Death Grips – Niggas on the Moon [Extended Review]

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As a listener, a Death Grips project is always a challenge, and that’s all to their credit. Not to start off with a lofty proclamation, but to many, art succeeds if it makes you think, and this group will definitely have your brain rattling. Death Grips is a trio based out of Sacramento that began their catalog with their Exmilitary mixtape back in 2011 and has thus trail blazed their way into becoming icons of the experimental music world. Their music is unabashedly tangled and coarse, but through that, it demands to be heard and dissected. It asserts itself and unflinchingly delivers the message it was produced for. I often hear the group described very accurately as the most punk you will ever see Hip hop as a genre go. But that’s all of their discography, really. Niggas on the Moon is part one to a double album entitled The Powers that B, to be finished later this year with the second installment, Jenny Death. Sonically is less dismal while keeping all depth and complexity that make Death Grips enjoyable. And if you’re listening to Death Grips solely for the uncensored rebellion of it all, that’s still present. I mean, MC Ride basically climaxes mid-verse at one point.

Though MC Ride’s vocals are always attention grabbing and impressive, I particularly enjoyed the production of this project, even more so than I have in their previous releases. The drums are loud and heavy and on point throughout, the synths are hectic but in formation, and the sampling is engaging, managing to be striking while fitting into the overall mood that the release gives off. The production of Death Grips sits in this air of deranged and sinister whimsy that is extremely intriguing. It’s what makes them a group to keep up-to-date with, it gives incentive to experience and appreciate what they have to say musically. I’d like to highlight the instrumental to “Have A Sad Cum.” It’s super frantic, fairly manic, and delightfully all over the place. “Say Hey Kid” is also great; the abrupt, hasty, hurried bass kicks give me life. Staying on the production side, though, it wouldn’t be Death Grips if it didn’t touch down into near-unpleasant territory. Enter “Up My Sleeves,” which I can only compare to walking into a damn tornado (a fairly interesting and musically in-touch tornado, at that). Past how it sounds, I’m kind of into how quick this project is. Both Niggas on the Moon and Government Plates have accomplished something really important which that is understandably, yet sadly often overlooked. As a listener, I didn’t really need to come up for air while sitting down to listen to this. All previous projects have clocked in at over 40 minutes, and even if this project is close to that at 30 minutes, it’s just more of a consumable form.

As with all Death Grips releases, Niggas on the Moon goes totally bananas, and following their normal pattern, it precisely blends total aggression with thought provoking musical direction. It’s some of the most unpredictable music that you can subject yourself to, as far as the 2014 Hip hop spectrum goes. Death Grips themselves are a real enigma; if you aren’t familiar with their work, you really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when you download one of their projects. If that’s where you’re at, allow me to prepare you: Niggas on the Moon is absolutely great music. It may be vast and rather challenging musically, but that doesn’t stop it from being well crafted and deeply nuanced. To address what would turn many away, i.e., the heavy overtones of anger and aggression, think of the art of World War I. You’ll see pieces that are absolutely gruesome, but they still hold merit. The “shock” served to illustrate the horrors of war in a time where a normal person didn’t have any way to experience them. The reason for the abrasiveness of Death Grips music is to convey internal struggle, which is fairly common, as far as the purpose of making music goes. Now let’s look at this project from the scope of a long time Death Grips listener. I get that some will leave this project unsatisfied. Sure, this sonically sounds different from The Money Store, I get that. But to reiterate a point I made in the Government Plates review, a diversion from what we expect keeps the group fresh – one that I would hope never becomes unexciting, at that. If you don’t give it that, I would have to cop out by saying we all vibe to different things. Just as we all have a favorite Kanye West album, we all have a favorite Death Grips project. It’s all part of their discography, and, to the credit of Death Grips, their’s is one of variety.

Personal highpoints:

“Say Hey Kid” / “Have A Sad Cum” / “Viola”

Personal lowpoints:

“Fuck Me Out”

Download Niggas on the Moon here.

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Charlie Johns