Death Grips: A Perspective

The goal of this Writing piece is to give an insight on the group Death Grips, known for their experimental and inaccessible music. It’s possible that maybe an understanding of what a listener is hearing can make something more enjoyable and accessible to them, so after reading this, please check out some of the songs and albums these guys have and maybe you will find something you like. My suggestion is to listen to each release or songs I mention as they come up in this writing. This is a long one so take it little by little.

How is it that Death Grips, one of the most obscure groups around, perform next to the Chainsmokers and the Cold War Kids at Coachella 2016? Better yet, how do they even get on the Camp Flog Gnaw 2016 roster and play with some of the most popular rap artists around today? You’ve probably never heard of them, yet the group has made more of an impact on music than nearly all of the artists that have had a number 1 hit song in America in the 2010s.

Death Grips is an Experimental Hip Hop outfit from Sacramento, California that formed in 2010 with drummer and producer Zach Hill, keyboardist, programmer, and producer Andy Morin, and vocalist and producer MC Ride. Zach Hill was the only established musician of the three, he has a wide range of studio work and is a member of Math Rock band Hella who is probably in Hiatus since there have been no updates from Hella in years.

After the group formed they immediately began recording material, releasing their free self-titled EP a few months later in 2011. And while the EP doesn’t have any notable songs besides Full Moon (Death Classic), it sets the foundation for the groups sound and style.

Exmilitary was released a month later for free, a mixtape that slowly circulated around the internet and eventually caught the attention of music critics who gave favorable reviews to the release. Exmilitary is a boundary-pushing project that contains some glitchy and irregular drums from Hill that mix well into Rides aggressive rap style. Tracks like Takyon and Klink present this while tracks like Culture Shock and I Want It I Need It (Death Hatred) have a more calm but catchy approach towards them from Ride. The most notable song on this mixtape is Guillotine, and from a production standpoint this is a very minimalist track with Rides isolated voice throughout most of it with an occasional synth, kick drum, and snare from Zach and Morin. Across the entire release, the production is amazing and interesting especially with samples from Black Flag, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and even an excerpt from Charles Manson at the opening of the into track Beware.

Ride is arguably the most important person in the group and to rap in general. Ride is probably the part of Death Grips that turns people away from the group since his voice is harsh, haunting, and angry on a majority of tracks. MC Rides name is Stefan Burnett, a visual artist who attended Hampton University, most likely the reason why their album art and music videos are weird and creepy. Ride puts the graphics and disturbing visions into words on every track, rapping about paranoia, suicide, occultism, insanity, addiction, sex, and other vulgar, dark, and drug use. Combining Zach Hills insane approach to drums, Rides vocal delivery, and Morin’s engineering on each track results in the raw, wild, and obscure group known as Death Grips.

Exmilitary eventually reached a marketing executive at Epic Records, resulting in a record deal for the group in 2012, within a few months The Money Store was released to universal acclaim from music critics across the board and was regarded as the best album of 2012 by some. This album shows the group at their best by bringing together tons of ideas all at once while still pushing boundaries and creating a catchy record. Arguably the groups best record to date and many people would say the same since its very chaotic and abrasive. The production on this album is incredible, and overall the record is fantastic, definitely give this thing a listen or at least the first two tracks.

After the release of The Money Store and receiving the mass acclaim, the group focused on their next release No Love Deep Web. Originally planned to be released in 2013 through Epic Records, The group decided to put money and personal gain to the side by releasing it to pirating sites for free, resulting in getting cut from their label. The group canceled an international tour in order to complete their sophomore album, hence releasing their music for free through leaking would kinda make up for the anger their fans had for the tour cancellation. The one thing that makes this group noteworthy is that whenever there are talks about a new Death Grips release among fans, The group will leak their own material onto sites like BitTorrent days before official release.

No Love Deep Web contains a minimalist approach and dark aesthetic feel, in my opinion, this is the groups most stripped down sound yet. A majority of these tracks are more accessible than many of the other songs in their discography primarily due to the more bass-heavy approach. It’s still inaccessible but I can see people who’ve never heard of the group taking more appeal to this record above them all. The track No Love has become one of the groups defining songs, and in a sense somewhat similar to their other track of the same nature, Guillotine. The track contains a drum-heavy chorus with some of Rides more aggressive and loud vocals making one of the heaviest tracks in the group’s catalog of songs.

The artwork for No Love Deep Web is the most memorable thing about the release, the album title written in marker across drummer Zach Hills erect penis. Something you won’t see from any artists in the mainstream and even the underground, and you can imagine the censorship and reactions the group received as a result of this.

The group started to gain fame from their live shows as well, obviously, due to the energy the group gives off but the group would not show up to random shows, something that doesn’t go over well with fans. However, what does go over well with fans is destroying your own equipment, in fact, there’s a video of the group performing No Love live where Zach destroys his drum set and Ride throws a tom at one of the iMacs in Morin’s producer stand as I call it.

The group remixed two Bjork songs for her remix album Bastards, an artist that the group would sample throughout every track on a later release. Bjork is also an artist who is a huge fan and recorded vocals for the group to sample on their future releases.

Government Plates was officially released in 2014 but leaked onto torrent sites in 2013 and is probably the groups worst release, however, it’s still a good album that’s more electronic than other releases. This album also features one of my personal favorite intros to an album of all time, You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. This intro track is essentially No Love but with more instrumentation and energy, making a favorite for all fans of Death Grips. Birds features guitar from actor Robert Pattinson who is another fan of the group, who has a photo featuring him, Ride, Hill, and most notably Beyonce. In fact, I’ll make it the cover photo since that might shocking to the people who have never heard of the group.

