Our regular feature “Cheat Sheet” gives you the quick info on some of hip-hop’s top artists. Today we’re featuring producer El-P.
Who: Like many of pop music’s square pegs, MC and producer El-P tends to gravitate toward others of his own type. Son of the well-known jazz pianist Harry Meline, the pasty, diminutive Jaime Meline (nee “El-Producto,” “El-P,” “Lazerface”) has carved a singular path through hip-hop’s various back alleys and counter-revolutions.
After befriending the DJ at his eighteenth birthday party, Meline became obsessed with the world of hip-hop production, releasing his first instrumental album (Little Johnny From the Hospital: Breaks and Instrumentals Vol. 1) in 1999. The following decade saw the dissolution of El-P’s Company Flow collaborative project, the flowering of Meline into a respectable MC in his own right, and Meline’s subsequent acquisition of a laundry list of multifarious collaborations.
Meline’s production credits include work for Murs, Aesop Rock, Cage and Das Racist; he has remixed tracks for Beck, Nine Inch Nails and TV On the Radio; his collaborators include such far-flung personalities as The Mars Volta and Young Jeezy.
Less than a week from now, El-P’s collaborative album with Atlanta MC Killer Mike (R.A.P. Music) will hit store shelves, defining a high-water mark for both stalwarts of the United States’ alternative hip-hop scene.
The Sound: El-P’s love of outré noise has defined both his solo and collaborative works. With many a track based around the rude squelches of a distorted synthesizer, El-P’s beats tends to offer more abrasion than radio hip-hop is comfortable with, though pop-leaning MCs do occasionally come to him for single tracks and remixes. From the crux of industrial techno and pop sampling, El-P mines some impressive gems.
His work as a rapper skews similarly left of center. Never one to compromise on his personal aesthetics, El-P drops rhymes teeming with unapologetic references to Arthur C. Clark, Star Trek and jazz-fusion. His elastic flow has proven capable of cramming more four-syllable words into a single track than would be allowed in the entirety a traditional hip-hop record.
Essential listening: Cannibal Oxtrumentals offers what are most likely the finest examples of El-P’s instrumental work. He has released five instrumental albums since that 2001 outing, but it’s best to ease into this sort of thing, as it tends to weed out non-purists.
For a solid example of El-P’s talents as an MC, check out “EMG” from his brilliantly titled 2007 LP I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.
Evidence of El-P’s collaborative projects is abundant to the point of ridiculousness, but, in the interest of conserving space on this here Internet, we’ll confine our sampling to “Big Beast”, the first single from Killer Mike and El-P’s fantastic collaborative album, R.A.P. Music.