I’m going to stab you. Not the type of blog header you’d expect from one of underground hip-hop’s more benevolent souls, El-P (legally referred to as Jaime Meline, also answers to El-Producto). You may also think his third solo rap album Cancer For Cure, meticulously brewed over the past five years, is a curious misnomer or possibly an inflammatory reversal of fortune. Ultimately these artistic slights of hand, clever entendres and virtuosic verbosity grant him outsider OG status. Think about this crew: RJD2, Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib and our boy P as MC. Though this cabal will likely never materialize, much of what you hear on his most complete solo effort to date is cerebral hip-hop brimming with innovative ideas set on propelling the proverbial game forward.
If it wasn’t for Adult Swim, I wouldn’t know shit about alternative rap. Chrome Children, especially Madvillain’s “Monkey Suite”, proved there was a dark insular side to hip hop that is tragically underexplored. So I concur with Meline when he slices and dices up “So you should pump this shit/Like they do in the future” until it congeals into the gloomy blood curdling stew that is “The Full Retard.” It’s when the beat begins to skitter toward Aesop Rock that we hear a mic dropper like “I am Sam/I am known to go ham/The full retard/Playin taps on the keytar” amidst cavernous loops of “pump this shit”, ‘80s turntable and a hollow tonic pitch that manages to cast a murky shadow over the entirety of these illest of proceedings.
“Works Every Time”, featuring Interpol’s Paul Banks, and “Drones Over BKLYN” expound upon the nefarious industrial themes emerging. Banks’ desperate cries for “anything” mirror the muffled frantic percussion and brooding Meline who claims he’s “disappeared and so have you.” A furious electronic drum kit and subwoofer hammer out the opening bars of ‘BKLYN’ until an old school dial tone prompts El-P to reply with “get up and get murked.” Haunting cooing and cybernetic jargon swirl about, united by the declaration “drones over Brooklyn.” I’d set the over-under for total tracks mixed on this song to around 10,000. Right before your mind is rendered to a pink primordial ooze, an organ brings the beat to a screeching halt. A meek voice warns P: “Don’t do it.” He replies hesitantly: “I’m gonna do it, I’m going to bring it back.” Aren’t we all glad he did.
Let us all flash our grills for our next two special guests — Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire (aka Mr. Cranberry & Georgi Porgi) and Danny Brown (aka Mr. Blunt after Blunt). “Oh Hail No” let’s EL-P drop some artful F bombs: “Ever notice when you talk, I just cut myself?/ On some ultimate, ‘fuck you, go fuck yourself!’” Brown carries the third verse with his distinct crack head cadence and like any bonafide wordsmith, mixes up the patois a bit and pulls out with rhymes like “Ric Flair/With thick hair/Yelling out, ‘woo’/Getting head in the director’s chair.” But it’s Mr. eXquire who drives it home with blistering speed rap bookended by a succinct shout out: “Brooklyn’ is up in this motherfucker/So suck on our cock.”
Kanye made us “Better…Faster…Stronger.” El-P insists on Killer Mike and Despot becoming “Tougher Colder Killer.” When you lead off with “To the mother of my enemy/I just killed your son/He died with his face to the sky/And it can not be undone” you may assume that Mike was the only one hard enough to spit like that. But alas it’s our main man El-P; flat out slaying all the haters behind him. Angry guitar and escalating percussion swoop into a chorus filled with fluttering piano and the repeated whisper of “just one day” — inspiring as it is foreboding. P doesn’t even wait for the hook to quit before he decides “it’s a lovely day to go blitzkrieg.” P, Mike and Despot trade fiery line until Despot hits us with the faded echoes of the stale cliche “revenge is a dish best served cold” which tastes dangerously fresh.
Cancer For Cure concludes with standout “$4 Vic/FTL (Me and You).” Via 8-bit sci-fi rumblings, presided over by squeaky Auto-tuned echoes, we begin to see a clearer picture of his Brooklyn: “Lullabies chimed crooked/For the harrowed and the shooken/Back to dose me/Back to hold the high closely.” Shout outs take the form of a hi-fi relapse after the first chorus, a shoegazed lift for heavenly rhymes like: “What up brainiacs/Compulsively acidic rainiacs/Repulsively predictable painiacs.” As he unloads his cross to bear, “I am the son disgust entrusted with the undefined”, he relishes his true calling: “I’ve always had the cancer for the cure/That’s what the fuck am I.” Not who, but what. A man, transformed into a devil he can only rap to describe, reconciling with his other other side.