With The Money Store, Death Grips blew up a splintering alternative rap landscape
Original release date: 24 April, 2012
Label: Epic Records
Cast your minds back to 2012. The internet hadn’t yet congealed into the algorithmic technopoly it is today and amid the chaos of peak-era SoundCloud and relatively easy file-sharing (we see you, DatPiff), rap music felt like it was fracturing in a thousand different directions.
A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, Lil B, Odd Future and more had all exploded into public consciousness, each spearheading a different take on what the future of hip-hop had in store. Yet there was one act more than any other that captured rap’s lawlessness at the time: Death Grips. A fusion of hip-hop, industrial, hardcore punk and feral chaos, the Sacramento trio – made up of vocalist MC Ride, drummer and co-producer Zach Hill, and engineer and co-producer Andy Morin – had launched a thousand subreddits with their debut mixtape Exmilitary in 2011, and a year later followed it up with their official studio debut, The Money Store.
The sound was immediately divisive; within 20 seconds of opener Get Got, you were either hooked or getting a headache. While diehard fans hungrily devoured the layers of samples and coded rhymes, what grabbed everyone from the start was the sheer amplitude and ferocity of the music. MC Ride’s rabid vocals sound like he wants to crawl, Freddy Krueger-style, out of your speakers and curb stomp you. Combined with Hill’s background in experimental and noise music – most notably as the drummer of math rockers Hella – the sound they made was like nothing else. Bizarre samples and frantic electronics weaved in and out of one another as Ride hurled his distinctive vocals – often incomprehensible, always captivating – over the top. Yet no matter how frantic things got, there was always a groove. Their chaos was always carefully calculated.
Similarly, while MC Ride is notorious for his yelps, grunts and DMX-with-a-chest-infection vocals, throughout The Money Store, his range is much more varied. On tracks like The Cage and Punk Weight he drops into a disaffected monotone, while on Hacker, the most underrated track on the record, a wild-eyed Ride starts by proselytising about “pregnant snake[s]” and “a plethora of maniacs” before switching into a more melodic sprechgesang on the hook, leading a singalong worthy chant of “I’m in your ArEuhhh”. In all honesty, the second half of the song wouldn’t sound totally amiss mixed into Azealia Banks’ 212 or another hip-house banger.
Tracks like Hacker illustrate why filing The Money Store away as a purely ‘experimental’ hip-hop album feels limiting. For one, it was released on Epic Records at the behest of pop and R&B impresario LA Reid. And thanks to their brief time in Reid’s good books, The Money Store is Death Grips’ most ‘mainstream’ record, with production to match. The lead single I’ve Seen Footage – still the closest thing the group have come to writing a pop song – even picked up airtime on BBC Radio One. Yet despite this brief foray into the spotlight, Death Grips maintained their love for the rarest of samples. Having flipped Charles Manson on their debut, for its follow up, they drew heavily from Music from Saharan Cell Phones (Get Got, Punk Weight, Fuck That and Double Helix all contain hypnotic extracts from the compilation), as well as repurposing the Williams sisters’ tennis grunts and the Vancouver SkyTrain for the chaotic System Blower.
Even as they rose from the underground, Death Grips delighted in wrong footing everyone around them. They had masterfully curated an air of unpredictability and mystique around their public personas, refusing to do any press bar a few reluctant interviews at the start of their career. Following the release of The Money Store, Death Grips announced and then promptly cancelled a tour in favour of working on follow-up album NO LOVE DEEP WEB. Later that same year they leaked the record themselves with the instantly infamous artwork: the album’s title scrawled in Sharpie across Hill’s erect penis.
The Money Store’s legacy is far-reaching. Arriving a year before Kanye’s industrial pivot on Yeezus, it’s clear from the rumble of Black Skinhead and the pure menace of I’m In It that someone in Kanye’s studio was listening to Death Grips. Likewise, it’s difficult to imagine the cyber-anarchy of 100 gecs and their second-wave hyperpop peers without Ride and co slashing and burning a path first. In fact, gecs recently told the New York Times that the duo originally aimed for a “Nine Inch Nails meets Death Grips meets Beastie Boys” sound. And that’s without mentioning fellow noise rap travellers like clipping. and JPEGMAFIA (who, it should be noted, has previously voiced his objection to the comparison), or the praise superstars such as Björk and Thom Yorke have heaped on the trio.
If Exmilitary began the cult of Death Grips, then The Money Store was its New Testament, a second act that delivered on all the hype from its forebear and solidified the key tenets of the faith. Before The Money Store, Death Grips were the internet’s favourite reclusive musical hooligans. After its release, they were the most exciting, boundary pushing act in the world. Though follow-up albums have been well received by fans and critics alike, the trio have never quite reached the feral high of that era since.