How One Group Changed the Face of Hip-Hop in Just Three Years
On July 2nd the highly influential noise-hop and experimental hip-hop outfit known as Death Grips released what may be their final statement: They had “officially stopped”. All live dates were cancelled and the band appears to have ended. But Death Grips were always more than just a band. Like the great noise artists, they represented experimentation and attacked the conventions of musical form. They pushed the limits of their genre and established themselves as a unique force of pure carnage and unpredictability.
Death Grips went in the way that only Death Grips could. After an elusive start followed by the announcement of being signed by Epic Records, numerous no-shows, remixing songs from Björk’s latest album, self-releasing their own album for free (resulting in being dropped by Epic), the album’s cover of Zach Hill’s erect penis, Hill drumming over Skype at live shows, being signed by Harvest Records, faking the destruction of a drum kit, freely self-releasing another album, more no-shows, planning to tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden and self-releasing half of yet another album that featured Björk, the surprise of cancelling the band wasn’t really much of a surprise for fans used to their self centred ethos.
And so, while we will all definitely miss what Death Grips brought and the pure joy of following their radical development, they are a band destined to become legendary. Their discography is worth delving into as often as possible so here are the best Death Grips albums in order.
Niggas on the Moon
While I swore that I would not review this until the second half of the album was released, certain circumstances have greatly changed my mind. The least accessible of Death Grips’ releases, part 1 of The Powers that B – Niggas on the Moon – is a wash of incomprehensible lyricism and structureless melodies. While obscure however, Death Grips’ usual themes of suicide and general death resurface. The appearance of Björk doesn’t particularly add much to Death Grips’ sound nor does it detract from it. Really, any female vocal sample would have achieved the same effect, an effect that fails to highlight Flatlander’s excellent electronic composition. A disappointing last release, but part 2 may be able to make up for it.
Government Plates is the kind of album that never approaches the potential of their first track – a brilliantly heavy opener more akin to noisy dubstep than hip-hop. Yet, as the album continues, the more strange and the more disappointing it gets. When Birds was first released, fans were left wondering whether this was a deliberate attempt to confuse listeners, but alas the song fits into the peculiarity of the album’s style. Furthermore, songs are short, repetitive and contain little vocal input. Overall, Government Plates problem is that, while still a decent album, it felt underwhelming for a band with a noisy and intense discography making it a polarising album for Death Grips fans.
The first proper release by the band really set the tone for what was to come. While skittery and repetitive, Exmilitary felt like a hip-hop meets punk album. Flatlander established his noisy and ugly style, but the first track itself established Death Grips’ entire existence, full of primal urges and pushing oneself to the edge. Power trips, social criticism and violent/sexual urges flow out of MC Ride like abuse out of a drill sergeant. Ultimately, certain songs become overbearing, but the core of Death Grips’ style and ideology can be found in its earliest form here.
No Love Deep Web
No Love Deep Web is significant in Death Grips’ lifespan as it features not only the band’s most defining image, but also their darkest music to date. Terror and aggression dominate MC Ride’s thoughts presented through a stripped down, live-sounding sound. Recorded at the prestigious Chateaux Marmont in LA, the band experimented with electronic drums and simpler synth lines. The album represented Death Grips’ movement away from “catchy” hooks towards more dark lyricism and less structured music. The anticipation for No Love Deep Web was enormous, but the sonic difference since their previous album tied with the casually executed free internet release shattered expectations and surprised many.
The Money Store
Arguably Death Grips’ magnum opus, The Money Store is the point where Death Grips’ ideas were fully realised. A perfect combination of electronic experimentation, intense drumming and deep lyricism the album is near perfect from start to finish. This is pure unpredictable anger, aggression and abrasion delivered through Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett’s terrifying and terrified unhinged vocals. The oft overlooked member of the group however provides the most important part to the band’s sound. Flatlander’s eclectic sampling and ear-splitting, heavy “melodies” only add to the melting pot and brings new levels to their brilliantly grotesque uniqueness. Death Grips sought to make their music exist in a place between terror and rumination and not only did they succeed but they practically created their own legend.