The Third Day of Crossmas
In this seasonal series, the good people of Crossfader detail what they want pop culture to get them for Crossmas this year. This time around it’s…
No New Death Grips
Look, I love Death Grips. A lot. Of all the bands who have emerged over the last few years, they’re probably my favorite. Truly original, genuinely shocking, filthy yet occasionally poignant; no other group has pushed themselves to capture the putrid underbelly of the internet era quite as well as Zach Hill, Flatlander, and MC Ride. For any fans of hip hop, punk, or experimental, Death Grips have filled a particular hole hardly any other group can strive to in this day and age. Anyone who’s been fortunate to see them perform live is aware of what an incredible out-of-body experience it is to be seized by their raw power in person. That being said, we, the music douche bags who adore them so adamantly, really don’t need another release from them ever again.
I said it, Stefan; deal with it
I say this even as someone who enjoyed the POWERS THAT B, a fantastic double LP when consumed in one sitting. It’s true: MC Ride’s lyrics are often lazy, if not downright trivial, but I would argue that “Up My Sleeves,” “Fuck Me Out,” “Centuries of Damn,” and “On GP” are some of the best tracks in the group’s whole catalog. There’s a painful sense on this record that MC Ride (in particular) is just playing a character, hardly any genuine emotion coming across in the music for the majority of the 18 tracks. That’s always been the challenge with Death Grips, however, figuring out how much of their music is performance and how much is genuinely venturing into dark places. A big part of why POWERS THAT B feels like it has to be a career closer is that it feels like the joke has been entirely played out, even if we still don’t quite understand the punchline.
“…the Jewish version of NO LOVE gets cut off real early!!! You get it???”
The real thing that made Death Grips so fresh and exciting was how diverse their first three records were. EXMILITARY is still an exceptional mixtape, but it only proved to be a springboard for juggernauts THE MONEY STORE and NO LOVE DEEP WEB. The brutal and cerebral raps of EXMILITARY gave way to the sickeningly slick production of THE MONEY STORE, which almost immediately gave way to the bottomless pit MC Ride dragged us into with NO LOVE DEEP WEB. Each album felt like Zach Hill and Co. were taking us further and further into a morbid, obscene, and grossly decadent world of their own creation, a putrid reflection of the manic frenzy of minds lost in internet subcultures. In 2012, they felt like the last group with integrity against commercialization, and maybe even more importantly, the last group that was truly dangerous (they performed with an actual guillotine and projected a fan’s suicide notes on stage, for Christ’s sake).
As the years have gone by, however, their antics as a group seem to have gone from those of uncaged beasts to prima donnas, and have largely become what people care about over the music. The squiggly production of GOVERNMENT PLATES still feels forced and trite in the aftermath of NO LOVE DEEP WEB, and NIGGAS ON THE MOON features some of MC Ride’s worst and most jumbled lyrics. The group cancelled tours and declared that they were done as an act, only to subsequently announce that they were releasing a new record. Pitchfork wasn’t wrong to get fed up and go ahead and just pen a eulogy to Death Grips a year ago. Now, in 2015, they feel like a repeat of the Sex Pistols, played out insufferably longer.
Albeit with more memes
JENNY DEATH, the second half of POWERS THAT B, was highly anticipated this year, but I think most of us knew to keep our expectations in check until we received it. While there are a lot of missteps on that LP, “On GP” feels like a great distillation of everything the group has tried to do for the last four years. It’s sweeping and epic, brooding and elusive, dark and truly self-destructive. Paranoia, self-loathing, and dangerous introspection are the focus of the track, which is arguabl what their entire career has been about. The last verse of “On GP” hits as hard as anything Death Grips has ever put out: “Don’t you worry, impossible for anything to be a big deal / I’m in no weary, my vital post dated but clearly been ages since life had appeal / Far more than fascination my second nature chant kill cause I can / This body by my own hands / My friends and family won’t understand / So I stay in the end, don’t make none to me / If wasn’t for them, I’d make that decision on GP / Had to do it all again, I’d make that decision on GP.” That’s the first and only time the MC Ride character has confessed suicidal thoughts and then knocked them down, admitting that he has a reason to stay alive, even referring to himself as Stefan and seemingly shedding the character for good. It could be argued that even Stefan Burnett is fed up with being MC Ride.
Just put your shirt on, already
Part of what has made Death Grips so appealing to me, on a personal level, is how relentlessly and thoroughly they address suicidal thoughts. It’s a brutal and necessary honesty few artists can ever fully face like Death Grips has. As somebody who’s struggled with those thoughts, Death Grips has long been a cathartic outlet for facing them head-on rather than cowering away from them, while simultaneously feeling less alone in dealing with them. Owning up to what it’s like to live with suicidal ideation is a huge part of what makes this group so important, and with “On GP,” they seem to have come full circle in dealing with those thoughts. There’s a reason why the last track on JENNY DEATH, “Death Grips 2.0,” is entirely instrumental; there’s really nothing left for them to say at this point. They’ve covered a lot of ground, lost their sound and then found it again, gone over the brink and then returned. There’s nowhere else for a group like Death Grips to go. They’ve accomplished anything we can expect them to do; the only thing left is for them to become a parody of themselves. As they become more widely-known, their raw power can only become more and more diluted. That’s not a surface level “before they were cool” argument, that’s an argument about their purpose as a group. They’ve existed to present an unpopular and dark message, but with too wide of an audience, that message will always be diluted and lose it’s focus. If they never put out new music as Death Grips, they’ll leave on a high note, having done everything they possibly could. With a group as unpredictable as them, however, only time will tell.