I'll Sleep When You're Dead
It has been five long years since Jamie "El-Producto" Meline's otherworldly solo debut and over a decade since he was striking vital nerves with Company Flow. It is because of these lulls in output, on the solo tip anyway, that El's albums come with feverish anticipation from the indie scene and his Def Jukies. Well, that, and that the producer/emcee is immensely talented. El-P's hyper-intelligent paranoia raps are every bit as cinematic and affecting as his 2025 post-apocolypse New York soundtracks. Decipher it as you may, but I'll Sleep When You're Dead is such an incredibly fitting title, for reasons you can't even really articulate.
The opening and closing is really everything you need to know about El-P in a nutshell. The tracks in between just add layers and colors to the canvas. The album opens with the epic Mars Volta-assisted "Tasmanian Pain Coaster" that boasts brilliant production twisting and turning that ends up being as exhilarating as a Six Flags ride. El sets off the claustrophobic panic that grips the entire album; "Bumped into this kid I know he often had walked strange/so I ignored the blood on his laces so this cat could save face/...so I saluted him there, waiting for the A/trapped in the empty platform but had the optional escape/gave him the standard 'yo what up man, how you landin?/and the hypnotized response was no surprise, 'I maintain'/yeah we all do, that's the standardized refrain/but on some really real man, good to see you/really, what the dealy deal?/oops, screwed the pooch/asked too much, knew the truth/in the train now, A caboose/in his brain now, no recluse."
The closer and love letter to NYC, "Poisonville Kids No Wins," is as subdued an El-P song as you'll ever hear, topped off with Chan Marshall's sultry vocals. It is also El at his most poignant posing paradox's like "how the fuck do you explain your self destruction and still remain trusted?" "The Overly Dramatic Truth" has him talking his innocent lover years his junior and telling her all the reasons that they just cannot work together. It's the kind of examination of relationships rarely heard in music, Hip Hop or otherwise. El continues to flex his highly intelligent perspectives on "Flyentology" as he creates his own religion after a near plane crash had him praying to a god he once smote. The lead single "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" is one of albums more ridiculous tracks, a heart-racing anthem complete with a Ron Burgundy sample and El's acid tongued tangents.
Even when El tackles seemingly trivial subjects like driving ("Drive"), he frames it as if God is about to send the locusts; "my generation is carpooling with doom and disease." His acute vision of society's ills and well-placed paranoia will easily put some listeners into the fetal position with a tin foil hat on. That, coupled with his granite-hard iron galaxy production, makes this album less digestible than a $2 steak for most listeners.
The self proclaimed b-boy brainiac who will smack you out of your mittens doesn't make just make his albums for a buck or to keep his fans interested. It's abundantly clear his heart, soul and xanax perspcription are poured into his art, following no trends and creating his own. Who else works with the likes of Trent Reznor, Mars Volta and Cat Power and uses them for little more than what could pass for a vocal sample? Anyone can experiment and try and make some next shit, few can turn it into great music. Maybe one of these days El-Producto will spin off the gravel road into a ditch, for now, he continues to pave the way. Bow to a true architect.