Release date: May 22, 2012
El-P said of his new album in a recent interview , “This is a fight record. Like, ‘Goddamn it. Enough is fuckin’ enough.’” It’s not so much that “Cancer For Cure” is a fight record with anyone individually — although “For My Upstairs Neighbor” makes a specific target — but it’s more of a fight against the world and where it’s going.
Dystopia runs all throughout this album, through “Request Denied”‘s air raid intro to “FTL (Me and You)”‘s cyborg drone close. On the former song, El proclaims “We are not dying” which runs straight through to “FTL”‘s closing arguments, “Groveling, look what they’re accomplishing/ The systematic Gods of all demolishing/ But I never felt so brave as when I’m looking at your face/ They can decimate my body but my heart will not disgrace/They can torture and interrogate and shackle to my boot/I would gnaw off my own leg and hop the fuck right back to you.” That determination is what makes “Cancer For Cure” such an invigorating listen, even if it sounds like the world is crumbling around you.
El-P has always existed in his own world in terms of style and delivery. His beats do not crackle and pop, they buzz and explode. Taking a loop from Camu Tao’s “When You’re Going Down” for its chorus, “The Full Retard” transports the classic hip-hop horn brake and transfers it to a futuristic nightmare. And that song is probably the record’s lightest moment. “True Story” and “Sign Here” proceed with paranoid scenarios of torture and extermination while “Drones Over Bklyn” paints the borough as its own worst enemy in the fight for the future with its “little dragons of fad rap,” and its “Hollywood off the bus” posers.
“I’m not a big fan of records that have a bunch of (featuring so and so) after every single title,” El-P had once said on his blog upon the release of his last album “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” five years ago. It’s true that “Cancer For Cure”‘s collaborations don’t play out like the polished-off guest spots on Kanye West records, but in just about every case his collaborators provide the album with its most memorable moments for better or worse. The trade off between Killer Mike and Despot on “Tougher Colder Killer” is a thrilling hit to the chest, helped a great deal by the horn-stab beat and the equally punchy (and hilarious) Mike line, “Niggas stay sweet like Smuckers/Peanut butter packing motherfuckers/ I’m ashamed for your mothers.” Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire takes the cake though — his breakneck verse on “Oh Hail No” sort of makes you wish it was his album for a sec. The only faltering moment unfortunately is with Danny Brown whose heavily pronunciated style conflicts a bit too hard during “All Hail No”‘s breakdown section. Islands’ Nick Diamonds’ chorus cameo on “Stay Down” likewise brings an unwanted stop to “Stay Down.”
Apocalyptic visions are hardly a new concept for records, or even hip-hop records (“Cancer For Cure” more or less plays like a serious “Deltron 3030″), but El-P’s new opus does well with the concept. His multi-threat renaissance man approach shows throughout the record, which sounds furiously labored-over with auteur precision. That hard work seems to be doing its most heavy lifting in the penultimate “$4 Vic,” where El sounds nearly out of breath at the end of the couplet, “And I can no longer contain what’s under my disguise/I’ve always had the cancer for the cure so what the fuck am I?” That positive use of anger is a key element to El-P’s essential status, and it’s what makes “C4C” a hip-hop standout this year.