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A Tribute To Death Grips: Their Ten Best Tracks

They came and they went. They amazed and they annoyed. Death Grips have called it quits after only a few highly prolific years, where they have done everything from getting signed and being cut to showing up and not showing at all. They have made interactive music videos and music videos in their cars. They’ve had fairly impressive album covers and then they’ve had an erect penis with the album title written on it. If any music group embodied the glory and the mess of a rock star’s trashed hotel room, it was Death Grips. Consisting of Stefan Burnett (MC Ride), Zach Hill (known for his many groups, including Hella) and Andy Morin (Flatlander), this trio (sometimes duo, lacking Morin) have done too many eccentricities to be able to list them all nicely within an introductory paragraph. Via twitter with a photo of a napkin with their farewell note messily written on it, Death Grips announced their split from out of nowhere; This makes sense seeing that the majority of their albums were released without any build up. Seeing that they call themselves an art piece and have stirred the pot before (with their cancellation of shows), this could all be a ruse: Their most successful yet. Nonetheless, if they return to the empty pavilion, this can be seen as a progress report. If not, while there is still part 2 of The Powers That B left, it’s time to look back at their short career full of extremely memorable hooks, disturbing noise and alienating lyricism. Here are what I consider the ten best tracks Death Grips released.

10. Big House [From Government Plates]

Many Death Grips songs will have a short introduction and then explode into the crux of what the song truly is about (see Fuck That for instance). A song that did this well is the short drug trip Big House. It begins with your usual rave sounds. As the party begins and the drugs kick in, the song becomes creepy with MC Ride repeating (what sounds like) “L.A. creepin’ under my skin”. It showcases Death Grips’ usual knack of making memorable lines, it boasts their production wizardry and it makes a subtle statement on the party culture that takes over the night.

9. Billy Not Really [From The Powers That B Part I: Niggas On The Moon]

Icelandic siren Björk adores Death Grips. She’s brought them on tour with her, released their remixes of her tracks and has publicly stated her admiration for them. In fact, she used herself as a guinea pig for the first part of The Powers That B. With every song sampling her voice, the best example of this is the second song Billy Not Really. It goes through a variety of styles. It stalks, then it kicks, and it ends off with the fleeing away from the scene of the crime. With some impacting drumming from Zach Hill and the different emotions that come from MC Ride’s different voices, Björk’s chants unite the song’s different passages with the voice of an angel being corroded into oblivion.

8. Pop [From No Love Deep Web]

This is No Love Deep Web: The album that slaughtered Death Grips’ ties with Epic. This is the album they leaked on purpose. With it being the most split album of theirs (some consider it their best work, others see it being incomparable to The Money Store that came out that year), there’s no question that the production on this album is spectacular. The atmospheric onslaught on Pop sounds a lot like something El-P would have made for Cannibal Ox. Then there’s that nauseating revving that pummels the verses. As one of the highlights from the album, it really shows a different side of Death Grips. Not everything they do sounds disturbing. Yes, you are pressured by the mechanical drone, but once the song breaks out into the starry night above, that release is so satisfying that you don’t mind being attacked again. It’s a good opportunity to remind yourself that Death Grips are capable of making pretty music, too.

7. Known For It [From Exmilitary]

Their mixtape Exmilitary put them on the map. Their music video for Guillotine sparked memes and quotes from all over the net. It is a good song, but it’s unfortunate because Exmilitary has far better songs on it (sorry). One of the songs that should be mentioned far more often is the 70’s-theme-song-turned-demonic Known For It. It’s one of their most straightforward songs, considering, but it still carries the sense of doom they’d be known for (especially on their latter releases). It modernizes a retro sound much like Daft Punk did on Human After All, not just commenting on the eventual deterioration of technology but also on our inability to leave the past. Whether or not the sample actually had this much thought put into it is up in the air. Regardless, it’s one of Death Grips’ poppiest songs showing that you don’t have to go all the way and sacrifice integrity to achieve accessibility.

6. Lost Boys [From The Money Store]

The Money Store, arguably Death Grips’ magnum opus, is easily their most dangerous sounding album yet. When I didn’t know much about who these guys were, I gave the album a spin anyways, as they had released the album for free listening on youtube. I remember the moment I reached Lost Boys, the third song, and the album finally clicked for me. The song, possibly their most intimidating overall, sounds like a space station being overrun with its sirens going off. The computerized voice repeating “lost boys” like a triggered alarm is so cold and distant sounding that MC Ride’s yells are all the more frightening, especially his warning that “It’s such a long way down”. Zach Hills’ drums undulate like the doorway of the space shuttle has been open to evacuate and everything inside is being sucked out. If any song could capture the fear created in Ridley Scott’s Alien, sans any relatable soundtracks, it’d be Lost Boys.

