El-P - Cancer 4 Cure

posted Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 06:05AM PDT | 88 comments

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"Cancer 4 Cure's" essence seems to present itself more as an album for people who've swaddled their lives in the liner notes of Hip Hop music.

"Off that Mobb Deep shit had me saying 'dunny.'" That's Danny Brown, the shrill-strung, wild-haired Detroit rapper who guest spits on the song "Oh Hail No" alongside Crown Heights' unruliest, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire. Brown's line appears half-way through his verse. It's not as ear-grabbing as, say, his brag about being "Inspector Gadget with the ratchet," but it resonates like a snug key to Cancer 4 Cure, El-P's third solo album. After you pick out the nuggets of Rap nerdery or nostalgia - in this case arcane Queensbridge slang of a certain vintage - the album becomes defined less by the power of its fearsome production and starts to sound more like the lyrical and beat-making musings of a thirty-something Hip Hop junkie.

These sly nods to Rap songs of years past pepper the album: A Camu Tao vocal grab propels "The Full Retard," a piano riff that comes off like a bastard relation to Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Road To The Riches" pulses through "Drones Over BKLYN," while horn stabs most memorably heard back during the Bridge Wars pep up the Killer Mike-assisted "Tougher Colder." Lyrically, El's rhymes stay prickly - "I'd sooner wash my dick in acid that ask what you think," he politely offers at one point - but also channels oversized gold rope ambassador Slick Rick to arrogantly advise "lick the balls." There's even a track that, ye olde linguistic roots aside, seems named for a Big Shug 12-inch, "The Jig Is Up."

Sure, you can talk about the usual cliches that are regurgitated in reviews of every El-P project - densely-layered dystopian beats! Sci-fi concepts! A song featuring Paul Banks from Interpol that seems destined to be liked by Indie Rock kids! - but Cancer 4 Cure's essence seems to present itself more as an album for people who've swaddled their lives in the liner notes of Hip Hop music. Elitist as it might seem, it's a Rap album that sounds better if you can name most of the Gang Starr Foundation. Shrug.

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