Published Mar 23, 2007While most artists struggle their whole career to find their voice, Brooklyn, NY rapper-producer El-Producto has pushed the boundaries of hip-hop since co-founding Company Flow in 1992 with Bigg Jus and Mr Len. Even then, the sound of this seminal "independent as fuck trio was unique, and when Rawkus Records released Co-Flow's now-classic Funcrusher Plus debut in '97, it helped the label earn a reputation as a pro-underground indie, despite El-P's infamous lyrics five years later. ("Signed to Rawkus / I'd rather be mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious from Fantastic Damages "Deep Space 9mm.)
However, it was Co-Flow's second and final album, the instrumental Little Johnny From the Hospitul, that was pivotal to El-P's evolution as a musical artist. "When I started doing instrumental music, I had to figure out, Okay, how do I tell a story with no words? And that really did send me in a direction, El-P reveals. "Its at the point now where the music I do stands on its own as an instrumental record as well. Shortly after his 2002 solo debut, Fantastic Damage, El-P dabbled in instrumental work again: a soundtrack for the graffiti movie Bomb the System and a collection of mostly instrumentals for the limited edition compilation Collecting the Kid.
While working on those projects, as well as producing for the numerous artists on his successful Definitive Jux label and doing remix work for artists like Trent Reznor, El-P listened to "that gnawing voice in the back of [his] head and found time to record a new, more ambitious album. "I'm always trying to make a better album, he says. "For me, the difference between what's in my head and how I can translate it through my fingertips is getting closer. The more I get myself involved in music, the closer I am to expressing myself in the way I would hope to.
I'll Sleep When Youre Dead certainly captures the fear and paranoia that is El-P's "snapshot of life as it is, not life as I imagine it. However, the album is also musically ambitious, with El-P utilising a selection of unusual guests within his abrasive, Bomb Squad-inspired productions. Among the handful of Def Jux guests are members of both Mars Volta and Cat Power, as well as Trent Reznor, Glassjaws Daryl Palumbo and more. "I look at it like I'm sampling, El-P explains. "If I had what Trent did on a record that was from the 70s or early 80s, I would love to sample it, but it just so happens it's original material. I just weave it into what I'm doing. I'm making hip-hop records. I have a shitload of influences and interests that I involve in it, and I bring them into my world.
If you don't like it, too bad El-P is truly ambivalent. "I don't give a flying fuck if people want to hear it or not, he says. "I don't make music wondering if people want to hear it. That's called pop music. I make pieces of art that I care about, that are me, that are the closest translation of who I am on a record, and whether or not anyone wants to hear that doesn't matter to me. This is my truth, and this is the way I see things. This is my contribution and for whatever it's worth, you can either ignore it or you can connect to it, but I damn sure am not making a record with that in mind. And therein lies the secret to El-P's success.