If there’s one thing I’ve come to really respect and appreciate
about Brooklyn hip-hop visionary Jaime
“El-Producto” Meline in the 15-plus years I’ve been listening to him
beyond, of course, his uncanny skills on the mic and futuristic touch behind the
mixing board is his staunch ability to walk away without an ounce of regret.
It assisted him in the decision of pulling his group, ‘90s indie
rap icons Company Flow, out of a toxic, towering inferno of Rawkus Records as
the walls began to crumble from the retardedly bad business decisions of
founders Brian Brater and Jarret Myer, starting with jumping into bed with News
Corp. prodigal son James Murdoch.
It helped him to amicably close the book on the trio he founded in
1992 with DJ Mr. Len (and Bigg Jus, who joined the group a year later in ’93)
just as anticipation for the follow-up to their 1997 college/street masterpiece
Funcrusher Plus was reaching a fever pitch in order to focus on the
launch of his own influential imprint, Definitive Jux, where did everything
from answering phones to paying bills to signing acts.
With the help of NYC underground impresario Amaechi Uzoigwe, the label would carry the weight of El’s
maverick sensibilities well into the first decade of the 21st century,
releasing classic LPs from a posse of urban outlaws including Cannibal Ox, Mr.
Lif, Aesop Rock, Cage and RJD2 among others, not to mention his own solo
output, punctuated by the mesmerizing 2002 work Fantastic Damage.
But in 2011, amidst the wake of a music industry hobbled by
ravenous downloading, an economy in the basement and hip-hop’s seismic shift
from throwback purity to commercialized minstrelsy, El once again mustered up
the gumption to know when to walk
away and closed the doors on Def Jux after a solid 13 years of good service.
But not without dropping one last classic on our domes: King of Hearts, the
terribly underrated posthumous solo debut of Camu Tao, who passed away from
lung cancer just prior to the release of this strange and beautiful dystopian
mash-up of hip-hop, R&B, 8-bit and cold wave that will undoubtedly be
heralded in the years to come by future crate diggers.
Yet once again, like a muthalovin’ phoenix, El-P rises from the
smoldering ashes of what he previously left behind. And on his third vocal LP
and first for the vintage-blues-cum-all-mod-cons Mississippi imprint Fat Possum Records, the rapper achieves the totality
of the sound he was reaching for on 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and 2010’s instrumental one-off for !K7 We’reallgonnaburninhellmeggamixx3 and made him the toast of such non hip-hop related acts as Trent Reznor, Elvis
Costello and Radiohead.
The spirit of Camu indeed looms large over the course of C4C,
from the choice of album title to El’s heartfelt dedication to him on closing
track “$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)”. But his presence is pretty much the
primary semblance of the old Def Jux days prevalent across these dozen tracks
(unless, of course, you take exception
to the appearances of Yo La Tengo’s James McNew and Chavez guitarist Matt
Sweeney, who have been faithfully serving as the MC’s session men for a hot
minute now–and this time are joined by former Mars Volta keyboardist Ikey
Owens). While on the onset it is a little odd to think of El without his Jukies
by his side. But the absolution of their collective absence has helped the
evolution of El-P as an artist move forward in ways he hasn’t procured since Damage.
In the stead of Lif, Cage and Aesop, El surrounds himself with a
crew of the hottest national MCs currently rocking the subterranean level of
the rap game. Truth be told, it is a bit strange for the fan who’s been with
him since the Co-Flow days to see the guy fraternizing with the likes of Danny
Brown from Detroit and Atlanta rhyme champion Killer Mike. But the
way by which these men dive headfirst into the static field of El-P’s
production on tracks like “Oh Hail No” and “Tougher Colder
Killer”, you easily catch the feeling those cats know whose house they are
in. Especially Mike, who extrapolates upon their growing partnership sowed on
the Killer One’s outstanding comeback album R.A.P. Music that El
produced in its entirety and has been hailed as the best intra-cultural hip-hop
LP since Ice Cube and the Bomb Squad got together for AmeriKKKa’s Most
Yet make no mistake: Cancer4Cure is very much a window
shattering Brooklyn rap record in every sense, evidenced in the appearance of
two of the borough’s brightest young lions, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and
Despot, the only proper living holdover from the Def days whose contribution to
“Tougher Colder Killer” gives him the shine he couldn’t properly
achieve while overshadowed by his more prolific compatriots at Jux. Shit, man,
El even manages to help hipster rock heavyweights Paul Banks of Interpol and
Islands’ Nick Diamonds grime it up in ways the little trust fund brats on
Bedford Ave. couldn’t dream of on the likes of “Works Every Time” and
“Stay Down” respectively.
But at the end of the day its Meline who owns his own work here,
busting loose some of the sharpest darts of his life on “The Full
Retard”, “Drones Over Bklyn” and “True Story”, where
he comes up with fire like “Pardon the fuzz I’m distorted, contorted,
pardon the hiss/Don’t let him Henson me, enter me and control me how I
twitch/They say the holiest shit until flames around them get lit/Then Costanza
the crowd of children… kick a baby to live.” Funny, I always took El as
more of a Kramer kind of guy.
And the best thing about it is that he did it on his own terms, as
if to reiterate the “Independent as Fuck” credo for those who might
have failed to fully understand it the first time around.
Full Retard”, “Drones Over Bklyn”, “Oh Hail No”,
“Tougher Colder Killer”, “True Story” RON HART