Hearing the notorious criminal mastermind Charles Manson say “The game is mine, I deal the cards” on the opening track to Death Grips’ 2011 masterful underground mixtape Exmilitary pretty much set the stage for how to perceive the industrial hip-hop/rap group as a rising musical entity. Their loud, hostile, elemental suspense and propensity for experimental beats and noises resulted in the kind of varietal intrigue I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The tracks made me want to keep going back to listen again in an attempt to fully consume what was there even though I knew that going back meant facing the unknown.
The most intriguing thing, though, is that there is really nothing we can do about the situation; Death Grips knows they’re prodding hip-hop and rap, bringing the genres to the outermost tier. The game is theirs, and they‘re dealing the cards.
I’ve been following the meteoric rise of Death Grips since they readily tossed us the free mixtape almost exactly one year ago, and after that one year and hundreds of listens, I’ve had the opportunity to sit and ponder what Death Grips actually is. Believe it or not, I still don’t know. I wouldn’t really be able to explain or fully process Death Grips if you asked me in person, and I take full pride in that. It’s the strangest love affair, if you will: with Exmilitary, Death Grips’ mutated sounds and compositions resulted in some of the most experimental and original hip-hop and rap tracks of the last few years, and the mystery still lingers. Not much has changed in that respect with today’s release of their major label debut on Epic Records, entitled The Money Store. They’ve just gotten better at what they do.
The Money Store is a different kind of monster from Exmilitary (whether or not the major label change has had any influence on them is up for debate). If anything, it seems the mixtape was simply meant to prepare us for what was to come: leaner mixes, catchier hooks, more adrenaline, and production that runs like clockwork. With tracks that run an average of three minutes, Death Grips seamlessly trims down what could have been potential extra material to deliver us the bodies and the cores, producing tighter and more focused beats centralized around meaner and louder raps courtesy of MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), Zach Hill, and Flatlander (Andy Morin). This makes the amalgamation of sounds and noises actually easier to get used to this time around, and they’re twice as ear-shattering, too.
Living up to the album name, The Money Store offers tracks worthy of gold. The entire first half alone — with tracks “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “Blackjack,” “Hustle Bones” and “Double Helix” — has so much energy and sinister, visceral madness that there’s almost too much to admire at one moment in time. Their lyrical content is often twisted and sometimes actually terrifying, but Death Grips manages to build these sounds that uniquely complement them in a way to make them graspable. “I’ve Seen Footage” is perhaps the greatest standout, tripped out on psychedelic and phasey ’80s dance that aims to get any crowd turned on even though you may get lost trying to interpret lyrics about a violent alternate reality.
And the tracks don’t just fly by, either. Each track provides meaty arrangements and compulsory lyrics that look to go in every direction while strangely teetering on an apex of structural balance. You don’t know which way they will turn, and calling it a surprise is barely scratching the surface. That one track sounds nothing like the other is something you don’t often see on records these days.
The second half is just as experimentally belligerent. The excellent “System Blower” is an instantly likable rave act working as a rap-infused track with DJ analytics and house influences. “Punk Weight” features a record sample that’s way over its normal RPM count before exploding forty-five seconds later into an overly (and almost hysterically) compressed synth pad that keeps the loudness level in check. By the time you reach the LCD Soundsystem-esque “Hacker” with lyrics discussing the Apple Store and Lady Gaga, your head is probably on the floor, but I say that in the best way possible.
Like Exmilitary, Death Grips takes the bare essentials of hip-hop and rap and throws them into the washing machine with the colored laundry. Yet The Money Store goes a step further than its predecessor by incorporating a more-than-earnest approach and even greater wealth of intoxicating sounds and heart-pounding originality. Even if you think you can’t handle it, credit is still due to Death Grips for exposing their raw, perplexing, and schizophrenic musical statements. Do I fully understand it myself? No, but it’s their call at the moment, and I haven’t enjoyed a call that loud or prominent in a long, long time.
The Money Store is available today, April 24th, via Epic Records. Death Grips will also be releasing a follow-up entitled No Love in the fall of this year, but for now, you can view “The Fever (Aye Aye)” down below and catch Death Grips on their worldwide tour starting in May, with tour dates down below as well.
Death Grips Tour Dates:
05/05: Sacramento, CA – Sacramento Electronic Music Festival
05/18: Dublin, Ireland – The Academy
05/19: Glasgow, Scotland – Stag & Dagger
05/20: Manchester, England – The Roadhouse
05/21: Nottingham, England – The Bodega
05/22: Norfolk, England – Norwich Arts Center
05/23: Brighton, England – Green Door Store
05/25: London, England – All Tomorrow’s Parties
05/26: Paris, France – Grande Halle de La Villette
05/27: Rotterdam, The Netherlands – Worm
05/28: Amsterdam, The Netherlands – OT301
05/29: Nijmegen, The Netherlands – Merleyn
06/01: Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Sound Festival
06/02: Barcelona, Spain – Field Day Festival
06/04: Brussels, Belgium – Magasin
06/05: Ghent, Belgium – Charlatan
06/06: Cologne, Germany – Mtc
06/07: Berlin, Germany – Gretchen
06/08: Hamburg, Germany – Hafenklang
06/09: Porto, Portugal – Optimus Primavera Sound
06/12: Philadelphia, PA – The Barbery
06/13: New York, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
06/14: Boston, MA – TT The Bear’s
06/15: Montreal, Quebec – Club Lambri
06/16: Toronto, Ontario – Wrong Bar
06/18: Detroit, MI – Magic Stick
06/19: Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme
06/20: Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
06/21: Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
09/23: Asbury Park, NJ – I’ll Be Your Mirror Festival
For more info: Death Grips’ Official Website