Note: The Powers that B is one album with two parts: Niggas on the Moon and Jenny Death. Since Niggas one the Moon came out about 9 months prior to Jenny Death, I am going to give them individual scores, then one total score for the entire album.
Niggas on the Moon
Having been out for a couple of months now, this first half of the album, Niggas on the Moon, had plenty of time to sit with me. My initial thoughts have definitely changed, but not for the worse.
This part of the album is the glitchy and more electronic-focused. The instrumentals are definitely chaotic and very hard to follow at times, but oddly enough, this is the calmest MC Ride’s vocals have ever sounded. Sure, there are plenty sections that have his trademark yelling flow, but more than half of NOTM features the clean flow that he has done on past tracks like “Culture Shock” off of Exmilitary or “Get Got” from The Money Store. This helps calm down an already busy sounding album, and I am happy to hear Ride steering from his norm. That said, Ride does not steer from the norm when it comes to awesome lyrics and catchy hooks, as there are still plenty here. Listen to “Billy Not Really” and try your best not to sing along to that chorus.
Another major factor in this album is the famous artist Björk. Death Grips sample very small sections of her voice and use it all over the place. I remember, during my first listen, I thought that these samples were almost instrument-like. Well, as recently discovered, Zach Hill, the composer/drummer, is actually performing these samples on a V-drum. That means every single time you hear Björk, Hill is playing it, which also means that the end of the closing track “Big Dipper” is actually one long drum solo of sorts. This new factor really upped my appreciation of NOTM.
Niggas on the Moon is really something else. On one hand, it is a roller coaster, making twists and turns with these noisy beats that have almost no structure, as each song seamlessly flows to the next without you even knowing it. On the other hand, it is very catchy and some of the hookier sections will have you nodding your head along to the beat. This album is very ambitious, but well executed, making it one of my favorite Death Grips releases to date.
This side of the album caused quite the stir. When Niggas on the Moon was released, Death Grips announced that it was part of a double album; the problem is they did not announce when the second part would be coming out. Then, out of nowhere, the band posted they would be breaking up via a note on a napkin (though they promised that Jenny Death would still be released). There were random teasers in between, like dropping songs off the album. Death Grips even named the songs on their interstitial soundtrack album Fashion Week to spell out “JENNY DEATH WHEN.” To further confuse us over-attached fans, Death Grips announced that they never really broke up. When the band finally announced a release date for The Powers That B, their cult following went nuts. Weeks before the release date, the album leaked. Question is; was Jenny Death worth all the hype? Short answer; it depends on the person.
Sound wise, this album is reminiscent of and raw like Death Grips’ first mixtape Exmilitary. Stefan is doing what he does best; ferociously yelling into a mic (this is not a bad thing by any means. He is the voice of the band after all). The sounds and instruments here are filled with grain and grit. The inclusion of guitars on this album, however, is way more prominent, with Nick Reinhart and Julian Imsdahl performing on five of the ten tracks. When there are not guitars, we get very heavy synthesizers. It is somewhat hard to differentiate the two, as both are almost always heavily distorted.
Zach Hill is credited as the composer of this double album, but most recognize Hill for his drumming (in Death Grips as well as his other band Hella). The good thing about this side of the album is that is chock full of acoustic drums, rather than an electronic set. The acoustic sound really adds more aggression to the band’s sound, being more loud and in your face. Anyone who is familiar with Hill’s drumming knows how frantic he can play at times. The small problem, though, is the quality of how the drums are recorded. It is not too noticeably bad, but there are plenty of spots on the album when Hill hits some cymbals and the sound becomes way too grainy.
Songwriting wise; this album has a bunch of hits and a few misses. While Niggas on the Moon felt like one long song, Jenny Death sounds like a bunch of singles, as there is no real flow besides “On GP” flowing right into “Death Grips 2.0”. Stefan has always been known to write the best hooks ever, and the tracks here are no exception. Each one will have you singing along after the first listen, much like all of the band’s song. The only real problem I had was with the songs “Pss Pss”, “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie”, and “I Break Mirrors with my Face in the United States”, which did not grab my attention as much. Choruses aside, the lyrics on the Jenny Death are very normal for Death Grips, which is good. The only surprise comes from the track “On GP”, where we hear thoughts from the actual Stefan Burnett, rather than MC Ride. The topic is about Burnett’s thoughts of suicide, and his thoughts of committing to it but, in the end, choosing not to. It is actually a tear jerker, especially during the slower moments when you can really hear Burnett getting emotional.
The compositions of these tracks are, for the most part, well done and diverse. All the songs feature a very straight forward song structure, mostly in the verse chorus verse form. Sonically, this album can get incredibly heavy, with tracks like “Turned Off” and “The Powers that B” making you feel like you are listening to metal rather than hip hop. The song “On GP” is the most well put together track of the bunch. It has a awesome structure to it; going from a punk like verse filled with a great chord progression, moving into a slow and sad interlude, then kicking off into a powerful chorus. The whole track, lyrics included, will leave just leave you in awe by how moving it is.
All in all, Jenny Death is Death Grips’ most aggressive album to date. With the inclusion of distorted guitars, heavy synths, and an acoustic drum set, this is the direction I have always wanted the band to take. There are some slight hiccups here and there, but nothing that will stop you from coming back.
The Powers that B
To sum it up, the whole work is, in my opinion, Death Grips’s magnum opus, transcending them from any sort of label or genre other than their own. If this band were to indeed break up after this piece, I would be completely happy; there is almost no way they can top what they did with The Powers that B. Sure, there were some spots here and there that were underwhelming, and Jenny Death could have used slightly cleaner production, but overall, this the best Death Grips release to date.
Favorite Tracks: Billy Not Really, Black Quarterback, Voila, Turned Off, Beyond Alive, On GP
Total score: 10/11