Music Reviews
Cancer 4 Cure

El-P Cancer 4 Cure

(Fat Possum) Rating - 8/10

Cancer 4 Cure’s first song,  Request Denied,opens with a slow, spacey crescendo, where El-P’s futuristic beat leads into a William S. Burroughs excerpt that ends “storm the studio” before exploding. In that minute or so, whether you are ready for it or not, the entire album has been set up. The futuristic beat extends to the dystopian lyrics that permeate the album, the sample reminds that El-P as one of the most literate rappers of his time, and “storm the studio” is the first step in reinventing all the hip-hop that El-P is clearly tired of hearing.

While it is occasionally hard to tell whether El-P is more concerned with his apocalyptic concept or rapping about his own greatness, the best moments of Cancer 4 Cure achieve both. The hook of The Full Retard asserts that “you should pump this shit, like they do in the future,” suggesting clearly that his album is ahead of its time and will likely be recognized as such several years down the line, it also suggests that while we aren’t a dystopia yet, we can see it coming. The rest of the lyrics are just as effective; when El-P tells us they “prolly got me on a radar with a dot,” he’s referring both to his skill and an increasing state of surveillance. By the time we get through Drones Over Bklyn, Big Brother doesn’t seem so far away. The paranoia never leaves, whether El-P is dismissing opportunities as lies or confronting torture in True Story and Sign Here respectively.

However, it’s quite telling that the most slickly produced and most intense songs are the ones that satirize or call out commercial hip-hop. Oh Hail No begins with El-P calling out other MCs as being melodramatic and boring whenever they try to be emotional, and he brings in a couple of guests—Mr. Motherfucking Exquire and Danny Brown—to do a verse each on their own greatness. Tougher Colder Killer, delivered with the kind of rapid-fire and intensity that is unmatched by anything you will hear from anyone besides Death Grips, begins with a gangster rap boast: “To the mother of my enemy I just killed your son…made him dig his own grave at the point of a gun.” It is revealed, however, that this is a letter from an army vet, traumatized by his action and haunted by his victim’s words that his own country is a colder killer than he is. El-P’s verses here are among the best on his album, and while Killer Mike and Despot certainly hold their own in the guest spots, the blatant “Watch The Throne” reference ruins the subtlety that makes so many of Cancer 4 Cure’s other tracks—and El-P’s own verse on this one—so effective.

Regardless, it’s hard to criticize such a carefully constructed, compellingly produced song, which is Cancer 4 Cure’s greatest strength. You never doubt that the boasts are true, astounded by El-P’s production and sampling, tied up in his lyrics. There is not a track among the twelve that falters lyrically or musically. Still, El-P walks a fine line between a futuristic dystopia that begins to sound more and more like our present world and the attack on commercialized hip-hop, and he occasionally slides a bit too far to one side.

Everything comes together on the last few tracks, fortunately, as El-P sends out a dedication to Camu Tao (a member of El-P’s old group Weathermen; he passed away in 2008) but also to “the monarchs” on the closer $4 Vic/FTL (Me And You). That aside, the effortless flow from one track into the other highlights El-P’s album-oriented tendency, and the emotion conveyed as he tells his upstairs neighbor to kill her abusive husband/boyfriend is far from the melodrama that he called out earlier on the album. While the resolution is the realization that an unnamed someone is his ticket out of his self-constructed prison, the fact that  the same realization is present in escapist and paranoid albums from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor does not make it any less moving. For all the missteps along the way, El-P arrives somewhere quite poignant, and although he may not have paved his own way there, his route is quite impressive, and there is no wasted beat and no unseen seriousness and intensity. He may not have reinvented anything, but he certainly has revitalized it.