“The Money Store” was released earlier this year in April, but there was no way I could pass by an opportunity to review it. First of all, Death Grips is a hip-hop project made up by a trio that consists of vocalist MC Ride (real name Stefan Burnett), drummer Zach Hill (of Hella and many more) and keyboard/sampler Andy Morin.
Their free debut mixtape “Exmilitary” was released in early 2011 and caused shockwaves within the alternative music scene, not only with the abrasive, noise-orientated and almost schizophrenic approach to hip-hop, but with bizarre and secretive music videos too. The mixtape explored a character falling into a downward spiral with drugs, sex, violence and emotional numbing… a character that almost seemed all too real with MC Ride’s loud and vicious delivery. The mixtape received high ratings and praise, and left a lot of fans wondering the same question: “How could Death Grips beat this?”
Well, somehow, Death Grips followed through with a strong contender. However this time round, there are a few noticeable changes in the band’s style. The album is less noisy, and actually seems to adopt a more ‘dance club’ accessible style – a style that they have kidnapped and manipulated to their own needs. The album doesn’t seem to feature a character like “Exmilitary” either, but running themes of living in an age where CCTV cameras are on every corner, the Internet as a powerful tool, and even getting into the world of crime because your job doesn’t support you enough, for example. In a sense, the album as a whole seems to be a narration by a cryptic entity that embodies the general attitude of a confused and strained generation.
The opening track Get Got introduces us with a sense of being lost, a song ideal for that sense of driving around an empty town at night, with no real aim other than to just drive. The lyrics, “losin’ myself/I get the stares/what I’m lookin at/wasn’t there”, along with the dark and dramatic instrumental almost reeks the lack of emotion or a reason to care. Then, as the next track kicks in, the mood changes into another direction. The Fever (Aye Aye) bursts into a flurry of Hills’s steely and harsh drum style and the dizzying electronics can almost be summed up with MC Ride’s “grab my crotch/what’s my name?/been round the block” – a track that behaves like this obnoxious person who’s boulders his way through people on the street who are too intimidated to confront him.
Third track Lost Boys features these low and growling synths with these effect laden drums, while Blackjack uses a similar remedy. Yet shorter and sharper track has Ride’s vocals put through different effects and occasional samples of a robotic woman saying “Blackjack”, making you feel like you’re on the receiving end of technological angst. Hustle Bones has an almost comedic repeated-sample chorus melody, reminiscent of something you’d expect from a late 80s dance track, which is used like a face for the sickening vertigo of the synths in the verse. I’ve Seen Footage, which is boasted in the chorus, almost has this celebratory instrumental while the lyrics seem to focus on watching video footage of deaths on the internet with an almost sickening interest with lyrics like “one off his shoulders in slow-mo/rewind that/is so cold”.
Halfway through the album, Double Helix seems a flashback to the style found on “Exmilitary”. Then perhaps one of the bigger tracks follows: System Blower, a track that opens with a plain, repetitive beat with Ride declaring “we came to blow your system” soon followed by a huge vibrating wall of sound that pummels your senses. The lyrics are gleeful, the bragging of a seemingly brutal and unknown online ‘hitman’ who is intent on destroying a so-called system and demanding respect for his work. The changing grooves throughout the song are relentless and it is almost demanding respect or acknowledgement itself.
The Cage is perhaps one of the more forgettable songs on the album, featuring a warped electronic sound and directionless feel. Punk Weight kicks in with an almost twisted electronic Indian-pop intro, and then kicks into a sample of Cut Throat from “Exmilitary”, which catches you by surprise and is used during the verses of the track (an almost humorous play on the band’s heavy use of sampling on the 2011 mixtape). Fuck That is also one of least-provocative tracks, despite the title. Although it does have an almost tribal drumbeat that seems juxtapose the electronics.
Bitch Please, the twelfth track, comes across as a diss-track, mocking in its lyrics as well as the sunny and carefree instrumental. MC Ride repeats “bitch please/you must be smokin’ rocks” in a drunken slur that flows, demeaning its victim – at one point he even snaps into a Rasta impression. The album finishes with Hacker, which begins with this recording taken on a street with a muted club beat in the background as Ride rambles, a drumbeat kicks in and Ride flows into a barrage of humorous lines like “post-chrisitan shit/post chicken or the egg addiction shit”. Hacker almost goes through different disco stages, a bizarre experience when you hear lyrics like “you’re an intern/at wikileaks/msot loved therefore most hated” and “teaching bitches how to swim”, along with references to Lady Gaga, Rolling Stone magazine and Sammy Davis, Jr.
As a whole, despite one or two sub-standard tracks (only in comparison with the rest of the album), “The Money Store” is a journey that has to be experienced. Although it is a hip-hop album in essence, the influences are far and wide, from industrial, disco, noise rock, electronica, etc. Death Grips pushes boundaries again and challenges the listener, forcing you to listen and making it hard to ignore their impact and existence. If you like your hip-hop with an unusual approach, like Dälek or B L A C K I E, then The Money Store is a must have.
Favourite tracks: System Blower, Hacker, Bitch Please.