Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #41 El-P
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
A wise man once said that a man is his art. The logic follows that a person can only comment on what he/she knows or feels, otherwise, there would be no beginning and therefore certainly no end. So in a very loose sense, we can get an idea about the person the artist is without really knowing them. It may be right, and it may be way off, but chances are, if you’ve given an artist a thorough analysis, there’s a good chance you won’t be too far from the truth. That said I believe it’s safe to say that El-P, otherwise known as El Producto, is a jaded man, and with good reason.
El-P’s talent for lyrical mastery and fearless ability to move a crowd had been known in the Brooklyn underground hip-hop circuit for years. When he and DJ Mr. Len met at a party (EL-P’s 18th), the two decided to start now legendary hip-hop crew, Company Flow, and the El-P mythos was born. Born to a famous jazz pianist, El-P had a natural ear for music, and was quickly adept to production and arrangement. Within a couple years, Company Flow released its first EP to the streets Funcrusher. Due to the huge buzz in the streets surrounding the group and the incredible rise in hip-hop record sales around that time, labels were chomping at the bit at a shot to bag the newest buzz crew. But as the story far too often goes, that all fell apart as quickly as the hypebeast was snarling. Act I: first thick skin layer.
Luckily, indie hip-hop upstart Rawkus Records still kept an open ear down and offered the crew a modest deal. Fuck it, a chance to release a full length AND have the freedom to spit venom in any direction imaginable? Let’s do it. Enemy #1: the record industry. Add MC Bigg Jus and CoFlo is complete. The full length, aptly titled Funcrusher Plus is so full of fire, you could ignite an igloo. Wanna get an idea of El-P’s ferocious style? Give a listen to "89.9 Detrimental" and take heed:
I'll ignore you sellin crack, killin people, and keepin it real/
but disrespect me and my adopted fam and die young like veal/
When miscellaneous MC's drop they spontaneous/
bullshit metaphor, the outcome is always obvious/
When that piece of shit Mother Time gets cut short in 1999/
I'll be stress-free, knowin that while I was on Earth I got mine
Not long after the release, the group dissolved stemming from a dispute with Rawkus Records and its execs and the accusations flew. Act II: thick skin layer number two. Now El-P is fucking pissed. Producto’s answer, start my own record label, bitch. Enter: Definitive Jux, currently one of the most influential indie labels in the game, and P’s going no holds barred. He’s got no boss, no producer, no one telling him shit. Everything is up to him and he can literally do whatever is kicking around in that weird, metaphorical, science driven, spite fueled, big angry brain of his. The result was his first solo venture: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Well, we certainly can’t criticize P for being too subtle. The album is pure fucking aggression, as if you couldn’t get the gist right off. The single he pushed on the album is titled "The Overly Dramatic Truth" a sort of existential insight into a doomed relationship. He hit the road on his new album and adopted a stage style unlike anything that had been seen in hip-hop before—which is usually back and forth stage walk with a mic in hand. P took a more rock & roll style flowing in front of the mic on its stand and gesturing wildly. Youtube his "Overly Dramatic Truth" performances on any of the late night talk shows (Letterman, Conan, Kimmel) to get an idea. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Of all the genres of music, it’s pretty safe to say that hip-hop is the most formulaic; and I’m a hip-hop junkie, so I feel comfortable saying it. That’s why I feel like anyone that has a hand in defying those formulas is truly something special, and that’s why the great ones are always missed with such a ferocious passion. We hear so much bullshit come out every year that it almost becomes numbing, so numbing that to go into the specifics of why shit is so bad (money, cars, girls) has become cliché in itself. It’s just nice to get a solid fucking kick in the ass every now and again, and throughout his career, El-P has always been happy to oblige.
- Jason Bow
Check back tomorrow for the next artist! To see the full list of the Top 100 Artists of the Decade, click here.