Review Summary: Death Grips' debut mixtape is brutal on the ears and manages to forcefully push the envelope of hip-hop.
In the past year I've made an honest effort to introduce a few of my friends to Death Grips, and the response is typically along the lines of "Turn this off! What is this?". Despite my significant interest in this group, I've come to that common, million-dollar conclusion that Death Grips is not for everybody. The question then becomes: Well, who are they for? In essence, nobody. Death Grips, an experimental hip-hop outfit from Sacramento, answer to no one and could not care less about appealing to the average listener. Their debut mixtape Exmilitary
contains an aggressive, harsh, and uncompromising set of songs that come together in one horrendous package.
does consist of a hue of what we know as hip-hop, but it takes the genre into a dark alley, beats it senseless, and leaves it mangled in a rusted dumpster. Death Grips do carry a lot of shock value in their music: glitchy, spastic production, disturbing lyrical content, and, of course MC Ride's malignant vocals. His interminable yelling proves both intimidating and disconcerting as the psychotic tendencies of the album come full circle. As soon as the first track, "Beware" commences, it's obvious that MC Ride is stepping into the shoes of a deranged and even demonic figure. The track sets a sinister tone for the album with an infamous Charles Manson quote that erupts into a ferocious beat, which piggybacks off of a highly distorted guitar. MC Ride sings (and screams) how he is the beast that he worships and spits strange lines like, "I am below, so far below the bottom line. Transmitting live, transmissions rise." His character goes way beyond the criminal mentality and instead becomes an incarnation of evil.
To top off Ride's savage presentation, the album's production is overwhelming and abrasive. Some of the songs even derive eclectic samples from a wide range of artists like Jane's Addiction, Pink Floyd, Beastie Boys, and Link Wray. Hearing such a diversity of sources sampled on this mixtape is enough in and of itself to signify that Death Grips are on their own path, no matter how unsettling and extreme it may be. Many tracks have tempos that are accelerated to the max like "Lord of the Game" or "Blood Creepin", but ultimately the vocals and the beats of many of the songs wind up on different frequencies, habitually deviating from and viciously wrangling with one another. Nevertheless, both the noisy beats and the frantic vocals are always right in your face, incessantly bellowing into your ears until they bleed.
Hostility is one of Exmilitary
's constants, and songs like "Known for It", "Spread Eagle Cross the Block", "Guillotine", and "Klink" draw attention to the demented psychology that the mixtape explores. The consistently gruesome sound of the album reflects the thematic elements of sadism, malevolence, and man's "nasty, brutish, and short" life in the state of nature. Through and through, Exmilitary
is anarchy. It's the product of a world tarnished by hatred and the most primal desires of human beings. In this light, it has some very interesting things to say for those who are patient enough to sit through its abusive entirety. MC Ride evens lowers his volume a bit for the song "Culture Shock" where some of his most thought-provoking lyrics arise atop a grim industrial beat. Lyrics like "You speak in abbreviations because real-life conversation moves too slow. You're the media's creation. Yeah your free will has been taken and you don't know." give Ride the opportunity to transcend the murderous mentality of his alter ego to critique the society he believes is still fast asleep.
Other moments of note include the sadistic beat on "Takyon (Death Yon)" which quickly becomes hypnotic while Ride's shrieks are at their most unforgiving. Moreover, traditionalists will faithfully argue that Death Grips is not hip-hop, and to an extent they're correct. However, if you spend your time pondering the semantics of hip-hop, you probably will not be interested in what the group is doing with their music. Death Grips coil the genre in so many ways and augment their creations with different styles like electronica, noise rock, and hardcore to the point that the genres completely lose their individuality. Nonetheless, Death Grips' left-field version of music is forcefully challenging and designed to batter the listener with feelings of claustrophobia and terror. On these grounds, they succeed in almost every way imaginable.
is a great mixtape from a highly unconventional group of musicians who strive push the envelope of music in general. They do not care if they alienate listeners, an inevitable result for some, and they are admirably consistent in their pursuit of an original sound within the highly variable ground of alternative hip-hop. It's best to go into this mixtape expecting a beatdown because, whether or not you like it, you're going to get one.
Takyon (Death Yon)
Lord of the Game
Spread Eagle Cross the Block