Underground talent at top of his game
Though it's perhaps now not the project for which he's best known, El-P – known to his parents as Jaime Meline – started his hip hop career in Company Flow, acting as rapper/producer with Mr Len (DJ/producer) and Bigg Jus (rapper/producer) completing the line-up.
This was in 1992, in Queens, New York, following an unsuccessful attempt at securing a solo deal. The group signed to Rawkus, which has in its time released records by Mos Def, Black Star, Eminem and Common, amongst others. During this period, Company Flow were pivotal in raising the profile and the quality of undergroup rap; their debut Funcrusher Plus is often cited as one of the most important records of the era.
By the end of 2000, however, the relationship between Rawkus and the group had gone sour; the staff at the label were fired and the group disintegrated. It wasn't the end for Meline though, as he had started up a record label with Amaechi Uzoigwe in 1999 and, following the demise of the group, started to focus his energy there.
Originally officially known as Def Jux (as it is now nearly always known, affectionately), the label became Definitive Jux in 2001 after a run-in with Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons' Def Jam.
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Def Jux continued where Rawkus left off, releasing more than 150 records, many of which are considered absolute essentials of underground hip hop.
Mr Lif, Cannibal Ox, RJD2, Aesop Rock, Murs and Del tha Funkee Homosapien may not be household names, but to even the most casual of indie hip hop fans, these are the big guns.
El-P continued to create music during this time. He worked on records by many of the Def Jux roster, including Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock and Mr Lif, as well as putting out two solo records of densely produced, experimental hip hop (this before stepping down as artistic director of Def Jux in 2010).
The last of these solo records was I'll Sleep When You're Dead, released in 2007, which peaked at number 78 on the Billboard 200, making it his most successful album to date.
It featured Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor on the first single, as well as three members of The Mars Volta, Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) and Matt Sweeney (of Chavez and Zwan.) As well as the cream of the alt-rock crop, the LP had guest appearances from Cage and Aesop Rock.
Since then, it's been a quiet few years for Meline in terms of studio output; at least it had been until 2012.
Spaced just one week apart, two records came out in May this year – one on Jason DeMarco's Williams Street Records, the other on Fat Possum Records (The Fiery Furnaces, Wavves, Dinosaur Jr) – that saw El-P returning to recording in a big way.
The first is Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, a powerful political album with punchy, innovative and aggressive production, handled by El-P. The second is an El-P solo record, Cancer 4 Cure, concerning darkness and death as its name suggests, with beats hard enough to match.
Most musicians struggle to put out one great record at any time, yet Meline has managed an almost impossible feat in putting out two that are universally acclaimed.
Although he'll only be performing tracks from the latter solo release at this date in Bristol, it'd be foolish to miss the opportunity to catch one of underground rap's most important figures, especially when he is so clearly at the top of his game.
El-P The Fleece, Sunday, September 16. See listings for details.