The road to The Powers That B has been nothing short of a wild ride. Whether it’d be dropping part 1 of this double album, niggas on the moon and announcing the 2nd part Jenny Death back in June 2014 by surprise, their “breakup” in July (which may not be the case since they’re going on tour and posted this on their Facebook), releasing ‘Inanimate Sensation‘ which led to the discovery of a supposedly fake Twitter account that just so happened to be real, releasing Fashion Week (an instrumental soundtrack that isn’t the album fans have been thirsting for since it’s announcement) in January this year, a rehearsal video, and finally announcing the release date along with a tour announcement to a random girl on Twitter who saw another girl’s skirt with MC Ride’s face on it.
Usually, most bands would just announce their album, release a couple of singles, put out the album, and then tour, but Death Grips isn’t most bands. Whether it’d be their use of social media and especially their music, Death Grips has continued to surprise and challenge music listeners all around. So, with all the events and speculation leading up to the release of this album, it surely had to disappoint, right? Even though the band has had an extremely consistent discography, an album with this much hype behind it would just fail to meet expectations in most cases, but they not only met expectations, they exceeded them.
First, let’s look back at niggas on the moon, arguably the most challenging release of Death Grips’ discography. The “concept” of niggas on the moon is the use of Björk’s vocals as a “found object.” Using a v-kit, Zach Hill is able to flip and morph these samples into another instrument for the band’s use. While vocal samples have been used time and time again in hip-hop, I don’t know if any producer would be willing to go to such an extreme as Hill does. Of course, I’m not leaving Death Grips’ other producer and engineer, Andy Morin aka Flatlander, out either, as his contributions to this album are also of worth.
Along with the production, we’re seeing the group’s vocalist, MC Ride, with some his most technically proficient rapping yet. To fit the group at their most accelerated production-wise, Ride is constantly challenged, flipping up new flows at a near instant and having his vocals be featured more prominently due to the mixing. Death Grips just doesn’t work as well without Ride. He’s the yin to Hill and Flatlander’s yang. While albums like Government Plates, which mostly features vocal samples of Ride and occasionally rapping) and Fashion Week (which features no vocal work) aren’t bad, it just doesn’t feel right without Ride.
So, when this album came out back in June, I was extremely excited to see that Ride was back at the helm for this release. Tracks like ‘Up My Sleeves’ and ‘Billy Not Really’ see Ride making a grand comeback of sorts giving us one of the most emotional tracks Death Grips had released at the time (before Jenny Death) and a showcase of skills seeing Ride drop the yelling for a more restrained and refined approach. With ‘Black Quarterback’ and ‘Say Hey Kid’, Ride discusses some pretty relatable subject matter, dealing with issues of identity, specifically those to do with his race. The first four tracks of this album are possibly the group’s best stretch of songs on an album, but what about the second half?
The second half of the album is still very good, but its a little more inconsistent. My least favorite track of the album, ‘Have a Sad Cum’, starts off the second half and kind of breaks the mood of the album for me. It just sounds like a leftover from Government Plates that’s been reworked for this album and exudes the feeling of literally having a sad cum for how long the track goes on. While I do enjoy this track, ‘Fuck Me Out’ is an extremely creepy track that sees Ride as a sex addict on edge, sounding more desperate than ever.
‘Voila’ and ‘Big Dipper’ both seem to be messages to the group’s fanbase and some of their critics, with ‘Voila’ going into the ego of being so revered and the hook of “Big Dipper” serving as an acknowledgement of the criticisms the band has received, also dipping back into his issues with egotism, comparing himself to a section of the Ursa Major constellation (‘Ursa Major, significance minor’) as a guiding light to his fans. However, he knows the implication of being a leader and tells his fans to get away before it’s too late with the last two bars of the album before Ride fades out into a storm of Björk samples which still continue to blow me away that it’s just Hill replacing parts of his drums with vocal samples.
While the second half falters in certain ways compared to the first half, niggas on the moon is an extremely dense album that rewards you with each listen. The Björk samples may come off as “noise for the sake of noise” at first, but once you dig in a little, these samples become integral, along with Ride’s vocals which both challenge him and fit him perfectly at the same time, making you wonder who else could spit on these types of beats. It’s another great album from the group that will be studied from years to come.