Monday, August 27, 2007

Artists you're not listening to: El P

aka El Producto, aka Jaime Meline (his real name). He's the front-man for my new favorite record label, Def Jux. But first, let me provide some background...

Around the 4th of July of this year, my wife and I were visiting our good friends, Richmond and Wxman (actually it was a Richmond-sponsored bloggerfest). We were walking back to their house from the fireworks show, when one of the local "wiggas" drove by with their stereo system pumping out the deafening beats of........whoever was currently rapping on KISS FM. Richmond, knowing that I am a hip-hop aficionado, asked me who the artist was. I was at a loss. I had zero idea about who was currently popular, with the exception of those videos and songs that loop every few minutes at my Big Box store (and I have learned to tune those out). I haven't listened to the radio in five years. So, how can I call myself a hip-hop expert if I'm not up-to-date on current events? Hip-hop currently dominates the airwaves! Supposedly...

In reality, true hip-hop fell off the radar screen right around the turn of the millennium. Just as mainstream music began to absorb hip-hop, a splinter faction broke off and began to innovate in a new direction. These neo-oldskoolers found refuge in a new kind of record label: Definitive Jux. All indie hip-hop, all the time, and with a producer that really understood the culture and the music. So while the radio was obsessed with "ridin' dirty" and Lil John, indie (or underground) hip-hop thrived in live venues, and later proliferated over the internet. In fact, I would say that it found it's true home on streaming radio stations like smoothbeats.com.

So, while I have no idea what the wiggas next door are listening to, I am still a hip-hop head. And thus, I listen to almost every Def Jux artist, especially to their resident producer, El P.

"The son of jazz pianist Harry Keys (born Harry Meline), El-P (born Jaime Meline) became involved with the hip hop culture of New York City at an early age. After being expelled from several schools for problems with authority, Meline decided to whole-heartedly pursue a career in music. At his 18th birthday party, he met Mr. Len, whom he had hired as a DJ for the night. The two quickly became friends and formed Company Flow in 1992. They released their first vinyl single, "Juvenile Technique", in 1993. Bigg Jus later complemented the group and in 1996 the trioEP, Funcrusher. Subject to a major label bidding war after the success of the EP, Company Flow waited until they could get a contract on their own terms. They eventually signed to Rawkus Records, and released their debut full-length album, Funcrusher Plus (1997), which is now widely recognized as one of the most ground-breaking and influential alternative hip hop albums of all time."

What makes El P an innovator? It's the beats AND the lyrics, baby. His tracks are utterly absorbing in their originality, although he's not ashamed to sample when he needs to. And his lyrics reflect the soul of a true poet. No sh*t. Here are his lyrics from TOJ (Time Out of Joint). Any guy who has loved and lost.......and matured, will understand this. As will the woman.

"And you can tell that maybe time is out of joint my love
So this is maybe just a SOS shrapnel, an echo of dead sentiment
Measurement across the nothing for no one awaits that effort to shrug
Or maybe resident incurable romantic defunct in the face of fact
Blackboard formula waits by the next class
with the outlines still intact, and I see it
And I'm still not sure of the meaning
But I'll say it, write it down, and read it for you

No protective leathery flesh of emotional chain-mail
(No running shoes) no running, no locking doors, no anger
(No e-mail) no voicemail communicational strangulation
Or distortion of purity sentiment
No fantasy of reconciliation or delusion of no revenge
(No bullshit) no culture hidden agendas, no preaching
(No pedestal) no standing on the pulpit, no ego, no new speaker freakish lingo
(Here I go...)

I haven't loved many people
I grew up afraid that I was crazy
And one time when I was deep inside your body you purred
And I was sure that you were gonna have my baby

And you can tell that maybe time is out of joint my love
So this is maybe just a SOS shrapnel, an echo of dead sentiment
Measurement across the nothing for no one awaits that effort to shrug

And you can tell that maybe time is out of joint my love
So this is maybe just a SOS, shrapnel, an echo of dead sentiment
Measurement across the nothing for no one awaits that effort to shrug

I used to be in love...

Everything you said I took it all to heart
And you spurred a change in me
Before I could become a new sun I had to fall apart
And I can see that now
And I wish you well
Cause you saw what was good in me
And I'll be god damned if I didn't see that myself
And everything you are
I know you got to cry
Before I could become a man I had to lose my mind had to lose my mind

And I see that now
And I wish you well
Cause I see what's good in you
And I'll be god damned if you can’t see that yourself"


(Here's the mp3. Download, listen, and discuss. It's that deep.) Incidentally, Time Out of Joint is also a short story by Philip K. Dick. That's another cool thing about El P. He's a huge fan of both sci-fi literature and cinema, and it ends up reflected in all of his works. Give El P a listen. Try last.fm or Pandora. Let me know what you think...
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