There’s something so impossibly now about Death Grips that makes people wax hyperbolic, as if the extremity of the music itself drives listeners to the extreme. Every sonically-challenging act in history has its fair share of lovers and haters, but Death Grips seem to attract a particularly passionate flock of the former, jumping to declare each new release the Most Important Thing In Music. The Money Store is no different, and with fairly good reason. After all, the album ticks off perhaps the two most important “critical acclaim” boxes: It feels like something new and it should come with an “I Survived The Money Store” t-shirt.
I really like this album. It’s a barrage of ferocious, relentless, avant garde hip hop that is so pressing it makes you want to repurpose negative adjectives as positives – disgusting, hellish, or, as one astute commenter on Death Grips’ soundcloud stream of the album put it, “straight up panic attack angry rage rap – so sick.” This isn’t an album for hip hop traditionalists, it’s an album for people who loved Black Up, think Saul Williams never got enough respect, and listen to Waka Flocka Flame when nobody else can see them.
Where Waka is built for dance floors and drag races – the louder you play his tracks, the more genius he becomes – Death Grips is designed for headphones. The Money Store doesn’t pack the same punch out loud, losing its treble pinch and becoming a jumbled mess. These tracks work best when they invade your headspace, not your airspace. You want to get close to these tracks to admire the handiwork of producer Flatlander, who shines on The Money Store even more than he did on Death Grips excellent 2011 mixtape Exmilitary. It’s exquisite stuff, delivered with a sledgehammer.
Even more than Exmilitary, this album pushes Death Grips further into the abyss that lies outside the definition of rap/rock/rap-rock. Somehow this major-label-backed trio has snuck past the suits at Sony/Epic and released an album that is as much informed by Skrillex and Korn as it is by Wu-Tang and Shabazz Palaces. No line rings more true than when MC Ride self-describes as a “unidentified genre abductor” on “Double Helix.” Regardless of where you place this record on the genre-spectrum (and isn’t that an increasingly needless spectrum, given the omnipresence of free streams for any interested listener to judge for themselves?) The Money Show shifts paradigms.
From the start, Flatlander is on display. The beat on standout opening track “Get Got” is a jittering adrenaline rush, with a simple, halting hook that nearly steals the thunder of what is an impossibly complex piece of underlying music. This is no stagnant loop. Drummer Zach Hill, formerly of Hella, adds exhilarating drums to Flatlander’s constantly morphing ecosystem; the effect is like the jolt that runs through your body when you misjudge a step on a staircase.
When you add the open-throat flow of MC Ride, the equation is combustible. The third figure in the Death Grips trinity, Ride is the ideal mix of heavy and heady, following bars like “born with a ski mask on my face” with references to “lycanthropic manic cycles” and “fire water burning bibles.” He’s dark and violent, but his threats always seem to be carried out by the music itself. Take, for example, the graphic imagery of “Fuck That”: “New style cut your brain stem as my combat boots/grind your head to the cadence of this death stomping mu/sick as fuck contagion wagin’ war with all you knew, bitch.” It’s not exactly family-friendly, but neither is it truly menacing.
Every few tracks I find myself hitting the pause button for a second, to momentarily catch my breath.
Ride’s outburst flow’s short lines and lack of exposition disguise the fact that he knows his way around his phrasing. He’s able to effectively paint vivid pictures with only a few words, backed up by his diction and emphasis, enhancing the brutality of Hill and Flatlander’s canvases. And though it sometimes dips a tad close to caricature – “I’ve Seen Footage” invariably reminds me of Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” – it more frequently rings true. Every few tracks I find myself hitting the pause button for a second, to momentarily catch my breath.
Often there is no end in sight, and therein lies The Money Store’s biggest drawback. This is an absolutely punishing record, in both the positive and negative form of the word. As much as I enjoy a lot of the tracks, I just can’t see myself often sitting down to listen to it top to bottom very frequently. Exhilarating and exhausting are next-door neighbors.
There are moments of beautiful clarity amongst the mayhem, though, and none are more perfectly timed than on fifth track, “Hustle Bones.” The tune begins with an engine-like beat, racing around a speedway before opening up with pitched-up samples and a breath of fresh air about twenty-six seconds in. It’s a welcome respite, but one of the few found on this record; even at 41 minutes, The Money Store takes real effort. It’s a shame because album-closer “Hacker” is among the record’s best and most interesting tracks – it’s Burial meets Daft Punk shot with a serious boost of testosterone. As the album comes to a close we find MC Ride, “the cray cray ultra contrarian,” “screaming beautiful songs.” I just hope people stick around to listen.
Listen to ‘The Money Store’ in its entirety here.