Death Grips: A Funeral

Death Grips
It's been almost two months since Death Grips broke up, and it's about time that they had a proper funeral.

Death Grips Obituary

Death Grips1, 3½, of Sacramento passed away July 2, 2014 on Facebook. Grips died of ritual suicide after a long-suffering battle with megalomania. It has been said that Grips’ entire career was a sort of indirect suicide, a collision course littered with premonitions of calamitous end since the cover art of debut album The Money Store (Epic 2012) featured a sadomasochistic cartoon, whose principal character, a mask-wearing2 androgyne with Death Grips carved into hir chest, incited the realization that to love Death Grips, one must loathe thyself, be eagerly subjugated by the flagrant sampling, the punk-goes-industrial-hip-hop aesthetic, the noncommittal3 touring ethic, etc.

Grips was born on December 21, 2010 in Sacramento when neighbors, Burnett and Hill, recorded its first track, “Full Moon (Death Classic).” The band is survived by found partner, Björk, and four-and-a-half children, Exmilitary (3), The Money Store (2), No Love Deep Web (2), Government Plates (1), and Niggas on the Moon (disc one of The Powers That B), only three weeks old when its creators perished. Named SPIN’s Artist of the Year (2012), Grips enjoyed its celebrity and infamy in the shadows, rarely interviewing during its tenure as experimental R&B juggernaut, choosing instead to express itself through technological subversion4, cryptic low-budget videography5, and an interspersion of profane non-sequitur6 with glitchy sampling across its four-and-a-half albums.

In death as in life, Grips chose to let its conceptual art liaise for itself. Grips scrawled its suicide note irreverently on a napkin (“WE ARE NOW AT OUR BEST AND SO DEATH Grips IS OVER.”). Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was the on-site coroner, tweeting from @trent_reznor: “…why would I have ever thought these dudes could keep it together?”


1Experimental hip hop constitution of Stefan Burnett aka MC Ride + drummer Zach Hill (of Hella) + engineer Andy Morin aka Flatlander
2Ambiguously of the order canis lupus or chiroptera
3Punk euphemism for unprofessional
4e.g., self-releasing No Love Deep Web via leak to filesharing sites to label’s chagrin, gnawing at the hand that feeds
5e.g., in the “Full Moon (Death Classic)” music video, a subliminal clip of a bird beaking the carcass of a smaller bird loops while MC Ride screams epileptically, ejecting virtual shrapnel; in “Guillotine (It Goes Yah),” MC Ride is a passenger being driven through a neighborhood of static, alternately wearing then not wearing his seat belt, screaming through seizing edits
6e.g., “I / 666 / Blood / Have a sad cum, baby”

Death Grips Elegy

One of the immediate cultural advantages of moving to Sacramento, for me, was the prospect of seeing Death Grips play Press Club, its Sacto venue of choice for tour starting lines and secret shows. Aside from Sacramento being the petri dish of West Coast punk and psyhchobilly a la The Cramps and the birthplace of deadpan alt rockers CAKE (not to mention Tesla and The Deftones), the Cali capitol’s musical output is a mere trickle compared to nearby Los Angeles and San Francisco.

On the day I signed my lease, I walked around my new neighborhood, slowing at Press Club, peering in, imagining a Death Grips sound check. It was the fourth consecutive day of a three-digit Sacto swelter, and by the time I returned to my driveway, I remember looking at my palms as if I may have begun to melt away. California is currently experiencing its worst recorded drought in history, which means I’ve let the desiccated flecks of insect parts linger on my front bumper because a carwash just feels like bad juju. Inside the house again, I read that Death Grips disbanded. It felt like a juke aimed directly at me. I tried to outlast the gestation of a weak hoax, but eventually I had to face the facts: once again, I had arrived too late.

Years ago, I would spend weekends in Akron—just after The Black Keys released its commercial breakthrough Brothers and just before LeBron James betrayed northeast Ohio for Miami. Speaking to music and sports fans alike was like listening to a county of jilted lovers going through a cultural breakup. Their collective cheating ex- (Auerbach, Carney, and James) had unforgivably abandoned the sons and daughters of a city derided as “The Mistake On the Lake” for warmer, more cosmopolitan cities, Nashville and Miami.

Days later, I ran along Sacramento’s American River, listening to Government Plates, reminded that I’d have to go to the California DMV soon, replace my Arizona license and plate. Cutting through midtown, I passed at least a dozen pizza shops. I looked into every window, half-expecting that Burnett and Hill had returned to the Sacramento Bike Kitchen where they worked before Death Grips’ star rose. Alas, none of the dough-stretching, pepperoni-placing workers looked remotely like a member. I didn’t even bother looking into the windows of the more artisanal pizzerias. Passing a cemetery in Land Park, I recalled a candid photo of Burnett by a headstone, and it feels premonitory now, as if he was picking out a plot for Death Grips’ final resting place.

As the most engrossing act of the 21st century (I said engrossing, not listenable), Death Grips fused hardcore punk aggression (Bad Brains and Rollins-era Black Flag come to mind) with the likes of socially committed spoken word groups such as East Harlem’s black nationalists The Last Poets. MC Ride’s profane non-sequiturs, though, resisted narrative to reveal infernal commentary. Grips’ mélange of found samples was polarizing, best represented by Venus Williams’ primal tennis groan on “System Blower,” which was ripped from YouTube, a juvenile or genius repurposing that could make even Andy Warhol blush. As perpetrators of a bastard form of musique concréte, Death Grips’ music did not attempt to build context out of medley or mashup as is the case with Girl Talk, but instead, it extracted from pop culture the basest bytes, zipped them into a body bag whose atonal acoustics and tempo fluctuations sounded like a depraved manifesto, and disseminated its frequencies through technological bamboozlement, making them the independent music equivalent of WikiLeaks.

In the coming weeks of transition, I will likely come into contact with some of the same natural Sacto sounds that Burnett and Hill have tape-recorded while compiling material for their past four-and-a-half releases. I will collect the sounds in a subconscious palette as with Death Grips’ Black Google—the promotional file that featured all the isolated instrumental, vocal, and effect tracks for Exmilitary—and without the dexterity to create myself, the sounds will garble and diminish in my Sacto hovel, this Death Grip-less void.

Death Grips Postmortem

Written by Lawrence Lenhart
Lawrence Lenhart received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he was the editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. He is the recipient of two Foundation Awards, two Taube Awards, and the Laverne Harrell Clark Award in Fiction.

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