5. Black Dice [From No Love Deep Web]

The greatest song on No Love Deep Web is what sounds like a trip to the carnival turned into a nightmare. Named Black Dice, this song sounds like circus music from the ears of someone slowly turning unconscious. MC Ride tells us “No way in, no way out” so nonchalantly, too. It’s a chilling track with very little warmth to be found. It’s fun but it’s sarcastically so. Once MC Ride gets aggressive towards the end of the track, the severity is becoming reality. He constantly tells you to “feel me now” during the track, as if to say you must stay with him and not lose hope. He eases up at the end after his little outburst and while he remains calm, the song ends on a final, abrupt “feel me now”. There was no hope after all. It was inevitable, this ending we shared.

4. Culture Shock [From Exmilitary]

Starting off again with a radically different intro and a retro sample, the song to welcome Culture Shock slowly dies and turns into the glitch-heavy statement on society. It’s appropriate because it feels like the sensation we experience when something popular affects us on a spiritual level. MC Ride sits us down to have a few words with us while shooing away those in favor of shock value (“Culture shock, future shock: Fuck yourself. Choke yourself”). The sample in the background requesting that “you need to vibrate higher” sounds sexual, but in a scheming way. These are the advertisements that barrage us, even when we are aware of their favoritism of financial gain and not of consumer benefit. The song ends and that sample is played in full, and suddenly it isn’t advertising anything at all: It’s an android’s warning. While limited in expression, this outro sounds like the final words of someone from the future coming to warn us. Like Black Dice, this warning is cut short. We lose contact with the speaker. This lesson has been forgotten as soon as we turned on our television sets.

3. System Blower [From The Money Store]

There are very few songs that Death Grips have that truly connect with hip hop aside from the very bare basics of make their group arguably so. Some songs contain the bass heavy vibe that most hip hop songs contain, yet they are still skewed to the point of obscurity. One of those songs is System Blower, this pun that represents the destruction of society and the annihilation of a stereo system. The insanely clever sample of Serena Williams’ yelp is turned into a cry for help that fights to stay alive through a PA system. The production is properly spread out so the percussion reaches the walls and mid section of the track while the monstrous bass sits at the bottom like a monster living within the sewer system. This same bass system follows the kind of rhythms you’d find in trap music, while MC Ride’s lyrics poke fun at how rap lyrics typically are (“Suck my dick! What time is it? System blower”). It’s one of their catchiest songs, but it’s also a fairly distraught one, too.

2. Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching) [From Government Plates]

If there’s one thing I could wish for if Death Grips ever come back, it’s for more lengthy tracks like the Government Plate’s final track. Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching) may be their most serious song to date, and it speaks volumes about what the band has represented the entire time. The synth sounds go up and down like quick pistons, the bass drum beats steadily (which is highly unusual for Zach Hill), and MC Ride is the least obscure he’s ever been here. The song goes from upbeat and confident to being full of defeat and surrender. When the song dies down into its droning final hours, it will tend to pick back up and continue fighting. Once the song reaches the end, it accepts its fate and withers away. It sounds like Death Grips’ approach altogether: They bask in the spotlight and then hide just as soon as we were about to fully embrace them. It’s a bold track and it’s also a deeply depressing one. It’s use of ambience may be one of the most impressive feats Death Grips ever had, and it’s a shame we didn’t get more tracks as multi faceted as this gem.

1. The Fever (Aye Aye) [From The Money Store]

Sometimes rallying up the achievements of an artist means you finish off with the most typical answer. That’s an indication of universal success, if anything. When The Money Store started getting noticed and songs like Get Got and I’ve Seen Footage (sadly honorable mentions here) were making their rounds, there’s one video that became pretty well known. Like Guillotine, The Fever (Aye Aye) became a bit of an inside joke with music fans online. At the same time, though, it became the defining staple of what Death Grips meant the very moment they exploded officially. They’ve already signed with Epic at this point, and The Money Store was already getting its accolades. This is the first track most of us heard when trying out Death Grips. It’s the most appropriate song to have been introduced to them with because it is not just their best, it’s their most signature-like. The production is as marvelous as ever, with the scary opening leading the way (never mind the gorgeous sparkles that bounce off the walls of the song). Zach Hill’s drumming is as spastic as a bar fight as it is only contained by the steady digital beat on top of it. MC Ride is possibly the most animalistic he’s ever been on this song, and it is the song that made him seem the most like a mysterious villain. The Fever (Aye Aye) may be an obvious number one, but it’s because it deserves it. It’s what Death Grips did best at it’s very best. It’s the song that made you realize you either have the fever or you don’t.

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About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.