Album Review : Death Grips - The Money Store (2012)
I don't have favorite things anymore: not a favorite movie, video game, not even a best friend *. Maturity and self-consciousness have rendered me unable to enjoy things the way I once did and my life has turned into a never ending fool's errand to feel like a thirteen years old discovering subversive art again. Sometimes it works. Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips sure knocked me on my ass with their innovative (and threatening) blend of hip-hop, hard rock and industrial music. They have turned the internet upside down with their debut mixtape Exmilitary and created a new and exciting paradigm for audiences that were choking to death on their own cynicism. Perhaps the greatest thing about Death Grips is that they're not exactly being nice about it. Today I want to tell you about my favorite Death Grips album The Money Store and all its nasty intentions.
The Money Store is the first (and only, really) album Death Grips released during their short-lived and ill-fated association with Epic Records. It is also widely considered to be their best album and I believe these two facts are closely related. While Exmilitary was meant to be intriguing, foreshadowing promises of overthrowing the music industry, The Money Store was clearly meant to get listeners addicted in the most hostile way possible. The songs are abrasive, in your face, but much more conventionally structured than those featured on Exmilitary. They have consistent (and catchy) riffs, they're short, punchy and surprisingly complex and layered considering the material's pure, unadulterated aggression. I must've listened to The Money Store over a hundred times and every time I become more and more convinced this was their taking-over-the-world material all along.
I wouldn't say Death Grips reinvents hip-hop on The Money Store because I don't believe it ever was their intention. They sure as hell are rethinking it, though. Infectious singles such as I've Seen Footage or The Fever (Aye Aye) are traditionally structured hip-hop tracks that weave industrial and electronica sounds into the production to destabilize the listener. The result is both pleasant, hostile and slightly painful on the eardrum (but in the best possible way, really). Lost Boys is another great track that uses the same destabilizing process to create a much more standoffish and threatening atmosphere. It's a very bare song (vocals and drums, mostly), but the thing electronic layer on top transforms it into something radically different, more akin to industrial music. Same for System Blower, where Ride raps over a beat that seems made out of glitchy machines. It's like Death Grips is trying to test the sturdiness of hip-hop on The Money Store. See what they can rap to. Whatever sticks.
Death Grips' rethinking of hip-hop is also lyrical. The genre has been hounded by critics for glorifying violence since forever and Death Grips addresses this cultural deadlock by blowing the violence out of proportion and turning the theme into a complete fucking nightmare on The Money Store. Violence is not supposed to be fun, guys. You're not supposed to desire to live in a world where you have to fight both for your life and for your next meal. Death Grips are more than eager to play boogeyman and remind you on tracks like Lost Boys, Hustle Bones and Bitch Please that a world plagued by dope, guns and haunted human beings is a dangerous place to be. Death Grips is saying something new to audiences in the internet age. Something that neither metal, punk or hip-hop quite delivers and it is making people nervous. They do not advocate the bare and violent lifestyle they depict in their songs (they are too cryptic for that), but they openly reject the industry they're being unwittingly a part of and everything it entails. Fuck celebrity. Fuck fans. Fuck everything except the music. There's an undeniable purity to Death Grips' artistic ambitions.
I couldn't leave you without taking a paragraph to discuss the absolute greatness of closing song Hacker. This track would undoubtedly go on a greatest hits record of the best song I've ever heard. It's very unlike Death Grips because it is danceable, but I would say it is the greatest thing they've ever written. It's the perfect song to burn down your house to and dance the night away. I'm talking Michael Jackson-levels of infectious grooves here (l've made the track available above). The lyrics are difficult to make sense of but I believe they're about a man having a transcendent experience while hosting an open house party. He keeps alternating between real world concerns of getting robbed (When you come out your shit is gone) and high flying delirium (Soon your crew will be servin' sandwiches named after me/Vietnamese style fool, please) I have no idea why they recorded that song. It goes against the more cerebral nature of this music, but I have an idea: I think they just wanted to show the music industry they were better than them at their own game. That they could make people dance whenever they wanted, hence the cryptic but much celebrated line MC Ride keeps repeating in the sing: Teachin' bitches how to swim. That's exactly what he's doing.
The Money Store is something entirely new that just dropped on a bored and cynical music industry in 2012. There is no love lost between the music business, MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin, though. I don't believe they're trying to take over the industry as much as they're trying to murder the dinosaur and create a new paradigm where different ideas can coexist and artistic integrity is the only currency that matters. That is why Death Grips will always be popular, but they will never be "liked". There always will be people who admire their spirit of rebellion and their iconoclast leanings, but I will always doubt the number of people who genuinely love their music for what it is. It's part of the game when you're an innovator. I suspect Death Grips will either overthrow the industry or flame out like a burning phoenix but in any case, unforgettable albums like The Money Store will outlive them and accomplish their bidding. The future is here.
* Joking. I have no friends.