With Waka Flocka Flame's blunt force raps serving as the most influential sound in hip-hop and an underground scene currently ruled by the irreverence of acts like Odd Future and Das Racist, the market for so-called Real Hip Hop--the kind defined by boom-bap beats and exhaustingly complex lyricism--is at an all-time low. This might seem like a problem for someone like the pointedly intricate El-P, whose breakout group Company Flow and (now shuttered) label Def Jux are rallying points for a certain kind of genre purist.
But the New York rapper is arguably more relevant than ever right now, embracing collaborations with hip-hop's blog-friendly avant garde and cementing his elder statesman status by recently working on an album ("R.A.P. Music") with fellow indie legend Killer Mike. And when El-P's latest album, Cancer for Cure, brings out these friends, they fit nicely into his bleak, pounding vision.
The type to describe police states over jarring beats, El-P has always had a futuristic bent, but the great success of "Cancer for Cure"--particularly on more idiosyncratic tracks like "Drones over Bklyn" and "$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)"--is that its production aesthetic doesn't really need lyrics to make this dystopian stuff seem totally immediate. It's political without being preachy.
This album functions almost as much as noise rock as it does hip-hop, and that might be its biggest strength. Even at a time when explosive noise is the new genre norm, this music is a long way from pop but works because it offers its own self-contained world. That world sounds terrifying, intimidating and pretty great.