With all the furor about its sudden online leak, it’s easy to forget that with NO LOVE DEEP WEB, Death Grips have done something that about a million other rap crews have done: Released an album’s worth of material for free online. There’s a whole garden industry of that happening nowadays, and it’s called mixtapes. If I was the demon in charge of all major labels, I’d be way more pissed that Rick Ross released Rich Forever, an actual accessible A-list rap album that would’ve probably sold a couple of hundred thousand in its first week, as a mixtape than I would about Death Grips throwing a blaring cluster-bomb of a record, something that was never going to make a cent for anyone, online with no notice. Granted, most rappers don’t throw dick pics on their mixtape covers or explicitly bait their labels when they drop those tapes. But effectively speaking, NO LOVE DEEP WEB is basically just a mixtape. And if you listen to it as a mixtape rather than as a burst of anti-corporate rebellion, it’s still a pretty fascinating and confounding thing.
Death Grips are a rap group the same way that Lightning Bolt is a metal band. They keep a few of their genre’s signifiers in place: bass thuds, rhythmic spoken lyrics, the word “fuck.” But they use them for entirely different ends: To create nerve-jangling noise squalls, things that seem custom-designed to bring on headaches. MC Stefan Burnett is an unhinged ranter, not a rapper — closer to Suicidal Tendencies’ Mike Muir on “Institutionalized” than he is to, like, J. Cole, or even to Gunplay. Weirdly, the group canceled months worth of tour dates to write NO LOVE DEEP WEB, but the thing bears absolutely no traces of writerly consideration; like their other two full-lengths, it’s mostly MC Stefan Burnett barking agitation over beats that seem to be waging massive and bloody internal battles. I feel a bit weird calling it Mixtape Of The Week, when I have a lot more fun listening to things like Young Dro’s Ralph Lauren Reefa or ST 2 Lettaz’ unheralded a-couple-of-weeks-old R.E.B.E.L. EP. And maybe I’ll write about those two tapes in future weeks, especially if things get slow. But NO LOVE DEEP WEB, for all its attention-grabbing theatrics plays with some heavy musical ideas, and I just can’t shake it. It’s an album that rattles around in your brain even when it’s not playing.
Death Grips get called political a lot, but as far as I can tell, Burnett sums up the album’s entire message on “Lock Your Doors”: “I got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it.” This, of course, doesn’t count as a message, and if Burnett mentions any real issues on the album, he roars them so loudly that I can’t figure out what he’s saying. But the parts of NO LOVE that stick with me are the ones where Burnett’s voice simply fades into the instrumental landscape, which is as pretty as it is ugly. “Artificial Death In The West,” the track that ends NO LOVE, is immediately my favorite Death Grips song: A sticky keyboard drone that sputters and scrapes without ever losing its ominous grandeur. And that track’s sensibility, all barely-contained paranoid confusion, hangs all over NO LOVE. It’s an album about feeling your thoughts fly in every direction and realizing that it’s probably not OK to feel like that. It’s an angry album, I guess, but it’s really more of an anxious one, and it evokes that feeling where you know there’s way too much going on in your life that you can’t control and so this not-unpleasant broken fuzz thing just absorbs all your thoughts.
Also, I think it’s pretty funny that there’s a song called “Hunger Games.”
Download NO LOVE DEEP WEB for free here.