“I wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have me,” El-P offers on his stellar new album Cancer for Cure. Let’s consider this statement for a second. What clubs has been associated with during his storied career? El-P has always been a great team player. From his beats for masterpieces like Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein (which still ranks as my all-time favorite rap album) to Aesop Rock’s Labor Days from his days as head of Def Jux–he has provided a generation with a distinctive soundtrack. And, then you consider his groups, Company Flow and The Weathermen. Wikipedia even tells how important he is. And when does Wikipedia lie? Really? Not when it counts.
We are truly lucky that he allows us, the audience, to be a small part of this club. This album, his first solo effort since 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, represents a strong mission statement from one of hip hop’s most distinctive voices in both lyrical content and production. This new album feels like an extension of legacy (which he would probably never want to discuss or acknowledge). (Hyperbole alert ahead.) No one has done more to push hip-hop ahead.
The album kicks off with foreboding buzz of “Request Denied” and leads naturally into the album’s first single, “The Full Retard”. The uncomfortable song title, which is an allusion to Robert Downey Jr.’s black-face character in Tropic Thunder, features the repeating refrain of, “You should pump this shit, like they do in the future.” That could be taken as a mission statement for El’s complete catalog. His work always features well-placed samples that demonstrate his master mining capability and fondness of science fiction-inspired blasts.
And like past El-P and guest efforts, C4C features exemplary work a slew of unexpected sources. Paul Banks of Interpol, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Danny Brown, Killer Mike, Despot, and Nick Diamonds all guest star. eXquire and Brown are featured on standout “Oh Hail No” and the trio is a perfect team and marriage.
El has never sounded better. In interviews, he has stated this release could be his most life-affirming work yet, but that must be taken in perspective. You still have the questions of self-doubt and swirling bouts of mortality. But, what sets Cancer for Cure apart from his past efforts is the challenge El is setting out for the audience. He is offering his insight (and what some might call wisdom), and telling us to find a cure for our own cancer and also the blight of our fucked up society.
Aside: Danny Brown steals whatever he is associated with. His guest verse on Cancer for Cure stands as one of the true highlights of the entire release. Following in the footsteps of Killer Mike and El-P’s fantastic R.A.P Music, Brown and El need to hook up. Could you even imagine the awesomeness of Brown spitting over a beat like “Scream Phoenix”?