Album Review: El-P – Cancer 4 Cure

Posted: April 26, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 2nd Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , , , , , , ,


 “Screaming at the top of our airbags, this is our timing, we are not dying – not for you, not for you, not for you.” – El-P “Request Denied” 

Cancer 4 Cure‘s first track, “Request Denied,” starts out a dark muted harbinger, something like the sounding of a very distant alarm on humid evening, and then after a brief introductory vocal sample, the drums drop into a discotechish slam dance rhythm, as samples, keys, synths, and El’s trade mark “woooooo”s perforate the track.  Nearly three minutes into the intro, the drums fall out and the track devolves into a driving bassline vaguely reminiscent of the Doors sample off Jay-Z’s “The Takeover,” and El steps to the mic to begin his third solo rap opus. “Request Denied,” has all the elements of a call to arms, and many of the common El-P themes are present, the trademark paranoia, the classic distrust of authority, and the rage against the mindless drones for starters.  That said, from the onset, it’s clear this album is not the sonically self-absorbed apocalypse factory of Fantastic Damage.

If there’s a major thematic evolution that’s occured slowly since Fantastic Damage, through I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and on to Cancer 4 Cure it’s in the way El-Producto handles death.  Fantastic Damage was influenced enough by NYC on the heals of 9/11 that El’s paranoia had created a soundtrack for armageddon, an album where sonically buildings were crumbling and smashing the walls of established hip hop musicality. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead had El-P raging against the misinformation, torture, war while coming to grips with the non-imminence of his own demise suggesting, “you in the same barrel all us other crabs are caught. And if I have to live, you have to live, whether you like this shit or not” (“Poisonville Kids Win Again”).  The title Cancer 4 Cure alludes to a sense that for every silver lining there’s a dark cloud, and a notion that with every panacea come side effects and diseases.  On a surface level it’s a reference to the death of El-P’s close friend and brilliant collaborator Camu Tao, who’s promising career and life were taken by lung cancer in 2008, but it also represents an acknowledgement that everyone is in this crazy life together and death is lurking for all, no matter how we dress it up:

“Don’t you ever try to say you’re not one of us my love, we are the touched, we are entrusted with the same tomorrow.” – El-P “$4 Vic”

Cancer 4 Cure also has El-P settling into a bit of a comfort zone as an emcee.  While El-P has always been one of the unique talents of the rap industry as a lyricist with an induplicable delivery and writing style, his world shattering production techniques have always taken the forefront, and added another layer to obscure the already cryptic brilliance of his lyricism.  While it’s not as though the production on Cancer 4 Cure takes a backseat or lacks the patented El-P cacophonics, in many ways this album is Producto’s most sleak and polished work behind the boards.  Combined with more frequent use of his more rhythmic rhyme patterns and less utilization of the offbeat, onbeat stylings used to accomodate the overly dense bars many of his fans grew up on. Perhaps this is the rebelliousness of youth finally growing up and settling down, perhaps it’s a reflection of growth and evolution of musical tastes over time, or perhaps it’s just the creation of a sleaker pill for the bad medicine El wants to ram down our throats.

Some diehard fans of El-P’s most dissonant work, may reject the overall listenability of this album, at least initially, because the dramatic highs and lows that typically litter his albums are a bit more muted here, but in reality this very trait may make this El’s most cohesive album yet.  While listeners likely latched to several individual joints on previous albums and skipped over those which were too removed from their own listening preferences, the musical continuity of this record is unparalled from an El-P album.  Make no mistake, this may not be another “paincoaster,” but this record still takes listeners on the unambiguous all-encompassing journey into another dimension, fully-equipped with its own highs and lows.

The album comes to it’s own early crescendo on “Oh Hail No,” and “Tougher Colder Killer,” which over seven minutes and twenty seconds create one of the most stylistically diverse and yet somehow harmonious sets of back to back collaborations in memory.  From Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s evolved Rugged Man smoothed out machine gun delivery to Danny Brown’s close to coherent ODB corollary scattershot to Killer Mike’s Dungeon Fam Ice Cube evolutionary, to the appearance of nerd rap Messianism’s posterchild Despot, there’s no artist on the planet that could’ve melded and pulled off back-to-back collaborations with such varied artists as effortlessly as El-P seemingly does here, mixing in his own frenetic verses along with some of the the album’s more cataclysmic production.

The energy from the back to back collaborations, is transferred nicely through the middle section of the album, as “True Story,” picks up the baton nicely from the guest spots, and fully transitions the album seemlessly back into El-P’s capable hands.  “The Jig Is Up,” has El carefully describing every reason he can’t trust a woman who would want to be with him and “wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have” him, illustrating his trademark vascillation between unhealthy distrust and neurotic paranoia, combined with an acute self-awareness of his own issues and baggage.  On “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)” El-P narrates his own condonation, even encouragement of a neighbor’s murder of her abusive cohabitant.

The album strikes its most depressive and mournful chords over the last few tracks, but maintains enough melodic and stylistic sophisticiation and controlled rage to captivate the listener right through the end.  “$4Vic/FTL (Me and You)” is a fitting elegy to one of the most truly inspiring and talented artists the hip hop community has lost over the past couple of decades.

Like Billy Woods’ History Will Absolve Me, earlier this year, and like El-P’s other work, there’s way too much music and meaning to unravel here over the course of eleven hundred words and a couple days of soaking in the album through repeated listens.  What is apparent, is that like all El-P albums, Cancer 4 Cure, is its own journey, unique from anything else in El-P’s catalog or anywhere else in rap, and just like all of his other work, that combined with his truly unparalleled production talent and unimiatable lyricism and delivery, leave his fans with another seminal hip hop album.

Unfortunately, you’ve probably already found the album flying across the internet, but please do yourself and El-P a favor and go cop the album here, you can also get Killer Mike & El-P’s R.A.P. Music here.  Also be sure to check out (and support) other albums we’ve reviewed in the Best of 1st and 2nd Quarter Series so far this year.

  1. […] person) as Ka’s Grief Pedigree, Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation, El-P’s Cancer4Cure, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, Big K.R.I.T.’s 4Eva N a Day, Nacho Picasso & […]

  2. This album is also great to workout with.

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