Ever wonder what J. Dilla’s Donuts would sound like if El-P made it? Of course you haven’t. That’s a ridiculous thing to wonder. At least, it is unless you are El-P, in which case you’ve already admitted that Dilla’s Donuts was a major influence on your latest release.
It’s called Weareallgoingtoburninhell Megamixxx3, which indicates that it’s the third installment in his “random shit that I put together between albums” series. It is also, however, the second such release since 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, which means that El-P either had a whole lot of stuff just lying around after the production of that album, or he went and made some music especially for one of these releases.
Happily, it seems that the latter is the case.
Weareallgoingtoburninhell Megamixxx3‘s shit is actually less random than expected. It’s full of the fuzzy beats and fuzzier synths that El-P has long made his production trademark, but it’s incredibly listenable and lives up to the “megamix” portion of its title admirably. If the narrative suggested by the bookended samples doesn’t suit you (man asks silent visitor to get undressed / music plays / man asks silent visitor to get dressed), you can easily come up with your own. There’s an arc here, calculated and remarkably subtle, ebbing and flowing with a grace usually reserved for artists’ “proper” releases.
Given the nature of the thing, there aren’t that many highlights, or lowlights for that matter — it’s remarkably uniform. The low frequency buzzing of the first minute and a half or so of “Meanstreak (In 3 Parts)” is pretty much everything appealing about El-P’s production wrapped up in a tight little nugget. It sounds like an angry Odd Nosdam, pissed off at Doseone and Why? for ditching cLOUDDEAD, determined to get back at them with a sick, slippery bumblebee of a beat. He makes two minutes of Young Jeezy’s “I Got This” sound like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 2”, except less epic and more intimate. The ominously-titled “He Hit Her So She Left” is appropriately, yes, ominous.
What Weareallgoingtoburninhell Megamixxx3 does not do is somehow transcend the inability of instrumental hip-hop albums to make a lasting impact. While the music is well-produced, the beats are tight, and the fuzz is furious, it’s still background music. It’s dying for an MC. It’s perfect for passive listening, for when you’re in one of those “determined to get something done and needing some background music to do it” moods, but you’ll never listen to it without your mind wandering. It’s not layered, it’s not deep, it’s just kind of there.
Now, I namechecked Donuts at the beginning of this review, and I haven’t really explained that, which seems like an egregious omission given the impact that Dilla’s work had around the time of his too-soon death. How could I not explain the comparison? The problem here is that the comparison doesn’t really exist, unless you’re trying to explain away the brevity of the tracks on this album, which the press release that accompanied my copy actually does. Here’s how the reasoning goes: People have short attention spans. Dilla’s album had short tracks. People loved Dilla’s album. Therefore, Weareallgoingtoburninhell Megamixxx3 consists of a bunch of short tracks. That’s it. That’s the extent of it. It’s a PR trick, designed to get reviewers like me to make comparisons between albums that have nothing to do with each other. And, hey look, it worked!
Combine this tomfoolery with the constant refrain of an eight-year-old (or so) saying “You are listening to El-P’s Weareallgoingtoburninhell Megamixxx3. Goodbye poopooheads!” every two minutes on the promo copy — a promo copy that’s missing a pretty excellent track (“DMSC”), if the 30-second sample on Amazon is to be trusted — and maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion at all. Maybe it’s a life-changing work whose PR has made me ornery.
Peripheral issues aside, if you temper your expectations and just concentrate on the music coming out of your speakers, you’re going to enjoy this edition of the Megamixxx series. It’s not Donuts, and it’s certainly not Fantastic Damage, but it’s a fine piece of work from a producer whose demand far exceeds his supply.