Considering that The Powers That B could be Death Grips’ last album, it’s necessary to reflect upon everything that has happened since its formation in 2010. Between the controversies that surrounded the band’s presence, which included an album cover that was a picture of an erect penis, not showing up to a scheduled 2013 Lollapalooza performance while letting fans trash their equipment and leaking their album under the noses of their record label Epic — which led to them being dropped as a result — it’s easy to forget that Death Grips has released a ton of music. Within the past five years, it has released four studio albums, a mixtape and an instrumental soundtrack.
The hardcore experimental hip-hop group, composed of rapper Stefan Burnett, drummer Zach Hill and producer Andy Morin, has managed to produce a sound unlike anyone else in the 2010s. Every album is a pounding schizophrenic mess of lyrics and beats that grabs and pulls you into a speeding car without caring whether you are wearing a seatbelt or not. Since 2012’s The Money Store, perhaps its most approachable album, Death Grips has only become more esoteric and inscrutable. The Powers That B might be its least accessible album yet, but it captures the primal, carnal essence of Death Grips by appeasing no one except itself.
A double album, The Powers That B features Niggas on the Moon as the first disk and Jenny Death as the second disk. While packaged together, the albums are quite different in tone and content, especially considering that Niggas on the Moon was released one year ago as a free download.
Niggas on the Moon heavily features voice samples — but not lyrics — from Bjork, which are included in every song on the album. Bjork, a fan of Death Grips, actually recorded original vocal samples for the album. Her presence doesn’t eclipse the album, as her voice essentially becomes an instrument for Hill, who uses her samples as a beat, pushing each song forward. Unfortunately, the album isn’t as exciting as it should be. “Black Quarterback,” the third track of disk one, hits a good balance between Hill, Burnett and Bjork, but it feels too safe, lacking an extreme tone that should be expected of Death Grips in 2015.
Jenny Death, on the other hand, hits the sweet spot of feeling familiar yet unventured. Varied instrumentation, such as the neopsychedelic guitar on “Turned Off,” changes up the pace of the album so that you are not shoved from one song to the next. “On GP,” which features Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos on guitar, hits the pinnacle of the album, as it mixes a surf rock-esque guitar riff with Burnett’s lyrics to produce something so foreign yet listenable — by their standards. The album culminates in “Death Grips 2.0,” an instrumental rush of samples and drums that feels like a rollercoaster speeding through an intense psychedelic tunnel that does not plan on slowing down.
Overall, the combination of Niggas on the Moon and Jenny Death doesn’t mix well. Jenny Death shines as the true star on this album, while Niggas on the Moon feels more like a bonus disk. Yet Niggas on the Moon never feels like a detriment to the album. It just never matches the quality of Jenny Death.
Considering that Death Grips still plans on touring the world after the album’s release, the statement that “Death Grips is dead” seems to hold less and less merit. The Powers That B shows that, despite everything that has happened before, the group can still produce music that is fresh, grating and interesting. In some way, The Powers That B is representative of Death Grips’ status today: inscrutable to most, but exactly what you want from one of the most unpredictable groups around. Death Grips never gave a damn about what you thought before, and it does not give a damn about what you think now.
Contact Art Siriwatt at [email protected]