My first listen to Death Grips happened around this time last year, when I was still living in Sacramento, when I stumbled 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 seeing Death Grips’ very first show. Yet, even after seeing the group live, in front of me, they still seemed like a mystery, particularly their intense and sinewy emcee, Ride (aka Stephen Burnett), who pretty much thrashed the entire set, his ferocious, menacing stage presence leaving a heavy impact.
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 innovative sonic layers. Producers Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) and drumming beast Zach Hill step up their production skills to create a new, abrasive hip-hop aesthetic. While that — itself — isn’t their primary intention, both Morin and Hill create their own brave and outlandish sounds, and ones that complement 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 a group of young L.A. skate-rap hoodlums (i.e. Odd Future), hip-hop has drawn parallels to punk music. This concept still might take some getting used to, even though we’ve noticed it in other places as well. But if you’ve never 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 a unique beast. 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 an unforgettable, nightmarish experience.
Although Hill stated in a recent interview that the album only contained one sample-heavy song, it’s hard not to pick up on the fact that 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 — it’s legit, on a musical level, 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”