e successivamente il suo debutto come solista, Black Mamba Serums (Big Dada, 2004), registrato nel 2001.
I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Definitive Jux, 2007), featuring
Cat Power's Chan Marshall,
Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor,
is another subtle moral soliloquy wrapped in dense layers of estranging
sounds. The seven-minute Tasmanian Pain Coaster (with Mars Volta)
is a "message" for the
new century and its anxieties.
El-P's pessimistic vision is counterbalanced by the
lightweight music of The League Of Extraordinary Nobodies and by
the poignant noises of Smithereens.
In the meantime the radio-friendly
The Overly Dramatic Truth,
Poisenville Kids No Wins,
Run the Numbers,
Habeas Corpses and Flyentology keep El-P centerfront in
the arena of mainstream rap.
The all-instrumental mixtape
Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 (2010) tried to secrete a digital
symphony out of a bunch of leftovers, bridging old-school hip-hop beats and
trivial dubstep bass lines.
Too cold and surgical, the production on Cancer for Cure (Fat Possum, 2012) often
fails to connect with the listener the way his visceral productions used to.
The album seems neatly divided between music in which production prevails
over lyrics, namely the
operatic and symphonic Tougher Colder Killer, the
cosmic funk shuffle Request Denied (almost entirely instrumental) and
tortured multilayered Drones Over BKLYN (basically a concentrate of sound effects); and music in which
rapping prevails over sound, namely The Full Retard and The Jig Is Up, but especially the
psychological bomb Stay Down, a concentrate of suspense and anxiety.
The two camps mix and match, with the former displaying what El-P is unique
EL-P produced Killer Mike's
R.A.P. Music (2012), one of the most vitriolic agit-prop rap albums of
the new century.
Then EL-P and Killer Mike formed Run The Jewels,
a project that debuted with
Run The Jewels (Fool's Gold, 2013) and de facto continued Killer Mike's
From the beginning the brooding electronic soundscape and lashing sound effects
of Run The Jewels provide Killer Mike's energetic vernacular with the
ideal backing. Another peak of the collaboration comes with
the abrasive and pounding Get It, where the rap dissolves in
vocal effects that are even more tense.
Not many songs maintain that standard of musical violence, and EL-P
mostly prefers to invest in unnerving atmospheres of 36" Chain
EL-P's tricks span a huge range, and he can even indulge in peppering
Banana Clipper, a collaboration with Big Boi, with a bubbling synth
that gives it a comic flavor, or injecting a
cuckoo clock in the melodic ethereal coda of Job Well Done,
or scattering a chaotic fistful of found sounds and dissonance
throughout Twin Hype Back, a collaboration with Prince Paul.
That is not to diminish the contribution to the sound (not only to the
message) by Killer Mike's in-your-face soulful rapping, as
Sea Legs and No Come Down prove.
When Killer Mike is at his best, one feels that the beats are
weak because EL-P tend towards sophistication, not barbaric emotion,
preferring sci-fi synths, subsonic bass lines and acid guitars instead of
booming blasting noise.
It is still a far cry from the explosive agit-prop hip-hop music of
or even of Company Flow's Little Johnny From The Hospital.
If Run the Jewels 1 was mostly an El-P album, with Killer Mike guesting
as a rapper,
Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal, 2014) was truly Killer Mike's album.
The difference can be perceived already in the opener, a tense but slow
Jeopardy, with the intended lyrical explosion further diluted
by a plaintive saxophone melody.
It is Killer Mike's show, and he shines in the singalong Lie Cheat Steal
as well as in the
visceral All Due Respect (boasting the best percussive effects, that
range from techno pulses to African-style propulsion).
EL-P hijacks Early with a plethora of production detours (and perhaps
a Beatles-ian or ELO-ian obsession),
triggers the panzer-grade thumping beat of Blockbuster Night Part01,
hides a melodic refrain inside the snoring basslines and hyper-dub reverbs of All My Life (like a Radiohead remix of a vintage Mersey-beat hit)
and probably pens the structure of the
vulgar cabaret skit of Love Again.
The rare cases in which the dialogue between two voices truly works are
memorable: Close Your Eyes ((the second voice being a stuttering Zach de la Rocha),
and Crown, drenched in a mood of alienation (sculpted by Hendrix-ian guitar, sci-fi electronics, angelic backing vocals and a relentless alien pulsation).
Overall, this album lost some of the magic balance of the previous album,
while, of course, still being an impressive display of punk-ish elegance.
Run The Jewels 3 (2016) is all conducted in a
solemn, stark tone, and the tone is really the main ingredient of
Down and Don't Get Captured
(Hey Kids is ruined by Danny Brown's contribution).
This is meant to exude rage, especially in the two more ideological tracks:
Thieves (Screamed The Ghost) injects a line from Martin Luther King's 1967 speech "The Other America" ("A riot is the language of the unheard")
A Report To The Shareholders/ Kill Your Masters, a Caribbean shuffle that doesn't do justice to the motto "Kill our masters and start again" until the shrapnel rapping of the second half.
(One can only wonder how much more effective these songs would have been in the hands of the Pop Group or Tackhead).
But the real show is El-P's angry propulsive beats and abrasive textures, evoking urban warfare like the lyric fail to.
Talk To Me is propelled by pounding, tank-like rhythm and anguished synth lines.
Everything contributes to create the dense pulsing apocalyptic requiem for human civilization of 2100: magmatic synthesizer, twanging guitar (reminiscent of the House of the Rising Sun) and reverbed backup vocals (alas, the singing dilutes the impact).
The ominous atmosphere of Panther Like A Panther is sculpted by African polyrhythms, Kamasi Washington's droning saxophone and Miami rapper Katrina "Trina" Taylor's twitching phrasing.
Less cataclismic but no less effective are the
post-industrial stomp of Legend Has It and
the hysterical slim shrill beat of
Call Ticketron (littered with commercials and trombone-like synth rumbles).
El-p's class is manifest in the details:
the swampy bass synth-lines and the sax fanfare of Oh Mama, or even just
the sudden change of beat halfway in the otherwise uneventful Stay Gold.
The duo gets mellow in Thursday In The Danger Room, defanged by Kamasi Washington's romantic sax and chirping synth sounds.
As ever with rap artists, the value of the message really depends on how
much poetry you read. Lines like
"life is a journey, to live is to suffer"... well, a child could have written them.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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