Monday, April 7, 2014

Death Grips - ExMilitary Review (2011)

Known for their aggressive style unmatched by anyone in any genre, Death Grips are the epitome of musical artistry at its finest. Tell that to a conservative music listener who appreciates simplicity in the classical style and they’ll tell you you’re out of your mind. But Death Grips, composed of rapper MC Ride, drummer Zach Hill & producer Andy Morin, have expanded the reaches of musical originality more than anyone in the 21st century with their unique approach to the symbiotic relationship of heavy metal, electro and hip-hop that they currently enforce. Before they were the band known for their ‘penis’ cover, Death Grips released Ex-Military, their first mixtape that struck a cord with many in the Internet age upon its release. It was brutal, cohesive, unusual, and more than anything else, challenging. The challenge being the main driving force behind the appreciation for Death Grips. Looking back, my first go around with them began on The Money Store, their first full-length LP, in a sad attempt at a single song skip. But after a week of having Get Got stuck in my head I revisited it, and it clicked. After having established the connection, Ex-Military was child’s play. 

The album, rightfully so, begins with a voiceover from Charles Manson. I envy those who bared witness to Beware without prior knowledge as to what to expect from the forthcoming track and its no-holds bar assault on the ears. Those expecting to understand the lyrics, or even comprehend them, will be at a loss here. A deeper look in however, we discover a man violently overcome by his inner beast and his newfound worshipping of Hell, Satan, and Witchcraft. The intro acts as a perfect elicitation of Death Grips’ music. The record throughout doesn’t deviate too much from this formula, and sounds much like what their name implies. However, there are certain instances littered throughout that bring a surprising twist to the narrative. From Spread Eagle Cross The Block & Culture Shock’s use of 60’s & 70’s light rock samples, to 5D’s highly electronic breakdown foreshadowing the band’s experience with just that on this third LP Governmental Plates, to Thru The Walls’ fast-paced horns and drum sections are highly reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s Here Comes The Night Time, Death Grips aren’t afraid to experiment with diversion when their aggressive sound is doing just fine. The experimental nature of the album is by and large its greatest strength, but ultimately leads to one of its largest pitfalls; the lack of foresight and repetition. Following 5D’s bizarre shift in scope, the band returns to their hard-nosed way to fade out with re-hashed aggression and loudness on ExMilitary’s final four songs.

The one exception to this, in my opinion at the least, is that of I Want It, I Need It, which I can entirely see listeners disliking for its ability to stay well past its expiration date, especially for a song so caught up with trivial content, a bit of an outcast on the album. But by god is the beat and hook one of the catchiest on the record, with the rugged terrain conformed by altered female vocals, singled-out hi-hats to keep Ride on point, and a grimy reincarnation of the lyrical content present throughout the piece. As for other standouts here, aforementioned Spread Eagle Cross The Block succeeds greatly in bringing in outside instrumentation from a varying genre and morphing it into a work only Ride could formulate. Many of his ‘verses’ here act as severely disjointed spoken word segments, with anger and emotion compacted into verbal form and prose to create something so entirely unapproachable that the only solution is forced enjoyment. Following it is Lord Of The Game, foundation laid by hyper-illuminated vocal spurts, tribal drums, and cued squeaks imitates a savaged version of Lord of the Flies, where the title got its name. The back-and-forth chorus with Mexican Girl heightens the sense of urgency and paranoia induced throughout the track. And while many tracks here deal with surreal imagery of death, destruction, and danger, this one does in aims of telling one simple message; I’m better than all of you at this rapping stuff. 

As mentioned before, the lyrical content carried throughout the record conveys the same imagery time and time again. While looking through the album in a death metal sense may spark boredom over simplistic concept and brash vocal depth, through the eyes of your typical Hip-Hop listener this album marked a time for exploration in the genre as a whole. Never before had there been a group this obtrusive, invasive, and scary lurking through Hip-Hop since the ‘horrorcore’ sub-sect during the late 90’s that mostly played off gimmicks. What makes Death Grips so interesting however is that, while on the outside the vocal aspect may be trite and filled with un-needed intensity, the lyrics hidden throughout tell a deeper message through a metaphorical lens. Takyon tells the tale of a man trapped in a gunfight, while Guillotine, through its abstract form, explains to the listener why MC Ride himself uses his tongue to concoction verses and lyricism. Hip-Hop realists sway towards complexity in their lyricists as backing for their enjoyment, citing it as the main example for what they like to see in their rapper. While any other Heavy Metal/Hip-Hop combination would fail right then and there based off this distinction, MC Ride flourishes in it, using his advanced mental pictures to compose stories steered towards devoted listeners with a watchful ear. 

Death Grips’ first mixtape blasted onto the scene with little to no prior recognition for what to expect from the group. Listeners were shocked, immediately turned off, and appalled at what they heard. As their exposure heightened however, thousands began flocking in hopes of understanding and appreciating the sound and style MC Ride & Zach Hill aimed at dishing out. Ex-Military is a grueling listen despite its 49 minute marking, and sans its few let downs that drag through the same panic and dread that possess the whole album for sake of shock, Death Grips debunked something many are beginning to fear for the rap community; the genre itself becoming stale. With the Internet age upon us more voices are being heard advocating for alternative ways of appreciating and creating Hip-Hop. And in the thick of it all lies a scary black man with a destructive voice hollering for annihilation and devastation in an attempt at taking over the rap community.

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