Lyrically dense and nearly impossible to digest on a single spin, Fantastic Damage by the New York MC El-P is enough to push backpack hip-hop into a mantlepiece. The fire burns brightly, but through the 16 tracks and over an hour of content, this is a record where the audience has to strap in and begin to dissect track by track.
It’s almost daunting at first, seeing the abstract and almost untraceable cover art which displays “el-p” in bright, nearly florescent lettering is a perfect balance to the dull coloring that opposes. As El-P moves in, as an artist where his collaborative effort of Run The Jewels with Killer Mike was the first true introduction to his productive style. There is this retrospective gleam that comes with the territory.
Fantastic Damage which was originally released in 2002, essentially is a table maker that dresses the sprawling landscape with both fine china, but also chopped cheeses. It is the musical equivalent of wearing a Balenciaga Faux-Fur Coat and some Timberland boots. The bloodied mix of New York undertones with these attitudes and delivery cues clash in the electronic hip-hop world that El-P can thrive in. He is constrictive in his use of sound, forming air-tight production in some cases that choke the listener with double-fisted grips.
Blasting the doors off with “Fantastic Damage” which for some prolific reason, gives off epilogue emotion based on the 1979 movie The Warriors, where a sunny beach conquers the dim-lit nights. But then as the instrumental actually kicks into gear, the glitchy and stuttered steps of scratching on steel begins to shine through.
El-P who handles the delivery and production forms bonds with the ears but can also pit them against each other. He describes on the title cut, “Kids are patriotic, robotic, operate catapults and goose-step over innocence. Vagrant of Reaganomics phasing, read the books that will burn at the barn raising.” He continues on to finish the verse by stating,
“This the third installment of a prequel that was never written right, filmed with that classic Brooklyn magic, without LucasArts graphics. Rendered cuddly comic relief creatures or terrible child actors, get off that jade elephant, you’re stoned and remember everything backwards.”
Every piece of the Fantastic Damage puzzle has something that desires to be discussed and with the production choices on tracks like “Accidents Don’t Happen” or “Lazerfaces’ Warning,” El-P is B-Movie director. He not only directs the drama, but acts in it and is able to contort the story to be not just a jumping point, but the bright lights that burn his vision and etch themselves into the cyberpunk future where El-P dwells are intimidating and equally deadly.
From flying cars to tanks, El-P is an artist that not only progressed from his debut solo career jumping point but has a solid foundation of nearly 20 years to stand on. Now moving to focus primarily on RTJ, if another solo record was in the works, the burning spirit of New York energy wouldn’t be lost for even a second.
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