My favorite thing about closely following new music is those rare moments when an album comes along that shines a new light on a tired sound or genre. Cancer 4 Cure, the latest release from Brooklynite Jaime Meline, a.k.a. El-P, is one of those albums. Just when I thought I was getting tired of new hip hop, El-P has crafted an intense, dark and exciting record that gives me hope in the future of this genre.
It’s hard to talk about Cancer 4 Cure, without talking a little bit about the state of hip hop at this point of the “new” millennium. While many critics have declared hip hop, or at least the heyday of hip hop, to be in a steep decline, the last decade has seen some strong releases from the world of “alternative” hip hop, a catch-all term for music that bears a strong resemblance to traditional rap and hip hop but includes a variety of sounds, from soul and funk to indie rock and even world music and folk.
Groups and artists like K’Naan, Aesop Rock, Kid Cudi and even mainstream favorite Kanye West, have proven both by their record sales and their critical reception that listeners are ready for hip hop to find a new voice and move into a new century.
Enter El-P, a rapper who has been putting out albums since 2002, but has never sounded as confident, passionate, angry or inspired as he does on Cancer 4 Cure. This album is relentless and lyrically cynical, but the cynicism and rage that El-P expresses so eloquently seem somehow poetic and passionate, as opposed to depressing.
Cancer 4 Cure is a perfect example of hip hop that has the potential to appeal to a wide audience without having to water down its sound or complexity. There are plenty of beats here that will make you want to dance, or at least shake your skinny fist at the heavens. That’s part of the beauty of Cancer 4 Cure, and part of what is so promising about El-P. He is making music that is as much a tribute to the ideas of punk rock as they are to hip hop.
This is an album that captures your attention and doesn’t let go. If this album represents the current state of hip hop, then it is clear that hip hop is not dead at all, but rising up with a vengeance to knock us all flat.