After four year wait “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” offers layered beats for El-P fans
If you’re a fan of Akon and 50 Cent, then turn back now. You may not be ready for one of the best hip-hop albums of 2007.
Brooklyn-based rapper and producer El-P, also known as El Producto, returns with his second full-length solo album, “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.” After four years since his first solo full-length album, “Fantastic Damage,” El-P weaves songs full of dystopian and political views, offering a breath of fresh air with his beat poet-like lyrics.
Just as Public Enemy founder Chuck D redefined hip-hop in the ’80s as being music with an actual message, El-P mirrors his style with issues of today. He writes smart and brutal lyrics that are inspired by his native city of New York.
“I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” is out on Definitive Jux, an independent hip-hop label started by El-P in 1999. Definitive Jux houses many well-known hip-hop artists, known as “Jukies.” Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Cage, Cannibal Ox, Murs and Rjd2 make up a part of the Definitive Jux roster.
There’s a good chance you won’t see El-P on TRL’s Top 10, but El-P’s music rises above the typical hip-hop of now. His lyrics come from within and explore the state of the world – both the good and the bad – something rare with today’s mainstream hip-hop.
In Akon’s newest hit single, “Smack That,” the chorus of the song says: “Smack that, give me some more/ smack that, till you get sore,” and as catchy as the song is, the lyrics are as deep as a child’s wading pool. Compare Akon’s song to El-P’s lyrics in “Drive”: “C’mon, ma, can I borrow the keys? My generation is carpooling with doom and disease.”
One similarity between “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” and mainstream hip-hop albums is the use of guest artists, but you won’t see Justin Timberlake or Nelly’s name next to the song titles on El-P’s album. The artists chosen for the album are of a different sort, some of which aren’t even hip-hop artists.
The first song on “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead,” “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” ends with the falsetto voice of the Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, while his bandmate Omar Rodriguez-Lopez wails on the guitar.
Also featured on the album are Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, James McNew of Yo La Tengo and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio.
The album ends with the song, “Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise (This Must Be Our Time),” where Chan Marshall, otherwise known as Cat Power, lends her voice.
El-P pushes the boundaries with his unique production techniques, adding layers upon layers of lyrics, vocals, instruments, beats and sound effects. His stream-of-consciousness writing technique can be seen in every song. “No Kings” exemplifies this with lyrics like: “Deadly young people/Deadly new day/Young deadly dumb kick snare pattern play.”
Although the album is full of catchy songs that will one way or another wedge themselves inside your head for the next few weeks, one of the best songs on the album is “The Overly Dramatic Truth.” The song is slightly more simple than the others, although it still incorporates a collage of sound layers. The buildup in the beginning of the song is what makes it so enjoyable. It starts by giving the song a ramp to jump off of and then allows the rest of the song to flow with poignant lyrics and head-nodding beats.
“I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” is the type of album you might not fall in love with immediately. But just like any good relationship, it takes time. With a few listens, and by paying close attention to the intense and intelligent lyrics, you may never want to stop listening. If you’re used to the mainstream hip-hop of MTV, “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” is the perfect album to acquaint you with the world of independent hip-hop.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Jenny Bergen at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.