MC Ride of Death Grips.
A fan reflects on the Sacramento band’s history of trolling their audience, and ponders why that audience keeps coming back for more.
I knew the instant Death Grips made their breakup announcement — which was made via a photo of a cocktail napkin in 2014 — that it was bogus.
The message on the napkin said, “We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over. We have officially stopped.” Of course, this weird photo was a fitting way for the band to end their career — even more fitting that their end was only a part of their ongoing performance. They’ve even starting touring again last year, including a recent string of shows that saw them in Santa Cruz.
Their breakup sent the internet into a whirlwind of premature eulogies and thinkpieces — playing right into their hands, no doubt. And now they are making a huge deal out of an upcoming album, Bottomless Pit, which they first announced in October, and just recently established a digital release date for: May 6. The release of their first album since their breakup should be big news for Death Grips fans, right? Not really.
For one thing, as much as they like to pretend like this is their first post-breakup record, Death Grips have done almost nothing but release new music since their “breakup.” On that same napkin, they said that they would be still be releasing a double, final record, The Powers That B, later in the year. The first half came with no warning a few weeks later. It was called Niggas On The Moon, and it was presented as a collaboration with Bjork. Her voice was all over the eight tracks, though nearly unrecognizable: sampled, chopped, and screwed. It was unclear how involved she actually was. The second half, Jenny Death, was released last year. In between the two records, Death Grips released yet another, this time instrumental (and unannounced) record, Fashion Week.
After all that post-breakup music, Bottomless Pit is a bit of an afterthought. Of course, Death Grips being Death Grips, they’ve built mystery and excitement around the album while not actually revealing anything about it, just dropping hints as to what it might be — most of which are likely red herrings. But somehow this whole process is so compelling. One of the clues, which came right along the initial announcement of the record, was a bizarre video titled “Bottomless Pit,” which includes footage of the late actress Karen Black taken from 2013, shortly before her death. In it she is reading from the script of a movie that Hill is supposedly making.
What does it mean? What does it say about the record?
Earlier, in March, the group released a 30-minute video entitled “Interview,” which could very well be one of their best pranks. In it, they are interviewed by Matthew Hoffman (who does celebrity interviews for Regal Cinemas) in what’s made to look like gritty ‘70s footage, and the audio is removed and replaced by instrumental music.
Are we supposed to read their lips? Is the music a clue? Probably not. Death Grips released these instrumental tracks shortly after. Pitchfork even reviewed it like it was an album. But is it?
This is exactly what Death Grips does, and fans and critics alike constantly fall for it. From the beginning, they’ve pushed not only boundaries of rap music, but also what a band’s overall role can (or even should) be as art. I’m convinced that every aspect of Death Grips is part of the performance, whether it was one of the times they failed to show up at a gig, but instead had the venue play a screenshot of a fan’s suicide note, or the time they leaked their own record, No Love Web Deep, which was supposed to be released on major Epic, but instead got them kicked off of the label. (The record cover even had an image of drummer Zach Hill’s erect penis. Lovely.)
Was it a joke, a prank, or just erratic self-destructive behavior? However, you see it, how they’ve functioned as a band has always been as important as their music, and nothing they’ve done has seemed to hurt their career, even breaking up with a full US tour lined up with Nine Inch Nails. Death Grips fans treat being stood up by Death Grips as a badge of honor. Remember that time in ’92 when Guns N’ Roses’ fans rioted because the band took way too long setting up, then cut their set short? Death Grips’ audience might have applauded them.
That’s why it’s hard to tell when anything Death Grips announces is to be taken at face value. They did release audio of one song for the album, and it’s a brutal, animalistic track. But with Death Grips even this (along with the album art and track listing) is suspect. I don’t trust that any of this will be on the record — or even that there will be a record, even with an official release date now.
On their breakup note, the final lines said this: “Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibit anchored by sound and vision. Above a ‘Band.’ To our truest fans, please stay legend.”
If there’s one thing Death Grips have stayed true to, it’s this statement. And I, too, very much enjoy their performance as a “band.”