Review Summary: Sign to Rawkus? I’d rather be mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked founding fathers of 21st century progressive hip-hop, Jaime Meline’s Fantastic Damage
is the follow-up to the revered Company Flow classic, Funcrusher Plus
. Most notably, the 2002 release acts as a bridge between his hard working, NYC underground roots and his evolution into a successful producer and entrepreneur/owner/CEO of label Definitive Jux. While the chemistry of CoFlow is missed (while label Rawkus is not), El-P’s solo debut is at least as important - a 70-minute exploration in socio-political paranoia.
Critical and fearful of pre-defined notions of reality and Orwellian trappings, respectively, FanDam
renders itself an intellectual and spiritual sibling to a Philip K. Dick novel. While reminiscent of these drug-induced, dystopian perspectives, Meline brings his own critique of modern pop-culture and urban experiences to the fore. The corruption of children through television, Vietnam era Da Nang, a drunkard stepfather, and nearly the entirety of the album pervades these sci-fi-come-streets definitive juxtapositions.
A surface value extrusion of aggressive spoken word, El-P’s decidedly unique style is off-putting to some; but this disjointed effort is the essence of ever-present paranoia throughout. Technically skilled, with a penchant for seemingly verbose syntax, he lays down every track hard through heavy use of poetic devices – “ Figure they ate the kids, homey - so fuck em save the adults // Kids are patriotic, robotic, operate catapults / and goose-step over innocence / vagrant of reaganomics phasing / read the books that will burn at the barn raising.
” Although abstract, Meline is a genuine poet; fans of Aesop Rock should adore this style (coincidentally, Aesop also delivers an impressive verse on “Delorean”, as do more Jukie label-mates on other respective tracks).
Regardless of content, style, ability, or poetic skill, the true focal point here lies heavily within the distorted, electronic-soaked beats. Known for sampling anything between industrial, funk, and random percussive sounds, El-P proves his worth with a masterclass in hip-hop composition; every chorus is perfectly placed, and every shred of noise acts to enhance the chilling damage fantastically done. DJ Abilities, now a household name in underground turntablism, deftly mans the decks and magnifies the desolate air about any track he performs on. If the high-level metaphysical musings aren’t convincing enough, the supporting cast (whirring bleeps and synths, syncopated kick and snare, funk-driven bass-lines abounds) drives home the point; The Product is here to innovate the genre.
Coupled with Dan “The Automator” Nakamura’s involvement with Deltron 3030
, El-P’s solo debut holds its own. Setting the precedent for 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
, Fantastic Damage
is a dark and dense epic of much alternative hip-hop merit, an absolute necessity for any collection.