some thoughts: ‘exmilitary’ by death grips

From a different dimension: 'Exmilitary' by Death Grips

First, much credit to theneedledrop for turning me on to this mammoth work of darkness and rhyme. Exmilitary is the name of a free mixtape distributed by the act Death Grips. Apparently (according to theneedledrop), Death Grips is a three-piece act from California; however, it’s only named member is Zach Hill. (Hill has a number of side-projects, but his primary band is Hella.) The mystery surrounding this release only contributes to its gloom, and it’s easily the darkest, most original thing I’ve heard in a very long time – and the fact that it’s built on a hip-hop skeleton adds to its originality and grittiness. And this is very gritty music.

The warning comes quickly – the tape opens with “Beware” (and yes, the opening sample is from Charles Manson). I close my eyes and seize it / I clench my fists and beat it / I light my torch and burn it / I am the beast I worship. The lines are delivered so intentionally, so vehemently, you genuinely feel as though you’ve discovered some relic of the occult, unearthed from a long forgotten Indian burial ground. On one hand, this mixtape could’ve been produced by some deranged witch house producer spun out on meth. And like many witch house releases, everything is seemingly built on some altar from the underworld. The music is grim. The words sound more like instructions for a ritual rather than mere song lyrics. Again, from “Beware”: Rites begin when the sun descends / Have felt what few will ever know / Have seen the truth beneath the glow / Of the ebb and flow, where roots of all mysteries grow / I am below / So far below / The bottom line. The MC doesn’t simply rap or speak the lyrics, they’re ripped from his skull and violently ejected from his mouth. His flow reminds me of an ODB-cyborg mutation.

The lyrics, as boisterous and in-your-face as they are, comprise just half of Death Grips’ terror. The music sounds as if it’s been produced by an Aphex Twin-Atari Teenage Riot-RZA hybrid, with Thom Yorke lurking in the background somewhere. Regardless of my or any other individual’s attempt to describe Exmilitary, it must be heard to be believed. Lovers will love and haters will hate – don’t expect much lukewarm reaction.  It’s not a perfect work (which something like this shouldn’t be – it should be dirty and stained, flawed). Samples are present throughout the album, but the one that caught me was the use of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” which appears in “I Want It I Need It.”

Before wrapping this up, I’d like to write a little something about the mixtape’s distinctive cover. I’ve no idea where this image came from, but, somehow, it’s ambiguity and mystery offer a perfect glimpse of the 49 minutes contained under its cover. Is the man a tribal soldier, preparing to face some inevitable death? Is it a homeless man with no hope, no dreams – not even a shirt? What is it about his haggard face, those poised eyes? Do you want to know?

I’d definitely recommend Exmilitary to anyone looking for dark, original music. Some of the explicit lyrics may turn off a few listeners, but that’s OK – this is a raw, piercing glimpse into  the mind of a character who’s approaching the breaking point. Maybe he’s already broken. Consider Exmilitary underworld hip-hop’s answer to The Downward Spiral. Whatever it is, it’s mean, immense, black and menacing – and very good.

Listen and download the entire tape below.
Exmilitary by Death Grips


~ by the coordinates of memories on 23 May 2011.

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