I actually hadn't heard of El-P (El-Producto) until last year, when a friend recommended his latest album I'll Sleep When You're Dead to me. It's one of those albums I ended up listening to over and over again, all the way through, without skipping a single track - and I don't know about you, but there aren't that many albums in my collection that are solid enough to withstand that kind of stress-listening, or that I'll revisit with the same kind of focused obsession even now, a year later. This album has a lot of recognizable guests, even if you're not into hip-hop in general - and I gotta say, it sort of made me laugh when I'd hear a familiar-sounding guest on a track and find out that I was listening to Trent Reznor/Chan Marshall/the Mars Volta/whoever.
But aside from the bleak, shivery music, and the dense, complex, rapid-fire delivery, I think what really impressed me about this album was the lyrics. Part of the fun of relistening to the album was hearing a particular section for the third time and finally deciphering what he was talking about! Some of the songs have weird, futuristic, almost sci-fi elements to them.
El-P - The Overly Dramatic Truth: when was the last time you heard an MC begging a much younger girl NOT to sleep with him, or, god forbid, love him? He's trying to do what's best for the girl because he senses he's probably going to ruin her, but if she pushes too hard, he knows he'll cave. It's really a beautiful song, worth at least one listen. (He briefly discusses this and other songs in this interview.)
El-P - Poisenville Kids No Wins (Reprise): The constant struggle against giving up and becoming just another statistic of one kind or another. In the end, he tells his friend(???):
Enough to arrogantly pull what's left of the rug out from under us?
I think not, you're in the same barrel all us other crabs are caught --
And if I have to live, you have to live, whether you like this shit or not!
(It also has Chan Marshall and a rejiggered James Brown sample. Hee.)
[BUY "I'll Sleep When You're Dead"]
This same friend was also responsible for introducing me to Roots Manuva. (What can I say, she's good!) He's an exceptionally smooth-flowing UK rapper. Wiki has a nice quote from him that I think gives you an idea of his musical philosophy:
I was a big kid. Before I even knew what a soundsystem was. I was walking past Stockwell skateboard park and there was this sound being set up. They were probably just trying out their speakers. I was with my mum, holding my mum's hand. And I remember my mum being quite intimidated by the whole affair. Such a barrage of bass coming from it! And these dodgy-looking blokes standing beside it just admiring the sound of their bass. It's just a bass thing. A volume thing. I don't know if I rose-tint the memories, but I remember it sounded so good, so rich. It's not like today when we go to clubs and it hurts. It was more of a life-giving bass.
This song makes my floor vibrate underfoot in a pleasant way, like a heartbeat.
Roots Manuva - Colossal Insight
[BUY "Awfully Deep"]
If you liked El-P, he's actually on tour with Dizzee Rascal now! Just a suggestion ;)