There are very few bands that have as strong of a cult following as the controversial, experimental hip hop trio, Death Grips. Over its five year life span, DG has put out some incredibly genre defying music, even attracting the ears of one of the biggest names in the world of hip hop (I’m looking at you, Kanye). It seems that with countless cancelled tours and shows, shrouded release dates, and the wild goose chases fans have been led on, that Death Grips has been surrounded in controversy since the beginning. While I will fully admit that this kind of music is most definitely not for everyone, if you go into this with an open mind, it is easy to find the talent that Death Grips possesses.
The group’s latest project, and supposedly its last, is the new double album, The Powers That B. The first part, titled Niggas on the Moon, was made available as a free digital download in June of 2014. The highly anticipated second half, Jenny Death, was just made available along with the mass physical release of the full project, The Powers That B.
When the first part of the double album dropped, I was not that impressed. It was the first Death Grips release that didn’t sell upon first listen. Niggas on the Moon actually features Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork on every one of the tracks, but her vocals are only sampled snippets. Her inclusions add something really strange to the the songs, something almost hallucinogenic that I really enjoyed at first, but after a while grew to be a drawback.
As weird as it sounds, these are probably some of Death Grips’ tamer tracks. I am hesitant to call it boring, but with each listen, the album seems to grow less interesting. The instrumentals on Niggas on the Moon can sound incredibly non-confrontational compared to previous releases, and are heavily sample based, leaving a little to be desired at points.
MC Ride takes an unusually tame approach to his vocals on this half, save for a few parts like on the opening track “Up My Sleeves” where Ride opens up the record by with his signature, near screaming vocal delivery. For the most part, though, Ride brings a delivery that could probably just be compared to him regularly speaking. His deflated sounding, offbeat delivery combined specifically with the mostly subdued production and instrumentals was a definite change of pace for Death Grips. Following Niggas on the Moon‘s closing track, “Big Dipper,” there is an amazing transition to Jenny Death, being tossed from the chopped Bjork samples into the garbage disposal that is “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States.”
Even from this opening track, it’s clear Jenny Death is a complete aesthetic departure from Niggas on The Moon. Instrumentally, Death Grips produced a sound that could be most closely compared to its first album/mixtape, Exmilitary. On Jenny Death, the trio created something incredibly frantic. And while the group stick with its experimental style, I was incredibly surprised to hear guitar on many tracks, and even more surprised to find that all of the guitar parts on this half were done by Julian Imsdahl of Zach Hill’s old band, Hella, along with Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos. While the guitars are almost unnoticeable on some of Jenny Death, when they are, they manage to grab reigns, even adding almost a guttural punk sound, especially on “Turned Off.” This track opens with some very simple, yet confusing guitar chords, but when the the vocals kick in, as does a massively heavy riff that seems like it could be pulled right off a hardcore record.
The instrumental and beat change ups on Jenny Death are absolutely incredible, probably due to their unpredictability. “Pss Pss,” for example, begins with a soft, distorted synth line, and seemingly out of nowhere, blasts into an aggressive drum track while the synthesizers are blared, making them seem almost frightening, all while Ride brings his hostile screaming. After what seems like only a few moments, the track reverts onto the same soft synth line from the intro for what would be considered the song’s “chorus,” just to be rocketed back into the aggressive verse section. About halfway through “Pss Pss,” the beat completely changes up, as the synthesizers begin to sound like an accelerating car engine, increasing in pace, just to be placed back on that soft, repetitive, swirling synth line.
Another track that perfects not only this idea of tempo and beat changes, but the idea of MC Rides changing dynamic vocal delivery, is the first single off of the album “Inanimate Sensation.” Ride is truly in command and proves why he is one of the most dynamic “rappers” (if you can even call it that) in music today, going from his howling, aggressive vocals, down to his regular voice, down to a whisper, even managing to sound like completely different people at times.
Jenny Death is probably the absolute best representation of sounds that Death Grips has produced over the last half decade, touching on the raw, experimental, grinding instrumentals featured on Exmilitary and even The Money Store, in addition to the experimental electronic and synthesizer based instrumentals featured on No Love Deep Web and Government Plates. Ride brings lyrics are some of his most existentially aware work, yet still manage to hide it under his frantic delivery. Those lyrics are something you really need to pay attention to, because at points, they really can sound like gibberish, but in reading the liner notes, you realize that he is tackling incredibly dark, haunting topics like depression, existentialism, and suicide. On Jenny Death, the group manages to find the perfect mixture of truly innovating beats, samples, and lyrics all while creating some of its most catchy, memorable moments yet.
Will this be the last we hear of Death Grips? Probably not. With a surprise world tour coming this summer and what I would assume to be more music after, it leaves me with a bittersweet feeling. The Powers That B really does feel like it would have been a fitting end. While I do seem to treat Niggas on the Moon and Jenny Death as two separate entities and not the total project, both sections have great contrast that seem to compliment each other in the end.
Niggas on the Moon Grade: C+ (B in context with The Powers That B)
Jenny Death Grade: A
The Powers That B Grade: A-