PRODUCT MANAGEMENT On new record Cancer 4 Cure, El-P has kept his fire burning. "There's still
that rapper in me that wanted to come out and smack people around."
When I interviewed El-P back in 2007, we had a meaty laugh over unfortunate scribes who'd pegged his sound "post-apocalyptic." Transfixed by the abstract rap king's lasagna-layered rhymes and conniption rhythms, fan-blog neophytes resorted to what became the standard cop-out description. Asked how he felt about the label, El-P cracked on the lazy writers who deployed it. At the time, neither of us realized that the lazy fucks were right. There have been a number of apocalypses since El-P dropped 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead — zombie and Romney, to name a couple — and this side of the mayhem looks a whole lot like the shitbucket he predicted. In discussing his new project, Cancer 4 Cure (Turnstile), El-P continues to deplore the "post-apocalyptic" tag. Still, it's somewhat appropriate.
Ever since his Company Flow days, El-P, born Jaime Meline in Brooklyn, has been wary of monopolistic movements, and even warned us via images of Ted Turner and Bill Gates pleasuring each another. Trafficking in anti-consumerist discourse, he's used line after line to wage war on convention, and has illustrated our increasingly corporatized society through fictional conspiracies that render more true each day. In a sense, El-P has ESP. "From a young age, I saw a general struggle between power and helplessness that was happening above our heads," he says. "I don't think that's changing — it's just coming to fruition now in such an obvious way that everyone can see it. It's fucked with me for my entire life. I see no joy in being right — I'm never right about the fun stuff."
Fun-crushing aside, El-P's second great message was in the direction he helped forge for hip-hop. As founder of the now-defunct Def Jux label, he grabbed the indie bullhorn in the late '90s and helped echo the brilliance of acts like Mr. Lif and Murs. He also dismounted that dinosaur when it became clear that the business model was extinct, and upon realizing that unique artists no longer need boutique labels to find shine.
"I'd say [hip-hop] is in a really good place right now because of dudes like Danny Brown," says El-P, who features the Detroit rap anomaly Brown on the track "Oh Hail No." "You can't attribute him to the underground; you can't attribute him to the major labels. All of those lines that we all drew for some reason are kind of disappearing. Nobody gives a fuck anymore — they just want to hear dope shit."
Back with his first full-blown full-length since 2007, El-P is sure to remind heads that his shit is the dopest. His beatmaking honed to an unprecedented spread of inventive yet accessible head-nodders, he tears into tracks with a rookie's hunger and a veteran's vengeance. "There's still that rapper in me that wanted to come out and smack people around," he explains. The tactic worked. As happens every time he so much as farts a fresh tune, El-P's new release has returned him to the head of the alt-rap dinner table. There, he's breaking bread with a new cadre of his stylistic children. Despite his arrogant rep, El-P seems a bit flattered. Because despite his special powers, he's never dared to predict how he would emerge from the apocalypse.