From Company Flow to Cannibal Ox to his role as label honcho at Definitive Jux, El-P has had a hand in some of underground rap's more notable projects in the last 15 years. El Producto shows off his own musical plans, however, on his second solo release, I'll Sleep When You're Dead. A dark record with techno-symphonic swirling beats and rough-edged emceeing, the album is focused more on displaying and developing his immense abilities as a producer, intricately layering instruments and sounds, than on his rhymes. This ends up being a good thing for all involved, because the tracks on which the synths die down and the vocals are pushed to the forefront ("Drive," "The Overly Dramatic Truth") are among the weakest on the record. Instead, it's the ominous and churning production, inspired by the grime and industry of the big city, percussion-like hammers and churning trains, that illuminates El-P's most impressive skills. Even his songs with such non-rap artists as Trent Reznor and Cat Power which, under supervision of the less-talented, are often cheesy and disappointing maintain the level of quality and driving intensity that make El-P's work riveting, keeping him an influential force in hip hop for more than a decade.
Marisa Brown writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].