November 4, 2004

After the Damage

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There are few people working in Hip-Hop whose influence has been more pervasive than El-P’s. As the leader of Company Flow he blasted a gaping hole in Hip-Hop conventions with the seminal Funcrusher Plus. He is responsible for two of the best albums of the current decade: his solo debut, Fantastic Damage, and Cannibal Ox’s masterful The Cold Vein, which entirely used his distinctive production work.

It’s been two years now since he dropped Fantastic Damage, and if fans have wondered what El-P’s been doing, Collecting the Kid provides some answers.

Essentially a collection of loose parts and hard-to-find tracks, Collecting the Kid stands like a Dickensonian orphanage of El-P’s homeless brainchildren. Consisting of creative whims, scraps of the Bomb the System soundtrack and his meanderings into the hybridized Hip-Hop / jazz arena, Collecting the Kid is not the focused sonic barrage that was Fantastic Damage. But despite it’s self-diminishing concept, the album is a surprisingly cohesive and welcome change of pace.

Collecting the Kid consists largely of instrumental pieces, vastly more accessible than his notoriously dense lyrical clusters. The lacerating percussion and digital hailstorms of Fantastic Damage are gone in favor of more fluid electronica. But that’s not to say that El-P has lost his hard edge. The songs on Collecting the Kid still have a gritty, urban tint, but are guided by logical rhythms rather than abrasive subversions of traditional dance beats. “Dream Theme” starts the album off on a roaring note. “Intrigue in the House of India” is deceptively simple, growing in complexity as it progresses and using three note and Latin piano rhythms built into a swirling ouveure of synthesizers, fuzz and abstract ambient sounds. “The Day After Yesterday” is one of the album’s most playful offerings, using a lurching piano layered on top of static crackle, metallic reverb, ebullient catcalls and trumpets turned in on themselves.

But with the exception of “Constellation Remix,” which uses the ethereally altered vocals of Venzina, the vocal tracks falter. “Jukie Skate Rock,” the only track where El-P raps, would have been fantastic if not for the most unoriginal chorus possible — a chant that repeats, “World War III’s gonna be here tonight / So all my ladies in the spot gonna do what they like / And say Def Jux / Definitive Jux.” That disappointment is matched only by the finale, an 8-minute sludge puddle inappropriately titled “Oxycontin” since it lacks any paliative or addictive qualities.

By no means is Collecting the Kid a valid follow-up to Fantastic Damage. These are just pages pulled from an experimental scrapbook. Fans expecting otherwise may be disapointed, but if this at all forecasts Fantastic Damage’s true successor, then we may have a masterpiece to look forward to.

Archived article by Zach Jones
Sun Arts & Entertainment Editor-In-Chief