Correcting an historical injustice, El-P’s singular, relevant solo catalogue finally returns to material and digital reality. It has been a long time coming.
El-P’s astounding solo efforts —- after co-founding the legendary Company Flow, during the reign of his indie label, Definitive Jux —- brilliantly and uncomfortably captured the terrorized time we found ourselves in, before 9/11 and after Obama. Some have not been available to those who need them most: Our shellshocked youth, who inherited our burning planet and destabilized nation-states.
A grave injustice, considering that much of the hip-hop, and music in general, that has dropped since 2002’s dystopian Fantastic Damage, 2007’s entropic I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and 2012’s Cancer 4 Cure, has not been up to the task of inspiring introspection or engineering change.
El-P’s recently announced reissue and digital campaign to bring his timeless solo work back to life, explained below, will do much to make the music world a smarter, better place. It will also, importantly, correct the cultural record.
I have interviewed and reviewed El-P for quite awhile now, including for I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the first solo effort to be reissued in the campaign. (I pushed hard for the cover of XLR8R; we got a feature instead. Win some, lose some.)
Check below for more on all of it, and stay tuned.
Legendary rapper and producer El-P has announced an extensive reissue campaign of his full solo catalog via independent powerhouse Fat Possum Records, kicking off today with the digital release of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, available on streaming services for the very first time since its initial release in 2007 on El-P’s own iconic record label Definitive Jux. A masterpiece of progressive rap music, ISWYD features collaborations with friends and peers Trent Reznor, Mars Volta, Cat Power and more, in addition to musical contributions from James McNew (Yo La Tengo), guitarist Matt Sweeney, and the late Ikey Owens. His trademark cosmic boom-bap production style is wrapped in sophisticated musicality and textured composition, paired with razor sharp, insightful rhymes that are equally dystopian, humorous, and poetic, charting a path for a generation of artists to follow in his footsteps.
Long before his rise to fame with powerhouse rap duo Run the Jewels, El-P was a titan of independent hip-hop as both a rapper and producer, beginning with his founding of the pioneering group Company Flow, who first rose to prominence in the underground of NYC’s 90s golden era and then as the first major release from the legendary Rawkus Records. Their only album, the hugely lauded and successful Funcrusher Plus, set a benchmark for independent rap and remains one of the most influential pieces of rap music to come out of the era. El-P subsequently went on to launch the iconic label Definitive Jux, where he released his solo music while also introducing fellow groundbreaking artists Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, RJD2, and more to the world. El-P’s aesthetic, pairing a futuristic and abrasive production style with insightful, often prescient subject matter, paved the way for the generations that followed in his wake, rendering it even more relevant now than ever.
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was released at a creative high point in El-P’s solo career as a ground-breaking musician and label curator, creating ripple effects that influenced several corners of the industry. The album was met with widespread accolades from the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, Alternative Press, Billboard, SPIN, and AV Club among many others. The album has been widely unavailable since El-P put Def Jux on indefinite hiatus in 2010, rendering it a phantom in the current streaming era, and ripe for rediscovery in the wake of El-P’s massive success in Run The Jewels.
States El: “this record means a lot to me. really, it’s a collection of short stories written from multiple perspectives… different characters living in the same confused, askew city of ‘Poisenville.’ no one is right in these stories and no one has the moral high ground but everyone is trying to keep themselves from suffocating under the weight of their own reality and faults. a guy on a train asks a question he doesn’t really want answered… a concentration camp guard flirts with morality and ultimately chooses obedience… an older, pessimistic man thinks he’s doing the right thing by ending his relationship with a younger, optimistic woman but cant help but self aggrandize…a young man responds angrily to a draft letter… a lost soul is trying to find connections in a party scene only to realize he’s more alone than ever… an atheist makes an emergency plea to god on a plane that he knows he hasn’t earned… a man sits on a brooklyn stoop at dawn fully realizing his own bullshit self justifications and rejects them… it’s littered with darkness and doubt but ultimately it’s about redemption. it’s about the decision not to succumb to the darkest ideas we have about what we are. i’ll sleep when you’re dead began as what i imagined the city of ‘Poisenville’ was saying to its inhabitants as a retort to being called a ‘city that never sleeps,’ but it ends with the discovery of something bigger than the maze of inner turmoil these characters feel: a resolve to fight for life, even if it’s someone else’s.”
Today’s digital release of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead will be followed in 2020 by physical editions of the album, as well as reissues of the rest of El-P’s extensive back catalog.