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Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, May 18th, 2015

Death Grips: The Powers That B

Death GripsDeath Grips
The Powers That B
(Harvest)

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In its earliest days rap was fresh, original, and vital. Then, like most things, it became homogenized and formulaic. Of course there have always been artists who defied this and made great music. As the genre expands, more and more rappers are branching out and exploring different sounds, making the landscape a lot more diverse. But the group that even today feels the freshest, most original, and most vital is Death Grips.

Death Grips do hip-hop like no one else. They still make heavy use of samples but forgo the drum machine, one of the building blocks of the genre, for an actual live drummer. Their most recent release, The Powers That B, is a double album. Who does that?! Disc 1 is called Niggas On the Moon, and like its title it’s aggressive, in your face, and otherworldly. These eight noisy tracks run together, making it feel more like some kind of electro-rap symphony with movements rather than individual songs. That continuity is strengthened by the repetition of certain samples like themes throughout, the most notable being the cut-up voice of Icelandic singer Bjork. It’s a truly relentless listening experience. The electronic drums and samples coupled with MC Ride’s rhythmic vocal delivery could almost be considered tribal if it didn’t feel so alien. By the end of it you’re worn out. And that’s just the first disc!

Disc 2, entitled Jenny Death, is related but also kind of its own beast. It sounds like punk rock from some strange, Phillip K. Dick future. The opening track, “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States” bludgeons the listener with a beat worthy of The Prodigy and MC Ride shouting the title over and over. While you’re trying to catch your breath you’re suddenly sucker punched by “Inanimate Sensation,” one of the albums most arresting tracks. Most artists would put this six-minute, multi-tempo shifting song somewhere in the middle of the album but Death Grips just thought, “Oh hell, why wait?” Things only get weirder and wilder from there. Many tracks feature guitar and organ, further bending genre expectations. On these songs the feel is slightly looser, like a band jamming out, but without losing any of Death Grips’ signatures. “Beyond Alive” is pure rock and roll. It doesn’t matter that it features rapping and heavy use of electronics. On the other hand, “PSS PSS” feels like a deconstruction of modern hip-hop. It’s this post-modern approach to music that makes this such a good album. The Powers That B is chock full of surprises yet it also grooves real hard. It’s possible Death Grips are trying to show us the future. It’s also possible they just wanted to make a rap album you could bang your head to. Whatever their aim, I’d call it a success.

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Death Grips: The Powers That B