If you follow typical indie music journals and whatnot, chances are you’ve seen this name a lot lately. Yes, Death Grips are getting plenty of attention from Pitchfork, Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, etc. But interestingly enough, they are getting a lot of love from Spin and some recent love from Rolling Stone, of all people. By basic intuition, this should go to show that Death Grips’ debut LP The Money Store is bigger than best album of the week, month, or otherwise. Death Grips are making waves for a good reason, and with or without the hype, you should take the time to check them out.
Death Grips is a trio from San Francisco. Stefan Burnett aka MC Ride mans the microphone, while Zach Hill switches between live drum set and drum pad and Andy Morin aka Flatlander mans the keys and other production. The group has been described as punk-rap, but even that tag is a bit restrictive. Death Grips’ backing tracks are experimental, noisy, and all over the place.
At spots on the album, you’ll find some familiar ground. “I’ve Seen Footage”, perhaps the most accessible track on the album (check out the video at the bottom of this review), finds home in late 80s/early 90s dance rap, and “Hacker” is a dark dance track that could potentially be played alongside angrier Diplo or Major Lazer at a club. But for the most part, the Death Grips sound is something entirely unique to them. Lead album single “The Fever (Aye Aye)” has Hill spazzing out on the drums while Morin plays a simple synth-noise lead and Ride lets loose on a guttural, pummeling verse. “Lost Boys” sees a similarly avantgarde drum pattern with a bass-music synth line on top. But laced through all these tracks is a ridiculous amount of variation and experimental noise. No two seconds of this album sound alike.
While experimental hip-hop isn’t necessarily a novel concept (Aesop Rock, Doomtree, Seattle’s own Shabazz Palaces), Death Grips go past any production possibilities frontier of the genre. They aren’t afraid to frighten the competition into submission either. The Money Store may be an intense listen the first time around, but if you dig deeper than the surface, the band has discovered some amazing new areas for music to explore. Plus, MC Ride writes some fantastic lyrics, and they are all available on their website.
Let’s be honest, here: the music business is weird. Sometimes, it’s hard to see what styles and sounds are going in and going out. Some bands can make whole careers out of mimicking an existing sound. Other bands take something they’ve heard and just do it harder, faster, better, or otherwise. Furthermore, others create something entirely new. Oftentimes when this happens, the guarantee of return on investment isn’t there, and there’s a pretty great possibility that no one will like you. But let’s all take a moment and think about how thankful we are that there are bands out there that brave the uncertainty and take the plunge. Thanks to these externalities, we see the center of gravity shift slightly left or slightly right and eventually, the whole system begins to move. These externalities are leaders. They aren’t afraid to brave the unknown if it means something bigger, better, or just plain different. Death Grips are a quintessential example of this type of leadership. Due to past experience and unbelievable stigma surrounding rap/rock hybrids, it’s difficult to create one that won’t get shot down immediately. But Death Grips’ experimental punk-rap sound is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this genre, and if it really takes off, it will be interesting to see what acts follow.
Is Death Grips the next big thing? Are they going to start a rap revolution where kids start sampling noise-rock bands for their backing tracks and completely obliterate genre lines for good? I don’t know. But what I do know is that The Money Store is a fantastic album, and if nothing else, it will create a ripple in a pool that has been stagnant for a long time. For that, hopefully Death Grips will get the attention they deserve.
Death Grips are touring very soon, but have not posted any dates in the Northwest yet. Grab their free mixtape Exmilitary and go grab The Money Store today. Finally, check out the video for “I’ve Seen Footage” below: