El-P drops a hip-hop classic every five years. In 1997, his group Company Flow released Funcrusher Plus, a declaration of independence for anybody alienated from mainstream rap. And after launching the Definitive Jux label in 2002, he dropped the solo disc Fantastic Damage, a daring effort that wandered far from hip-hop convention while also giving his new label a reputation as an indie powerhouse.
The year is now 2007, and El-P has churned out another masterpiece, I'll Sleep When You're Dead. As on previous discs, the production is gritty, raw and fairly dark; it's also heavy on delay and creepy robot noises. Lyrically, things get a bit personal: On "The Overly Dramatic Truth," an emotional tale about lovers with different perspectives, El exposes his pessimism, saying, "You see live forever / All I see is war." But the album's not all love jams; there's plenty of his sci-fi-obsessed, apocalyptic imagery ("The League of Extraordinary Nobodies"). Of course, some may scoff at the hip guest appearances -- Trent Reznor, Mars Volta, Cat Power -- but make no mistake: El is the star of this show. The only problem is, now we have to wait another fiveyears.