"L.A. Reid got in touch and asked if we'd meet with him at the Sony building in Los Angeles... It quickly became apparent that these people truly believed in what we were doing and understood our vision. We recognized the unlimited possibilities and total freedom this relationship would bring artistically... we signed with them that night.”
That’s a member of Death Grips talking to Exclaim!, telling the craziest weirdo group getting signed to a major story since the Flaming Lips got snatched up in the early ‘90s by Warner Brothers. The interesting part though, is untold. Who at Epic listened to Exmilitary and decided the home of Avril Lavigne was a good fit for Death Grips, a group that makes the visceral rap of Waka Flocka Flame seem like quaint bedroom pop? It’s a crazy story that they were in the building, and got signed, but I want someone to do a story on the A&R dude who convinced L.A. Reid to give these cats a shot for not one, but two (the second album is due out later this year) major label-backed LPs.
The Money Store, the group’s first commercial album-- if the cover wasn’t indication enough-- doesn’t betray the far left-field inclinations of Death Grips, and makes no bend toward commercialism. The album is exactly what you’d expect: It’s a glass-chewing, snarling, abrasive, uncompromising, teeming with fuck-everything abandon slate of 13 tracks, just as likely to start slam dancing as it is city-wide riots. Any worry that real money would dull the band’s edge is gone by the second song, “The Fever (Aye Aye),” a lazer-bolstered, sweaty spine crusher. This is not music you play when you’re looking for a quiet evening with your significant other. This is music you play when you’re about to ride out on a 15-state murder spree.
MC Ride, aka Stefan Burnett, is Death Grips’ strength, a roaring, sneering dynamo at the center of the group’s maelstrom. That doesn’t change a lick here, as he’s, at various points, railing “Going back to Tangiers/with guns and a spear” and “makes you want to break into the Apple Store!” on album highlight “Hacker,” a song that pairs his barking with a downright danceable backbeat. His is not a varied instrument—somewhere between a carnival barker and someone having a vocal breakdown—but he occasionally sings here too. Lest you think he’s gone soft though, his entire ethos can be summed up in one line here: “Ready motherfucker? Let’s do this!”
The thing keeping The Money Store from outrunning the shadow of the genre-crushing, total surprise of Exmilitary ends up being the label after all. They’re less inclined to allow Charles Manson samples form the spiritual basis of songs--and artists might not be so keen to have their samples turned into songs like “Fuck That”-- so The Money Store is comprised of original music. On Exmilitary, Death Grips played liked sonic terrorism, a group bending hip-hop to be as brusque and frightening as noise rock. On The Money Store, they play like an electronic group that happens to have a deranged rapper as its front man. The difference is subtle, but important. That said, to think that the The Money Store is on the same major label that is going to be putting out Fiona Apple’s comeback album this summer? Death Grips might not match Exmilitary for style points, but the indelible image of them playing this for label bigwigs is one for the ages.