El-P hasn’t changed. ‘Cancer For Cure’ is a shirked, claustrophobic, paranoid clutter of rhyming conspiracy theories. It’s Def Jux to the bones, flexing brash, noisy, error-message beats, heavy on beefy, tough-guy rhymes and almost entirely void of pleb-pleasing hooks. The rappers, as usual, sound like they’re having a fucking blast pulverizing through chaos. There was something mystic about El-P’s reawakening and subsequent return to the fold, like he’d arrive swollen with new angst, anxieties and stories – but nah, this feels right at home, eschewing any pacing or tension for a full-blown physical assault, condensed into a single, brutal act.

“I am Sam /I am known to go h.a.m. / the full retard / playing taps on that keytar / in a benz or a bea-mar,” he spits over a squelched-shut trumpet on the cyberspace-broiled ‘The Full Retard’.

A wide-eyed Killer Mike, who’s just released a different paranoid, government-busting record with ‘R.A.P. Music’, assassinates a concentrated, computer-trash chug with vicious focus and “smuckers/motherfucker” strokes.

When El-P is working unassisted, though, he flexes his usual complete indifference with rapping on beat, and crams every bar he gets with the entire breadth of his lexicon. When the overstuffage descends on an already-gorged instrumental like ‘True Story’ it almost feels like self-parody.

It’s why, in parts, ‘Cancer For Cure’ can feel too excavated – like a crisp depiction of “the future of hip-hop” painted in ’98. The stormy, steely drones and security-camera rhetoric can feel like the Brooklyner is compensating for something. But that doesn’t stop it from being weirdly charming through its relentless sneer. If nothing else, it will remind you of the best times you’ve had listening to El-P, back when his perspective felt cutting edge.

By Luke Winkie

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