When El-P burst onto the hip-hop scene in 1997 as one third of Company Flow, he proved a revolutionary figure. Angry, defiantly independent and determined to push rap’s envelope with an uncompromising approach to production and lyrical flow, he helped lay the groundwork for a more consciously underground scene that eschewed the funky for avant-garde experimentation.
Fifteen years later, while many of his contemporaries have grown up, put the backpack in the loft and contented themselves with a mortgage and weekends spent pottering around B&Q, El-Producto remains in stubborn pursuit of his singular apocalyptic vision with a third solo LP. Yet, if the energy and intent remain, the results are a little mixed. Things start off brightly: The Full Retard is a terrifically rumbustious sonic assault of sci-fi-themed verbal gymnastics over blistering breakbeats, but nothing else quite hits those heights. The disastrous decision to enlist The Islands’ Nick Diamond on vocal duties drives Stay Down into an insipid indie crossover dead end. Thankfully, things end on a high with the cryptically titled $4 Vic/FTL combining shimmering synth backdrops and melodic refrains into an epic two-part soundscape of real ambition. It’s good to have the old dog back.