El-P has yet to content himself with resting on his odd laurels, of which the recent past has granted him significant new additions. Reviews of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, for which El-P contributed the entirety of the production, have been effusive to the point of fawning, making El an unlikely addition to modern hip-hop’s cabal of hit makers. Cancer 4 Cure, emerging close on the heels of Killer Mike’s opus, might not have the makings of a crossover hit, but it nonetheless offers a satisfying feast for those hankering for more of El-P’s unique flavor of weird.
If you’re new to the party, El-P (Jaime Meline to the IRS) is a New York-based producer and MC whose collaborative projects have tended toward caustic oddity and whose solo material has made frequent right-hand turns into the purely bizarre. El-P’s career has brought him into the limelight on occasion (e.g., remixing tracks for Young Jeezy, contributing beats to Aesop Rock), but these dalliances with respectability have served mostly to underwrite his solo experiments.
Cancer 4 Cure is El-P’s third non-instrumental album and, despite all odds, his most approachable. Past characterizations of El’s production style have made correct reference to his love for lo-fi noise and grinding, industrial techno. Both these predilections show up on Cancer 4 Cure, but El-P uses the album to expand his list of fetishes, showcasing snippets of heavy metal guitar work and arena-sized dance music alongside his combative, extant themes. The thunderous guitar lines on “Request Denied” and “Drones Over Brklyn” barely even stand out inside the tidal wave of El’s synthesizer overdubs. Taking in all these elements in a single bite can be overwhelming, and that’s without even giving any consideration to the lyrics.
His past releases have earned El-P a reputation for tending toward the lyrically abstruse. Cancer 4 Cure takes this tendency and runs with it, going so far as to regularly divorce itself from comprehensibility. “The Full Retard” opens with the couplet, “Got a strain un-contained that could turn paradise zombie / Walk with an army on me, stalked by the harm and armor posse”. Go ahead and try to unravel that. I’ll wait.
Got it? Good, because El-P has laid down a full album of that stuff, and it’s certainly not going to comprehend itself.
Once you’ve taken the time to adjust yourself to Cancer 4 Cure’s mindset, the album reveals paranoia as its most readily identifiable theme. “Drones Over Brklyn” limns a post-apocalyptic portrait of the Big Apple replete with looters and suicide booths. On “The Jig Is Up,” El demands, “Tell me your real name, who’s your leader?” Somewhere in this mess are threats leveled at other rappers, but I doubt many of the MCs in question will have the patience to sit down and figure out whether “bitch-bib-sloppy-eat-flop-around-clown-shoe” qualifies as an insult. That’s the thing with El-P: Even if you want to like the guy, finding suitable points of entry can be a daunting task.
Wading through Cancer 4 Cure’s molasses-thick beats and schizophrenic lyrics is made frustrating by the presence of some genuine gold hidden within its bedlam. “Request Denied” makes solid use of its thundering drum samples, and “Tougher Colder Killer” could easily serve as a titanic dance track.
The album shows complete disregard for the casual fan, but then, of course it does. El-P’s appeal lies in his stalwart commitment to his hermetic sense of style. Cancer 4 Cure can yield some worthy rewards, but only if you concede to meeting the man on his own terms.