Tonight: Death Grips vs. B L A C K I E, Round 2

Death Grips at Berlin's Festsaal Kreuzberg, 2012
Death Grips at Berlin's Festsaal Kreuzberg, 2012

If you want to irritate a ride-or-die Death Grips devotee to the point of a conniption fit, watch them stroke out when B L A C K I E’s name surfaces. One of the most tirelessly antiquated and nonsensical arguments concerning the B L A C K I E vs. Death Grips debate is the “It’s just music” fallacy. Death Grips fans dismiss the fact that the band did rip off B L A C K I E. Turning a blind eye to the DIY culture where the Houston noise-rapper cut his teeth takes for granted the esoteric nuances found in his music. Ultimately, the fact that Death Grips became popular falls short of the real issue: they never acknowledged B L A C K I E’s influence on their “art.”

The most obvious indication stems directly from place and environment. B L A C K I E hails from La Porte, a place dubbed “Chem City” for its towers spewing refined petroleum into the atmosphere. During the day, the flames from the plants burn like a dying star. Contrast this scene with the beach vistas promoted by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and the splendor feels and smells processed. That dismal view pervades itself throughout the production work of B L A C K I E's self-titled EP, Spread Luv and GEN. Nothing is clean within the production. The grime and acridity is not contrived; it is real, and it fills the spaces with the same sharpened strands of toxic air that punctures lungs.

On the other hand, Death Grips’ No Love Deep Web fails to recreate that atmosphere. Each track sounds forced and unspontaneous. Instead of reflecting a distinctly genuine environment, it becomes a disingenuous pastiche of B L A C K I E’s DIY “Fuck the False” sound. “Black Dice” sounds like it was sampled directly from “Who Protects Us from You?” “No love” repulses in its strange karaoke rendition of “The Safety of Poverty,” where MC Ride barks and screams in the same low register while using cadences too comparable not to call bullshit.

Houston’s rich hip- hop culture, especially the sacred tradition of Screw music, also separates the wheat from the chaff. In its infancy, Screw music reflected H-town’s inner-city decay and dispossession. “Big Big Joke Jokes” from B L A C K I E’s Wilderness of North America champions the same ethos found in this region’s most influential art form. “I Write on Money” drags in the same way the earliest manifestations of Screw music before the rest of the world discovered it: it swings low, it flosses, it waits. You can hear Big Moe singing in his signature melodic, yet guttural baritone over the beat.

Hearing “The Fever” from Money Store flashed the first signal of Screw music mis-replication. Like someone putting swangers on a Smart Car, you just can’t front. MC Ride false claims throughout the track with a whopping cough rant. B L A C K I E’s raw cadences make their way into MC Ride’s mouth, but pale in comparison and lack B L A C K I E’s regional authenticity like a b-movie actor histrionically flaunting an embarrassingly phony English accent. Except in this case, MC Ride sounds like a Wesley Willis impersonator attempting to flow like B L A C K I E. 

When Death Grips performed on the same bill on the same night as B L A C K I E in 2011 at Fun Fun Fun Fest Nites, their sound possessed an electronic bent that also contained some peculiarities found in B L A C K I E’s music, namely bursts of noise and jagged beats. But it lacked the same grittiness found on most of B L A C K I E’s records. However, when No Love Deep Web was released in 2012, the gloves came off. Their DIY persona was shattered by the news of Death Grips' signing to a major label. To wit, B L A C K I E responded:

@b_l_a_c_k_i_e is tweeting himself & slaying you mainstream acts one by one” — B L A C K I E 10/02/2012

Straddling the majors while playing a disingenuous game of “Look at my DIY cred!” became obvious. B L A C K I E began his adventure in 2005, and everything that has come from him has come out of his pocket. He cannot strike a phony posture. Those who have had integral roles in the DIY noise-rap scene know the truth, and fans of both artists began calling Death Grips out. Their success felt patronizing. With no mention of the man behind the “Fuck the False” credo, they attempted to pass the music off as their own. And as Morrissey wisely stated a long time ago, “Cause there’s always someone, somewhere/ With a big nose who knows/ And trips you up and laughs/ When you fall.”

If you wander over to Fitzgerald’s tonight, stay downstairs and watch authentic H-town hustlers FLCON FCKER, birdmagic, George West, Rez and Fredster. If you want to misrepresent yourself in this city, then go upstairs and take part in the travesty that is Death Grips. 

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