Ending a legacy: Death Grips’ final album

'The Powers that B' continue the band's experimental sound

Album: The Powers That B

Release Date: March 31

Label: Harvest Records

Grade: A-

The experimental hip-hop group Death Grips has just released the second half of their full-length final album, The Powers That B. This project brings an end to a band whose unpredictable antics have given them an infamous reputation in the music industry. From canceling nationwide tours to releasing albums with male genitalia on the cover, Death Grips has kept up the appearance that the band acts and lives without a care in the world.

Unlike other musicians who use shock, Death Grips has the music to back up its public image and even though hip-hop is at the band’s core, the group’s songs often flip through genres in a quick and uncompromising manner.

The lyrics of the lead singer, MC Ride, read more like William S. Burroughs or Henry Rollins than Jay Z or Kendrick Lamar. The mix of distorted electronics and punk rap lyrics helped Death Grips make music that isn’t defined by a genre. Even artists comparable to Death Grips lack the ability to give the same experience of the band. With this new release, Death Grips continues its noisy signature sound, but also change things to add more moments of reflection and clarity.

The first half of The Powers That B consists of Bjork samples that are manipulated to the point where her voice is heard only as another layer of instrumentation. The band’s drummer, Zach Hill, provides hard thumping rhythms that are constantly building up and breaking down. This half of the album seems to show more influence from Hill’s old math rock band, Hella.

Math rock is a complex form of experimental rock, popularized in the early ’90s by bands like Don Caballero and Breadwinner. This genre of music blends the high energy of hardcore punk with the subtlety of post-punk and the complex guitar chords of avant-garde music.

Death Grips takes the spastic approach of this genre and applies it to the sounds of hip-hop, EDM and alternative rock.

This results in a 31-minute jam session with MC Ride whispering, shouting and rapping cryptic lyrics over beats that are just as unstable as his delivery. The tracks on this half of the album flow seamlessly together and even though they don’t appear to create a narrative, the songs still sound as though they are connected in some way. Lyrically, MC Ride enters new territory by combining his normal abstraction (“Voila”) with personal introspection on peer pressure (“Say Hey Kid”), racial stereotypes (“Black Quarterback”) and even depression (“Up My Sleeves”).

“Used to know who I was / **** if I knew who that was,” Ride raps on the intro track, “Up My Sleeves.” In the chorus, Ride alludes to having tricks up his sleeve, which he fully displays throughout the album with his dense wordplay.

This album features some of Ride’s craziest and most confusing lyrics yet. With vocals that consist of fragmented phrases and lyrics like “pride your uniform and stunt / you do what my people would grunt,” it feels as though Ride is toying with the listener in typical Death Grips fashion.

Ride, however, also gives little glimpses into his actual life with references to his deceased mother (“Up My Sleeves”). The last track of the first half, “Big Dipper,” features Ride listing a bunch of different things that define him and, ironically, a hypocrite is one of them. This song could be taken as the band’s overarching motto, since the group’s unpredictability gives it the freedom to be anything.

Death Grips expands this motto and wears it like a badge of honor on the second half of The Powers That B. The chaotic intro song, “I Break Mirrors with my Face in the United States” shows Death Grips reveling in its own musical ugliness while flaunting it at the same time. While the first half of the album features Death Grips entering new territory, this half of the album features the band falling back into its punk and hip-hop roots. Bjork’s sampled voice is replaced with guitar by Nick Reinhart of Sacramento noise rock band Tera Melos.

Lyrically, this half of the album shows Ride delving even more into introspection, which results in some of the most sincere music Death Grips has ever made. Tracks like “Beyond Alive” and “On GP” have some psychedelic guitar solos that give a nice contrast to Ride’s manic delivery. This also helps relieve the tension in the more intense parts of the album.

Lyrics like “I'm ******* tired of all the perks / I've tried nothing, everything works,” depict Ride as frustrated, as though he’s run out of tricks and has to finally address the issues that he’s been dodging. These particular raps come from the song “On GP,” where Ride talks about his battles with depression and tells an eerie story about the Grim Reaper giving him his scythe. Death Grips returns to its hip-hop core on tracks like “Pss Pss,” with sounds that are as influenced by the Beastie Boys as much as they are by Nine Inch Nails.

The Powers that B is proof Death Grips isn’t running out of ideas. And in typical Death Grips fashion, the band leaked its final project before going on Facebook to announce, “We might make some more.”

Alex Pennington is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com