While their talents as hip-hop artists remain a point of debate, I think we can at this juncture safely crown Death Grips one of the twenty-teens’ most talented groups of provocateurs. The Sacramento-based trio ranks right up there with Odd Future in terms of its ability to confound onlookers. Whether or not Death Grips’ grating, hip-hop/industrial hybrid can find a wide audience is anyone’s guess, but this week offered further proof that the band can grab headlines at a rate profound enough to make the most diligent media buyer jealous.
Riding its initial groundswell of critical curiosity, Death Grips signed to Epic Records earlier this year. Apparently unsatisfied with the record label’s sluggish pace, the band elected to self-release its third LP, No Love Deep Web, on October 1, months ahead of the “sometime next year” release date planned by the label.
If Death Grips has indeed taken a collection of tracks legally owned by its label and released those tracks for free on its own, then, wow, talk about burning your bridges. The fact that you can still download No Love Deep Web from Death Grips’ website (warning: extremely NSFW) makes the band’s whole “F*ck the man” narrative seem somewhat suspicious.
It’s hard to believe that Epic/Columbia would allow this sort of thing to go on for more than, say, thirty minutes without serving the band a legal injunction. This is the industry that, if you’ll recall, not too long ago was passionately suing the sh*t out if its own customers. That Death Grips continues to get away with its shenanigans suggests that the group might have gone renegade with the help of its corporate sponsor.
Joseph Schafer of Stereogum has posited that this whole gimmick is the result of Death Grips having turned in an album with no commercial prospects. (And that thesis isn’t too far-fetched. No Love Deep Web, while interesting, is rough enough to make Odd Future seem like Justin Bieber.)
A tour announcement that immediately followed Death Grips’ corporate cowboy antics also serves to deflate the group’s rebellious claims. They are, after all, still in business.
Aside from the debate surrounding Epic Records’ possible collusion in its own snubbing, it also warrants mention that in 2012, giving your label the finger just doesn’t have the same bite it used to.
Whereas labels at one point had an Orwellian reach into the lives of their signatories, the rise of a little thing called “the Internet” has caused those once-imposing giants to enter a state of consumptive deterioration. Death Grips might have label issues, but Epic Records’ tame response to the leak of what is ostensibly its own property might simply signify that the label needs Death Grips more than Death Grips needs the label.