Sacramento rap/noise crew Death Grips came on the scene last year with their excellent mixtape “Exmilitary” and a series of crazy videos. Somehow someone at Epic Records heard their music, which features MC Ride ranting about illegal drugs over illegal samples, and decided that it was the perfect money-making machine. Eazy-E was on Epic, so maybe they know a thing or two about turning offensive hip-hop into dollar bills. Still, I can’t help but think there is heavy irony in the title of Death Grips’ major-label debut, especially as it comes packaged with cover art of an S&M diva keeping a large-breasted gimp on a chain with the band name carved into the gimp’s chest. That doesn’t seem like the clearest path to making Jay-Z levels of cash, but it is a good way to totally freak out anyone over forty.
Now that Ride and producers Zach Hill and Andy Morin have gone legit, the Jane’s Addiction and Pink Floyd samples have gone out the window. Instead, they’ve come up with beats that don’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars in sample clearances. Rather than looking to samples of metal and punk songs for inspiration, Hill and Morin channel noisy electronica and the sound of Roland TR-808 drum machines. “I’ve Seen Footage” sounds like “Push It” being played in Hell, with Ride shouting along to the beat. “Hacker’s” beat sounds like a mix between Yello’s “Oh Yeah” and Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record).”
There is also an element of noisy dance music in some of the tracks. “Lost Boys” basically sounds like Ride rapping over a jet engine, and “Black Jack” and “Punk Weight” have that heavy, distorted bass that is making Skrillex a wealthy man. There are also echoes of Diplo’s twisted take on dancehall with Major Lazer, and nods to Zach Hill’s art punk background. Death Grips are taking Public Enemy’s challenge to “Bring the Noise” to heart.
Lyrically, not much has changed on the Death Grips front. Ride is still mostly yell-rapping about doing drugs, having sex, and basically being a bad-ass who doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything, like some sort of deranged hip-hop Hunter S. Thompson. On “Hustle Bones” he raps:
“That hot lic a shot
Never not strapped
Wit a glock tongue cocked
Run it back
That knock a cop off unconscious molotov
Cocktailin sound bomb a snitch
Flat line of chalk drawn round the clock
too many marks dropped ta count the stiffs”
On “Hackers,” Ride does some druggy stream of consciousness rapping that would make William S. Burroughs proud:
“I got this pregnant snake
Stay surrounded by long hairs
A plethora of maniacs
And spiral stairs
Make your water break
In the apple store
Sink or swim, who fucking cares
Cut the birth cords
Gaga cant handle this shit”
The album starts off with “Get Got,” which is perhaps Death Grips prettiest and most subdued track to date. Ride takes it down about five notches, rapping over a mellow beat in a laconic style. Maybe it was recorded after a particularly brutal bender, or maybe Ride is branching out. Either way, it proves that there is more to Ride than the hardcore singer turnt rapper thing he does for most of the album. Even at his yellingist, he is still rapping on beat. While Death Grips may contain elements of hardcore, skate punk, and balls-out electronica, Ride always comes at his verses from a hip-hop perspective. That is what separates what he is doing from the legions of mediocre rap rock out there. Ride is a rapper who rocks, not a rocker trying to rap.
“The Money Store” is an abrasive and punishing listening experience. With the exception of “Get Got” and “Bitch Please,” Ride is yelling into the mic, and even when it is melodic the production is still brutal. It contains some of the energy of Southern crunk, but is more bummer music than party music. It’s not music for the club, it’s not music for the ladies, and it has no crossover pop appeal. There’s no R&B chanteuse singing the hook. In fact, there are no hooks. This is gritty, grimy, hardcore hip-hop, as nasty as it wants to be.