El-P readily admits that pessimism pervades his long-awaited second disc, “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.” But the unconventional New York rapper, producer and Def Jux label owner also points out that he did not arrive easily at the sardonic, often bleak observations about life in post-Sept. 11 Brooklyn that crowd “Sleep’s” dense grooves.
“These thoughts were not manufactured out of nothing,” says the 32-year-old “phrase mason” born Jaime Meline from a tour stop in Atlanta. “It was very much a snowballing process. They evolved over the 2 ½ years it took to record the album. ...
“There’s a darkness in my mind that is pervasive,” he adds, “so don’t think these thoughts are a happy thing for me. People assume because I paint a pessimistic picture that I revel in it and enjoy it. I would prefer I was happy and I didn’t see a problem.”
And is he ever truly happy?
“Ironically, when I’m making music,” El-P confesses. “It’s a little bit of a Chinese finger trap, isn’t it?”
As he has from the beginning of his career in 1996, when his singular beats and wildly bizarre lyrics drew the spotlight to his group Company Flow, El-P eschews the trappings of corporate rap and studiously avoids its favorite ruts (bling, bragging and ho’s).
According to El-P, the idea behind “I’ll Sleep,” the follow-up to his hit 2002 solo debut, “Fantastic Damage,” was to make “a genuine record from someone who is flawed taking snapshots of what it’s like to be alive in my city, my world. It’s me trying to channel something, be the voice of something that needed saying.”
In the feverish, percussion-fueled “Up All Night,” El-P delivers some of the disc’s most telling lines: “I might have been born yesterday, sir, but I stayed up all night” and “I wish my hope still existed.”
“My talent is to vent frustration and ask questions,” El-P says of the song. “Some of that is sort of tongue-in-cheek, me poking fun at myself.”
On “EMG” and “Drive,” El-P has some fun at the expense of mainstream rap - “Everyone gets tired of the pseudo-thuggery and gangsterism,” he says. “It’s so easy to see through at this point. It gets exhausting to me.”
But more often El-P is dead serious. Take, for example, “Smithereens (Stop Cryin),” where he vents at “Mayor Doomberg,” his name for NYC’s chief executive, Michael Bloomberg.
“He fought tooth and nail arguing there was nothing wrong with the air quality after 9/11,” says El-P. “That (ticked) me off. I live in Brooklyn where the cloud (contaminated by WTC toxins) went right over the water supply and the EPA never gave a (fig) ... I’m not fooled by (Bloomberg). He’s a fascist.”