El-PI'll Sleep When You're Dead
Essential: "Up All Night"
Former Company Flow MC and Definite Jux head El-P's aggressive verbosity, high-minded rhetoric, and lo-fi production style have long placed him at the head of the indie hip-hop class. "I'll Sleep When You're Dead" continues apace with hard-nosed tracks dense with paranoia, politically charged content, and versatile verbiage, such as on the paean to automobiles, "Drive": "You call 'em windows/ I call 'em asbestos lesseners/ But it's wheezing in my chest/ I'll need more than [expletive] air fresheners." The spoken-word spitting style on "Dear Sirs" shows off El's linguistic bravado as well, but its cluttered backing track is emblematic of the album's major flaw. On "EMG" he rings the bell on an old-school boogie-down track complete with classic breaks and a steady vocal line, but percussion samples and grinding keyboard sounds distract from the song itself. Perhaps that's the point. Call it an antidote to commercial hook-pilfering; "I'll Sleep" isn't supposed to be easy listening, but it shouldn't be this hard, either. [Luke O'Neil]