El-P Fantastic Damage

When Company Flow came out in 1997 on their debut album proclaiming their "independent as fuck" B-boy authenticity over raw beats influenced by the gritty New York streets, they released one of the most important indie releases in hip-hop. Funcrusher Plus was the flash that sparked the independent label explosion, but unfortunately it was also their last full album. Since then, neither Mr Len, Bigg Juss nor El-P have released anything significant that lives up to the debut's potential. But all that changed when the most talented of the three released his recent solo debut, Fantastic Damage. It's the next level of Company Flow, and what rightfully should have followed. The beats are a sonic onslaught not seen since the Bomb Squad brought the noise with Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It's heavy like metal, but there's no mistaking it as anything but hip-hop, in case you miss the numerous B-boyisms scattered throughout El-P's rapid-fire delivery or his very own hip-hop back story on "Squeegee Man Shooting." However, El also opens himself up with "T.O.J.," a love song of sorts, and "Stepfather Factory," which not only offers a peek into his private life but does so by using a great concept. And like the rest of the songs, El-P gets as dense with the lyrics as he does with the beats. In fact, nearly every song is an aural overload. And to top it all off, Aesop Rock joins El-P in a nostalgic ride back to the future on "Delorean," while Cage lets paranoia get the best of him alongside El-P and Camu Tao on "Accidents Don't Happen" to create a couple of great collaborations. Unfortunately, Camu Tao's story of future dystopia is simple, but thankfully short. Vast Aire is also disappointing with his corny sexual punch lines and boring chorus that are nearly laughable next to El-P's "B-boy alphanumerical vagina diner analogy," on "Dr Hellno and the Praying Mantus." These two complaints aside, Fantastic Damage is a damned fantastic album. Is it too early to start laying odds on best album of the year? (Definitive Jux)