El-P Tells Us How His Latest Album Could Be Misinterpreted.
El-P is a 2012 success story: Between producing Killer Mike's insurmountable R.A.P. Music and then dropping his own Cancer 4 Cure shortly afterward, he might be the most dominant indie force going in hip-hop at the moment.
But this isn't some new success or anything. El-P's previous albums have all earned critical praise, and his label, the now-defunct Def Jux Records, hosted an array of veritable rap talent in its roster.
When he hits the Granada Theater stage this Thursday night, he'll again be surrounded by some top-notch performers: Killer Mike will be there, as will up-and-comers Mr. Muthafuckin' Exquire and Despot.
In advance of this performance we caught up with the acclaimed producer and rapper to talk about his latest album, his internal struggles and how he fears his music may be misinterpreted.
You worked on your latest album for two and a half years. Is that because you were really meticulous? Or was it more like a time issue?
Both, definitely. It took me a while to get started on it because there was a bunch of other shit that I was doing. And it also took me a while to get inspired enough to do it. I'm kind of psychopathically meticulous with my records. I'm trying to speed that process up, though.
Does that mean you obsess over tiny details?
Sometimes the tiny details, sometimes the giant details — like “Do I like this song at all?” I put a lot of work into the craft here, and I'm sort of aiming for something, searching for something sonically that takes a little bit more time to put together. Sometimes, songs come together more quickly. The fact of the matter is that I don't really make these albums, or rap songs, until I have something to say. And that can take a while. Sometimes you don't know what you're about or what you want to say. You have to sit through the bullshit. And sometimes it can take a while to think “Wow, that's a song.”
So is it easier to work on other people's records?
It can be. You kind of take yourself out of the equation, and you don't have all the weight of your previous albums or the ideas you want to put across of what represents you. Working with someone else, for me, you don't have to over-think it. I don't have to over-think my music either — I just tend to do it. Well, maybe not over-think it, but I work on it a lot. It can be a much easier process working for someone else because you can go off of their energy.
You've called Cancer 4 Cure a fight record. Is it meant to be antagonistic?
It's not really. I mean, maybe it's antagonistic. It's always antagonistic to be honest, at least in this current environment, the current psychic environment of the world. I think it's more about fighting for something — fighting for sanity, fighting for strength. I think people took that line and took it literally. It's not literal. I think the record is really about fighting for your mental and physical and spiritual survival. It is a record borne out of internal struggle, and that's why I said what I said about it.
Would you say that it's got anger in it?
What do you think? How does it come off to you? Was the vibe you got, when you listened to the album, anger?
I think it's more of a frustration.
That would be more accurate. Frustration and exasperation and confusion plays into it a lot. I don't have too many things to be angry about that are outside of my own life and my own head. I have a lot of shit that I'm frustrated with, but it all sort of comes back to how I handle it and how I deal with it. And there's a hell of a lot that I'm confused about. I think people pick up the anger vibe just because the feeling of the music and the way I use my voice. That's understandable. It feels outward, it feels aggressive. The reality of it is, I'm rarely, especially on this album, the guy who's pointing the finger too hard outwardly. I think there are external things that play into it.
These records tend to be a real examination of coming to any conclusion, and a real examination of what's going on in my head, internally. Everything that's going on in my head is stimulated by what's going on around me. But it's not really about pointing to anyone and saying, “You're wrong.” If anyone's wrong in my perspective on these records, it's me.
You've expressed disdain at people who put labels on subgenres of music. Do you think they do that so they can call it a trend?
I'm not sure. I think that it's just a habit that music fans and critics get into just because it's easily categorizable. It's an easy way to describe to somebody, even if it's inaccurate. I think my problem with it is that it is often glazing over and missing the details. Missing the nuance of what's going on. If you were to call my music any one thing or any subgenre, it would be pretty annoying to me because I'm a complex guy, you know? I'm not that easy. There has never been a genre or subgenre or subculture that anyone has come up with that I've felt like, “Yeah, that describes me,” y'know? I also think, ultimately, it just doesn't do anything for anybody. It doesn't do anything for music. If you create an idea to encompass a whole bunch of different people with different lives, different experiences — and then you come up with this easy phrase to categorize it because you don't really have the time to pay attention to everyone individually — it creates division. It's the idea that people who are making music are doing one thing or the other thing. I don't really see that as being very true. I think that's a false idea. I think it's lazy, personally.
El-P performs Thursday, June 21, at the Granada Theater.