Death Grips have never really known their own strength — or perhaps they’re just trying to come off as such. Defining themselves as a “conceptual art exhibition” rather than a band, despite the rock star worship they receive from the music nerd masses of the internet, the experimental hip hop three-piece always seems to come up with new ways to mess with people’s heads. Every inexplicably weird announcement, new release, and rumor surrounding the group sends seismic waves of speculation throughout the web, and the reckless abandon with which they approach every aspect of their career has proven more endearing than tiring over the years.
For whatever reason one can’t help but follow along, perhaps because of the sense of mystery and suspense that surrounds them, but most definitely because the actual music is worth the trip every time. Bottomless Pit, the fifth full-length from Death Grips and their first post-“breakup” release, is no exception. In fact, it may be the crowning example of what the trio can accomplish. There was no shortage of the typical brouhaha surrounding the record’s release, but in a literal musical sense Death Grips have never exhibited such a tangible sense of control.
Contrary to what many die-hards may assume, that’s exactly what makes it so great — refreshing, even. While projects like Government Plates allowed the group to deeply explore the far reaches of their experimental vision, it seems as though they’ve come to see the benefit of reigning themselves in a little. Tracks like “Eh” and “Trash” give off a sense of structure and pop sensibility Death Grips haven’t explored since 2012’s The Money Store took the music world by storm.
In fact, Bottomless Pit feels like a spiritual sequel to The Money Store in terms of direction — the accessibility, structure, and unorthodox infectiousness are all there. However, it’s obvious upon first listen that Death Grips have evolved a little since. The blaring guitar sounds used in their more recent work make a reappearance, for example. More obviously present, though, is the feeling that the group is trying to relax their style a little. Of course, tracks like “Hot Head” and “Spikes” may give first-time listeners a shock, but longtime fans of the group will be surprised at how put-together the more intense tracks are.
Beyond just being “put together” (which, for a Death Grips record, really is something worth noting), the instrumentals on Bottomless Pit feel fresh, diverse, and never stay in one place for too long. In short, they’re producer Andy Morin (a.k.a. Flatlander)’s best work yet with the group, combining elements from past successes and condensing them to a point where they feel focused and interesting one hundred percent of the time. Morin shows so much range on this record, it truly feels like he’s leaving no stone unturned — from the simple catchiness of “Trash” to the mathy intensity of “Spikes”.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Bottomless Pit, however, is its lyrical content. Frontman MC Ride has become known over the years for his often explicit, extremely dark material. While the record certainly has its moments (the title track’s final seconds are punctuated with Ride matter-of-factly stating “I’ll fuck you in half”), the amount of surface-level lyrics and themes that draw from personal experience is kind of astounding.
Take “Eh” for example, a track that would stand out as bubblegum-y even on The Money Store. “Who you think you are / Fucks like ‘do you know who I am’ / Fucks fail to understand / I’m like ‘eh’,” Ride matter-of-factly spits, comfortably rapping in an inside-level voice that was barely used in preceding works. While certain verses are crazy complex, the theme of feeling unimpressed by artistic accomplishments, including one’s own, is pretty clear. It’s hard to recall a Death Grips track that draws so heavily from a point Ride wants to make about his own life.
Moments like this are just as defiant as they are mature — dialing the weirdness back a little bit can be interpreted as a middle finger in the face of what fans and critics alike have come to expect. Perhaps that’s what Death Grips have tried to do with every passing release, regardless of sound or direction. However, it’s more realistic and accurate to assume that they’re only trying to advance their art as any other band would, but with their own unique sense of style and purpose. Death Grips thrive on the unexpected and the brash just as much as the progressive and the groundbreaking, and Bottomless Pit shows them tapping into that balance like they never have before. Simply put, that’s what makes it their most focused and important work to date.
Hip-hop / Experimental | Third Worlds