On Cancer for Cure, El-P returns from his solo hiatus to launch his music into the stratosphere, a metaphor that almost borders on reality. The Brooklynite whose name is synonymous with 90s underground hip-hop trades in his backpack for a jet pack on his latest release. El-P’s production and rhymes complement each other in a way NASA would be envious of as the dual-threat carefully crafts each track to be a bridge to one another, creating a seamless intergalactic (R.I.P. MCA) landscape for 90s hip-hop heads and newcomers alike.
The record blasts off with the intro, “Request Denied,” that locks the listener in as if they were listening to the automated voice at the beginning of Space Mountain telling everyone to keep their hands and arms inside the shuttle at all times. It’s the perfect mood setter for the rest of the album as El-P lets his production do most of the talking until he finds the perfect time to burst onto the scene with an aggressive flow and Garbage Pail Kids references. He follows that up with the album’s stand-out track, “The Full Retard.” It’s everything that was right about 90s hip-hop handcrafted to bump in ‘floating whips’ in the year 2030 while giving off a very 1984 vibe with lyrics referencing “…the chip under your wrist’s skin.” Paranoia and hip-hop never worked so well together.
El-P brings a few guests along for the ride. Paul Banks blesses “Works Every Time”, a track that starts a trend, for better or worse, of El-P going more spoken word than b-boy flow, but still bestows upon everyone killer lines like “…pay no attention to the man behind the glassy smirk.” Everyone’s favorite rapper with early-aught emo hair drenched in jerry-curl juice, Danny Brown, is his extremely bizarre and unique self on “Oh Hail No” where he regales with tales of everything from pocket protectors to Ric Flair. There are many artists more perfect for an album that seems to be shooting for a place on another planet. One of hip-hop’s artists right now, Killer Mike of Dungeon Family fame, pays his respects back to El-P for his production on Mike’s R.A.P. Music with a verse on the aggressive “Tougher Colder Killer” where he catches “…the beat running like Randy Moss.”
It’s not a perfect album. The aforementioned trend of El-P going more spoken word gets to be a bit of a bummer on tracks like “The Jig Is Up” and “Sign Here”. Not that the writing and production take a hit, it’s just more fun when he’s acquainting the beats with a heart-of-a-killer type flow, like on “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)” where he plays the part of the anti-”Tell-Tale Heart.” Samples also blend perfectly track by track and none better than the intoxicating, head-nod inducing “Drones Over Bklyn”.
Cancer for Cure was worth the five year wait. It’s hip-hop that shows progression without losing the foundation of what came before it.
El-P – Cancer for Cure tracklist:
- “Request Denied”
- “The Full Retard”
- “Works Every Time”
- “Drones Over Bklyn”
- “Oh Hail No”
- “Tougher Colder Killer”
- “True Story”
- “The Jig Is Up”
- “Sign Here”
- “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mum’s the Word)”
- “Stay Down”
- “$4 Vic/Nothing But You+Me (FTL)”