FOR A CERTAIN TYPE of music-loving citizen—otherwise known as the dopes like me that write about bands for a "living"—Death Grips were the great promise of a new evolution in hip-hop. Here were three lean, hungry musicians: rhymer Stefan Burnett, drummer/producer Zach Hill, and producer Andy Morin, on track to embody every panicked fear of Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center.
Death Grips' work did sound angry. If parents raised their eyebrows at the Parental Advisory stickers on the Public Enemy and Ice-T tapes their kids once brought home, imagine how they'd react to Hill's erect penis cutting across the cover of Death Grips' 2012 album No Love Deep Web.
Yet almost all the chatter about the band, once common currency on today's big music sites and the Twitter feeds of their contributors, has come to an abrupt end. The group just released one of the year's best albums—the explosive, disjointed, Björk-sampling The Powers That B—but none of our so-called tastemakers are talking about it. What gives?
My suspicion is that Death Grips just went a little too far. The provocation of No Love's dick-pic album art and their release of the album online for free as a "fuck you" to the major label that signed them (Epic) was one thing. The stunt of agreeing to play a 2013 Lollapalooza afterparty and, instead of performing, setting up a drum kit on stage in front of a projection of an alleged suicide note was another. Then Death Grips pulled out of a huge tour opening for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. Then they broke up. Then they didn't. As a result, the clickbait merchants of the world pretty much turned their backs on Death Grips.
The group's fans, wisely, are not following suit. Tickets for this Sunday's sold-out show at the Roseland were snapped up fast, and it's been a similar case at other venues around the US. The people are listening, even if the supposed arbiters of cool have moved on.