Never let it be said that major labels don’t take chances anymore. Thanks to what must be the gutsiest A&R rep in the business, ear-brutalizing Sacramento noise-rappers Death Grips are now proud members of the Epic Records family. Though Death Grips’ anarchistic rage makes them unlikely labelmates with easier sells like The Fray and Karmin, it’s not difficult to see the logic behind their signing: The trio’s Molotov cocktail of digital hardcore, death disco, and electro-clash is simply too big to ignore. This is the kind of music that starts movements, and by the time Death Grips release the second of two planned full-lengths on Epic later this year, they’ll probably already have influenced a small wave of similarly uncompromising sledgehammer-rap startups.
The architects of Death Grips’ controlled noise are producers Andy Morin and Zach Hill, the Hella drummer who expands on the sonic shock of his 2010 solo album Face Tat. Like that record, The Money Store is simultaneously fun and torturous, just melodic enough to keep listeners on board even as its extremes border on cruel. In this maelstrom, rapper MC Ride’s voice is just another instrument of abrasion as he hollers in a voice so tattered and blown-out it must physically pain him. Few rappers show this little range. At his kindest, Ride sounds like RZA witnessing his car being towed; at his fiercest, like RZA barking orders at a bank teller as he takes hostages.
Ride raps about snapping neck bones and being “born with a ski mask on my face,” ostensibly as commentary on cultural desensitization to violence, a theme he tackles most vividly on the online-snuff admonition “I’ve Seen Footage.” “Armored cop open fire,” he roars over an acid-damaged appropriation of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” “Glock on some kid who stepped / so fast was hard to grasp what even happened / ’til you seen that head blow off his shoulders in slow-mo / rewind that / is so cold / rewind that / is so cold.”
Like anger-rap forefathers Rage Against The Machine and Atari Teenage Riot, Death Grips sometimes seem torn between whether to soundtrack a revolution or just a killer party, and when they lean too heavily toward the later on “System Blower” and “Bitch Please,” the results play like a parade of aggro rap-rock clichés. It’s a testament to how potent The Money Store is, though, that even its bleakest sentiments and harshest sounds invigorate.