The groups next release becomes interesting, a double album titled The Powers That B. The first release and disc is titled Niggas on the Moon which was released in the summer of 2014 to positive reviews, at this point critics and fans understood that whatever this group puts out is gonna be experimental, abrasive, and intense. The first half of this double LP has some good tracks for your average fan of the group but I recommend Billy Not Really and Have A Sad Cum BB as two tracks you need to hear off this release. Bjork is sampled throughout this entire release and on Billy Not Really you can hear her glitched vocals for nearly the entire track.

After the release of the first disc of the record, the group announced their disbandment after canceling their appearance on their upcoming tour, they were supposed to open for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. The question I have for a people who feel that this group is too extreme or too obscure to have any impact, the group is playing with other bands that may have influenced them, especially in the case of Nine Inch Nails, and bands that sound nothing like them. I saw them live in 2017 when they toured with Ministry and when Ministry went on to perform a good portion of the crowd left, and with that being said I think Death Grips have created a subgenre of industrial and experimental music which is insane. To back up my claim on that, I’m a big fan of this group and a music critic and there isn’t a ton of music that sounds like this, the sound throughout each release is truly unique to this group. A few other acts have approached music production in a similar style, such as Kero Kero Bonito, but other than that from the group’s debut on I think that it’s not a sound, it’s a subgenre.

Fashion Week was released in January 2015 as a surprise release, it is an instrumental album that when listening, at least for me, you can somewhat see how Ride would approach performing on the track and hear the words he would say on them. The tracklisting spells out JENnYDEATHWHEn with the word runway in front of each letter, which refers to the release of the second part of their double album titled Jenny Death. Both Instrumental releases from Death Grips are great and have a handful of songs any fan will enjoy. Runway H is hands down the best track here, in my opinion, the heavy, distorted synth combined with the slow tempo drum beat has a great build up to the loud intense chorus (essentially what it is).

A few months later saw the release of Jenny Death, which is my personal favorite of the double LP. Fans immediately enjoyed the release of this and cemented the tracks Inanimate Sensation and The Powers That B into every live performance. However, as someone trying to show some appeal to the group to people who have never heard of them, The Powers That B (the double LP) has some more accessible tracks in it such as Pss Pss, Billy Not Really, and Say Hey Kid. Great record, however nothing compared to Bottomless Pit.

Bottomless Pit is Death Grips best album in my opinion. While the album isn’t gonna have as much of an impact as The Money Store, Bottomless Pit is much more tuned in a sense. Bottomless Pit is basically The Money Store with better production and ideas, and if I’m ever listening to this group, you’d probably catch me listening to this album 20% of the time. From start to finish this album contains layers of sounds with ride even screaming what seems to be gibberish on the track Hot Head, which I don’t recommend hearing unless you’re a fan of the group. This album also has a wide range of styles with the track Eh having a trap influence and Giving Bad People Good Ideas with Clementine Creevy being what I remember as the most punk sounding shit of 2016. When I look at the track listing of this album, I see no track I wouldn’t listen to. I recommend the whole thing but 80808, Eh, and Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood are the probably the most accessible.

Before the release of Bottomless Pit, an EP titled Interview 2016 was released and is the second Instrumental release. What’s notable about this release is that it proves that Zach and Andy are capable of making music for the group without Ride as Pitchfork Critic Zoe Camp describes as the omega of Death Grips. She also states that Interview 2016 is far more interesting than Fashion Week was and I can agree to that as well, I recommend Interview C and D.

Death Grips announced that they were working on a new album and dropped a 22 and a half minute EP titled Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix). The EP is one track that contains several others, and with that being said I will say that I recommend the first half I guess, the whole thing is good with only a few moments that fall short.

Year of the Snitch is the album that they were working on and released it this year. This album shows the group experimenting with different sounds and styles that they haven’t tried before. There is a consistent flow all the way up to the track Streaky which somewhat marks the halfway point of the record. And one interesting thing about this album is that the group primarily samples there own tracks throughout the whole thing. It should also be noted that Justin Chancellor of Tool, Lucas Abela, Andre Adamson, and DJ Swamp are all featured on this release which is pretty interesting. Streaky is the only track I recommend and is probably the most accessible song you will hear throughout each album. If you like what you hear off of this record, the group has a collab with Les Claypool of Primus titled More Than the Fairy which is the groups best collab hands down.

Throughout the entire span of Death Grips career, the group has trended from time to time on social media platforms in some cases through memes. One more recent example, within the last year and a half maybe, the group tweeted out Death Grips is online to which every fan on twitter tweeted the same thing and it went on for hours and I guarantee someone is still trying to keep the meme alive. And to be fair one of the best ways to rise as an artist is to embrace the memes that come at you, Just look at Tekashi 6ix9ine.

Death Grips have influenced many musicians such as David Bowie when recording his final record Blackstar. And I don’t see this group not influencing everyone who listens and can wrap their head around what they are hearing. Death Grips is hard to get into, but once you’re in you don’t leave. The group doesn’t have any influences that they have stated but, it can only be assumed that artists like Ministry, Primus, and Nine Inch Nails all had some influence to their sound since they came before. And with this being said, Death Grips a fantastic group.

Music Critic and Historian.

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