Death Grips – The Powers That B

Reviewed by:
On April 2, 2015
Last modified:January 2, 2016


The Powers That B extends an unfiltered view of the modern world from the eyes of men who refuse to compromise their ferocity and creative vision.

Well, here we are. After another year of anticipation, mystery, and torment it’s finally time to judge Death Grips on what will ultimately solidify their legacy: the music. Death Grips have become one of the most iconoclastic forces in the music industry through their unbridled behavior outside of the studio: leaking their music without the permission of their label, not showing up for scheduled shows, and, of course, announcing their supposed breakup-only to later to later announce a world tour with the implication that they will consider making more music. The whiplash that this experimental hip-hop trio has imposed upon its passionate followers has not gone unnoticed. However, the wait for Jenny Death, the second disc of their intense double album, The Powers That B, has come to an end, and the album proves that the group is still speaking just as boldly, if not more so, inside the studio.

The first disc, Niggas on the Moon, dropped in 2014 and now with the accompaniment of Jenny Death, it is even more confounding than before. As much as these discs are, on paper, working together, it’s fascinating how disparate they actually sound. Niggas on the Moon is much more abstruse, favoring glitchy electronics, looped vocal samplesmany of which come from Björkand unpredictable song structures over any semblance of control. It carries some of the production techniques of Government Plates with its emphasis on spastic electronic beats, but it traverses even further into sonic limbo. “Up My Sleeves” opens a portal into MC Ride’s domain of pure madness. Despite the sonic chaos that ensues throughout the album, MC Ride’s lyrics remain self-aware. He shouts “I’ll take my life like I kept it”, possibly referencing his ability snuff out the fire that Death Grips has created as quickly as he started it. It’s quite the mission statement for this album; Ride is in control of his destiny and he’s going to end things on his own terms – if he hasn’t already.

Zach Hill’s barrage of heavy percussion and Flatlander and Hill’s maniacal beats give The Powers That B a dizzying pulse. The surprising tempo changes on “Say Hey Kid” and “Billy Not Really”, for instance, leave little room for orientation. “Have a Sad Cum” remains one of Death Grips’ most schizophrenic songs with an oppressive onslaught of vocal snippets and a menacing vocoder that together present a sonic puzzle that is arguably beyond decoding but nonetheless engrossing. Tracks like “Voila” are as unnerving and as claustrophobic as Death Grips have ever been. Jenny Death, on the other hand, is much more sprawling and much heavier, as Death Grips continue fusing elements of hip-hop with hardcore punk, noise, electronic, and industrial music. Plus, of course, Ride’s vocals are still as deafening and fierce as they’ve always been. From a songwriting standpoint, Jenny Death is superior, yet it does not overshadow the powerful impact of the first disc. Despite the vast differences in the presentation of the two discs, The Powers That B excels as a double album due to the unsettling heights that Death Grips sound reaches. Rather than shooting for a cohesive, smooth experience, Death Grips pride themselves on a bumpy ride. The somewhat abrupt transition between the two discs simply accentuates the hysteria of their music.

Jenny Death is more upfront with its use of irony and social commentary. On the accelerated “I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States”, Ride comments on his own digital ubiquity and people’s desire to shield their eyes from the ugly truth that reality holds. He goes even further on “Inanimate Sensation” by isolating himself from human interaction. This path of darkness is initiated by a series of tongue-in-cheek vocals that imitate a revving engine. However, when the low-tuned drums and the harsh synthesizers take on this imitation as well, it goes from comical to frightening in an instant. The early breakdown coupled with Ride’s breathing just before his aggressive rapping emerges from the cloud of smoke shows just how adept Death Grips are at building tension. Themes of self-destruction and suicide also run through tracks like “Turned Off” and “Centuries of Damn”.

The title track presents an interesting conceptual turn in which Ride screams that he is actually controlled by his own impulses, but he embraces this darkness without regret. In the midst of an abrasive beam of electronic cacophony, he unleashes a scathing indictment of compromise and conformity with lines like “Your bads embedded in your lives a white flag, a sterilized white flag born, bred, and buried in it.” Death Grips manage to back statements like these up with unyielding energy, passion, and volume. The punk rock styles the group has flirted with since Exmilitary come to a head on The Powers That B, as distorted guitars and crushing percussion play a larger role in their arsenal than they ever have. The phenomenal “On GP” delivers a stream of gritty, yet melodic guitars that visit pockets of despair and softness as much as they deliver another layer of visceral punch. With this song and others like “Beyond Alive”, Death Grips have continued to distance themselves as far as possible from traditional hip-hop to channel their emotions through eclectic avenues of rawness and turbulence. As seasoned as Death Grips has become, the album is still full of alarming left turns, like the robotic vocals on “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” or Ride’s unusual whispers on “Pss Pss”.

With all the fresh ideas that Death Grips showcase on The Powers That B, it’s easy to be skeptical about the idea that this double LP could be their final release. In fact, given all the contradictions and antics that Death Grips have embraced throughout their firestorm of a career, it seems reasonable to read into the title of the final track “Death Grips 2.0” as a symbol of things to come. Nonetheless, The Powers That B stands as the group’s best work since The Money Store and their most varied effort to date. The paranoid and relentless style that they’ve cultivated over the years has reached a towering climax on this record. Maybe this is the end. Maybe it’s not. I’m not so sure the band even knows what comes next, but, with this album, they’ve already won.

Favorite Tracks:
I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States
Beyond Alive
Why a Bitch Gotta Lie
Up My Sleeves

About Justin Swope (14 Articles)
Current staff writer at Re:Views. Also working in television as a Writers' Production Assistant on a new CBS sitcom. Alumnus of Syracuse University, and a big fan of music, movies, dogs, and ice cream.