Album Review : Death Grips - No Love Deep Web (2012)
* I apologize for using the alternate cover of this album, but two factors motivated this choice: 1) the original is difficult to find in a large enough format and 2) I didn't feel like scrolling through my own website for weeks and looking at THIS. So yeah, you could call this an aesthetic choice. *
No Love Deep Web is, unofficially, the third album of Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips. It has a special place in their fans' hearts because it proclaimed their rejection of the music industry, which they effortlessly conquered with the terrific The Money Store a couple months prior. Ride, Zach and Andy notoriously leaked the album weeks before its intended release date, slapped a giant, circumcised penis on the cover and dared people to love it. And guess what? People went batshit over No Love Deep Web and the record, while offering little of what made The Money Store great, is considered to be another timeless classic. How is that even possible? Let's get into it...
While the two prior release by Death Grips Exmilitary and The Money Store showed consistence and evolution, No Love Deep Web is somewhat of a 180 degrees turn. I don't know what was drummer Zach Hill's exact contribution on this album because you don't hear him on every song. Several tracks feature electronic drumming or sometimes no drum at all. No Love Deep Web is a stripped-down, disembodied one-way trip into MC Ride's degenerate mind. It's unlike anything they ever produced before and have produced since, really and that's what's so goddamn endearing about it. It feels like Ride escapes from whatever institution he's kept in and recorded a Death Grips at night without Zach or Andy knowing about it. The band prides itself in being unpredictable and dangerous and No Love Deep Web lives up to this ambition perhaps better than any other record in their discography.
The emblematic song of No Love Deep Web is, I believe, the ultraviolent, semi-eponymous No Love. Zach can be heard on that one. He has a very simple, echoing drum track playing alongside a haunting keyboard loop that sounds like a broken alarm system. But the lyrics, guys. THE LYRICS. Ride has rarely been more graphic, depicting a semi-consenting torture session between him and what seems to be us, listeners. He warns us in the chorus that listening to Death Grips is surrendering control to a hostile party and should be done at your own peril: Let my blood flow, make my blood flow through you mane/You got no business questioning a thang. The band is known for their violent, troublesome relationship to their audience and No Love is, once again, turning hip-hop's traditional obsession with violence and macho posturing against itself. Ride shows you what kind of life you live among wolves.
Ride's lyrics are what No Love Deep Web is all about. The depiction of the decaying abandoned building in the opener Come Up and Get Me symbolize the isolation and alienation of a man who turned his back on society, but it also is his fortress. I think the building itself might be a representation of Death Grips, an ephemeral refuge, standing defiant against the constantly changing norms. The surreal imagery of Lil' Boy also worked a number on me despite the weird chorus and the connection Ride makes between violence and mental illness in Lock your Doors is also arresting. His madman persona never felt more real than on this album. Sometimes Ride's lyrics don't work as well. World of Dogs stands out as a weaker track on the record where he keeps repeating It's all suicide over and over again. I thought it was a weird idea to fetishize, but then again: it shows Zach Hill and Andy Morin left Ride all the conceptual latitude he wanted. No Love Deep Web is, first and foremost, an uncompromising vision.
Although this album is musically stripped down, there are a handful of nice surprises. The two closing tracks Bass Rattle Stars Out the Sky and Artificial Death in the West venture into an almost completely electronic sound, which they interestingly never quite followed through on. The conflicting nature of organic music (mostly guitar, drums and vocals) and Andy's keyboard-driven sound is obviously important to their creative process. These last two tracks on No Love Deep Web definitely have a softer, more aerial side to them which contributes to the record's disorienting feeling. It doesn't work as well on every songs, though. Whammy and Pop stand out along with World of Dogs as redundant on No Love Deep Web. They're musically gimmicky and forgettable when measured against the immense material on this album.
It's tough to compare No Love Deep Web to other Death Grips records because of how different it is. It's stripped-down, minimalist and lyrically darker than whatever they have done before. It sounds nothing like The Money Store or their following release The Powers that B (which sounds like nothing else in their discography either, to be honest). No Love Deep Web is very much Ride's album, where his dispossessed madman character is put on the forefront. That is why I really like this album: it portrays Death Grips as the plague-bearers of a sanitized society. It mixes elements that aren't supposed to go together and attacks whatever is sexy and profitable in hip-hop and music in general. A band like Death Grips and an album like No Love Deep Web couldn't have possibly existed before the internet. They're an autoimmune reaction to a world where integrity is auctioned to the highest bidder. They're not going to last forever, so let's appreciate their defiant brand of hip-hop while we have them, shall we?