So, last Thursday, did you happen to observe the pigs flying outside? Or the dogs intermingling with the cats? A series of reportedly impossible activities occurred during the previous week due to an internet leak of California experimental hip hop trio Death Grips’ record Jenny Death, the second half of the group’s double album The Powers That B. To say TPTB was long-awaited is a gross understatement: since June 8, 2014, Death Grips released the double album’s first half, N****s on the Moon, the band broke up, they cancelled tour dates, they teased, they promised, they released singles, they dropped cryptic hints, and throughout, Death Grips kept their listeners guessing at every step of the way. Communities on Reddit and 4chan sprang into action after the release of NotM, providing a forum for ravenous fans of the industrial rap group to postulate theories and crowdsource information. For those involved in monitoring the album’s status, JD is arguably the most anticipated album of the 2010s so far; for months leading up to March 19th’s drop date, the pithy yet impassioned plea “Jenny Death when” trended on social media. For some, JD’s release was a hopeless pipedream, as casual and diehard fans alike began losing faith in Death Grips’ promise of the fabled record. Finally, as swine soar in the clouds and cats play chess with canines, the answer is “Jenny Death now”.
The personnel of Death Grips is consistently stripped-down and simple: Andy Morin, who produces under the pseudonym Flatlander, creates the beats, noise rock veteran and Hella drummer Zach Hill provides the percussion, and Stefan Burnett, known professionally as MC Ride, supplies the vocals. While the group consists of only three members and limited musical instrumentation, Death Grips manages to erect some of the most intense soundscapes in the history of hip hop. MC Ride’s lyrics aren’t rapped so much as they’re shouted at the top of his vocal register, establishing an often gruff and perpetually manic persona; as Ride assaults the microphone, Hill viciously pounds out complex drum beats (often to the point of bleeding), and Flatlander manipulates electronic sounds to the tune of a cyber-apocalypse. The content of MC Ride’s verses contains references to violence, sex, mental instability, and annihilation. Essentially, the philosophy of Death Grips is equal parts abrasive, destructive, nihilistic, and sadistic. Death Grips has six albums in their discography, and while some deviations in style appear periodically, the core elements of the band’s creative approach to experimental hip hop remain true.
Jenny Death is an album of extremes. Whereas JD’s sister album NotM employed a somewhat subdued sound by Death Grips’ standards, this new release is nonstop aural aggression. JD begins with the unrelenting track “I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States”, featuring some frenetic scaling beats and punk-influenced drums. Unlike the upcoming JD songs, MC Ride has relatively little to say, repeating the song title and the phrase, “I don’t care about real life” frequently. A groovy bass-heavy synthesizer supports Ride’s vocals during the verses, adding some real urgency to the madman’s mysterious screed. “I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States” has a futuristic quality that resurfaces on the fourth song, “Why A B**** Gotta Lie”, where MC Ride’s words are electronically distorted during the verses. The song takes industrial hip hop at its most literal meaning, as Ride transforms into a manifesto-spitting and catchy-hook machine.
An incredible aspect of Death Grips’ compositions is their propensity for innovation; the songs on Jenny Death are truly dynamic. Each song has multiple parts with their own unique instrumental and lyrical themes. If someone listens to a song on JD, he or she may not particularly enjoy one part of the track, but the patient listener is duly rewarded. The song “PSS PSS” features some treble-dominant beats and shouted vocals up front, but then evolves into Ride suavely crooning of layers of deviously smooth trap-inspired bass-lines. “PSS PSS” keeps the listener glued to the speakers and is one of the only Death Grips songs suitable for the club (except the hilarious MLG-siren at 2:00 in). Other songs like the shoegaze-inspired “On GP” and guitar-led “Beyond Alive” serve as examples of multi-faceted JD offerings, but no song is as noisy and unpredictable as the second track, “Inanimate Sensation”. Immediately, a cacophonous chorus of screeching vocals takes over, gradually rising to a dizzyingly level of intensity overtop Hill’s marching drum beat. MC Ride goes through three unique vocal delivery phases during the song. At first, he’s yelling as normal, but the next verse is largely whispered over Flatlander’s deafening production. Then, the third verse drops the pitch on Ride’s ranting, and showcases a fast-paced, pulse-pounding sequence of anger and viscera. The throbbing electronica, banging chorus (“Blown out/Bass”), and merciless drumming make “Inanimate Sensation” one of the most essential hip hop tracks of the 2000s.
Hype. It has the ability to tarnish the end result of any creative product. The music of Jenny Death wasn’t the only heavily-anticipated product from Death Grips; every rhetorical move, every theory, and every hint leading up to the drop date was surrounded with suffocating hype. Many wondered if it would choke the final album and reduce the overall quality of JD. Thankfully, Death Grips has assured their fans with an absolutely amazing record that lives up to and defies the hype. Since Death Grips has recently announced a world tour, JD will apparently not be their final swan song. Thank goodness, the music world needs more insanity for the future.