My first listen to Death Grips happened around this time last year, when I was still living in Sacramento. Eventually I would stumble across Facebook posts from the group, promoting their free and brilliant mixtape Exmilitary and the most awesome music video I’ve seen in a while, for that mix’s standout track “Guillotine.” Later that year, during the summer, I would have the privilege of joining my friends in seeing Death Grips’ very first show. Yet, even after seeing them live, they still seemed like a mystery to me, particularly their intense sinewy emcee, Ride, who pretty much thrashed the entire set with his ripped abs, yelling and ferocious stage presence.
A year has passed since then, and coincidentally (or not) their new album and major label debut drops around the same time Exmilitary did in 2011. From the very beginning all the way to its final track, The Money Store presents one vicious journey through layers of pure sonic brilliance. Producers Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) and drumming beast Zach Hill step up their production skills to create a new aesthetic in the realm of hip-hop. While that isn’t their primary intention, both Morin and Hill create their own brave and outlandish sounds, and ones that will compliment Ride, aka Stephen Burnett’s lyrics and razor-edge rhyming skills.
Some pretty dramatic changes have taken place in hip-hop within the last year, and, in particular, with the rise of some young L.A. skate-rap hoodlums (i.e. Odd Future), hip-hop has sort of become like punk music. This concept still might take some getting used to, even though we’ve noticed it in other places as well. But have you ever been to a Death Grips show? I can tell you firsthand, it’s enough to make those trash-talking skate-rap crews fear for their lives and their boards. And with more than a dose of that confrontational terror in its schizo sounds, The Money Store breaks all the conventions of traditional hip-hop.
At its core, The Money Store carries the deep beats, the samples and the rhyming, but the music itself is entirely on its own spectrum. The awesomely haunting “Lost Boys” is reminiscent of a sci-fi horror movie or video game theme. “I’ve Seen Footage” (which samples Salt N Pepa’s “Push It”) makes fit for a song to krump to at live shows. “Blackjack” begins with some really dark and slow beats, throbbing like a thick and pulsating heartbeat, preparing the listener for a song that won’t soon be forgotten.
Although Hill stated in a recent interview that the album only contained one sample-heavy song, I’d argue The Money Store is completely littered with smaller samples tucked into each track, similar to the group’s approach on Exmilitary. In fact, the first few seconds of “The Cage” features a sample of that mixtape’s “Cut Throat.”
Sacramento has a history of being known for a tough city, and been the site of some of the most ruthless and weirdest crimes, and the same goes for musicians, Brotha Lynch Hung being one of the more prominent examples. But with Death Grips, Ride is more articulate and sneaky with his lyrics. This is not to disparage Brotha Lynch Hung, by any means, yet Ride, however, shows off dramatically more clever rhyming and vocal abilities (“blastin’ bum rush balls to da wall/ bitch slayer, rainin’ blood, burnin’ paper“), while remaining as fierce and aggressive as any artist Sacramento has produced in the past. For the past week, I’ve been blasting The Money Store constantly in my car, while onlookers look at me as if I’m deranged. And because I usually think of albums as potential soundtracks to films, The Money Store is akin to some of the greatest grindhouse and splatter flicks. Yet after releasing a mixtape as insane as Exmilitary, Death Grips’ blueprint for even bigger and better things, the most threatening aspect about Death Grips is just how much better they’ve gotten in one short year.
Death Grips – Exmilitary
Earl Sweatshirt – Earl
GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords
Stream: Death Grips – “Hacker”