Pitchfork Diaries: El-P

El-P discusses Phillip K. Dick, his work with the late Camu Tao, and the direction of hip hop

El-P may not be a name that casual hip hop fans may know but it’s someone you should definitely familiarize yourself with.  El-P aka Jaime Meline has been a driving force in a more alternative form of hip hop, pushing the genre to new limits as a producer, artist, and owner of the label Definitive Jux.  During his set at Pitchfork I felt that some people just didn’t get El-P’s complexed beats and verbose rhymes, even though it was one of the best acts at the fest this year.  El-Producto himself gave us some insight on his music as well as his project with friend and former Definitive Jux artist Camu Tao.  Hopefully this gives the average hip hop fan a +1 to their street cred.

HEAVE: I was doing some research about your when I was writing questions and I read that you’re a huge sci-fi aficionado.  Is that true?  I think I read it on Wikipedia so I’m a little skeptical.

El-P: Yeah they also say that I’m from Queens but I’m not.  Well I like certain authors and a certain genre but I’m not really into sci-fi.  I’m not into spaceships and other planets and things like that.

HEAVE: More like Phillip K. Dick, altered reality…

El-P: Yeah Phillip K. Dick, Orwell, that strain of thought yeah.

HEAVE: Why do you think it’s so appealing to you?

El-P: Well those writers are really interesting because the medium that they’re choosing allows them to essentially let them say anything, to use any type of metaphor.  The types of literature that I like are the ones that can go to an extreme in order to say something about reality, about what’s happening now.  It’s just a lot easier to say that when you don’t have to work within the confines of what reality is.  It’s an extreme metaphor.  I think it frees you up to sort of say something.  And also everything’s better in the future.  I don’t want to read about politics, I want to read about lasers.  And weird aliens with alcohol problems.  That’s why I like Phillip K. Dick.  But I wouldn’t like it if there wasn’t some serious social commentary.  That’s the shit that I like.

HEAVE: I feel like there’s two different kinds of rap and hip hop now.  There’s the more artier, avant garde hip hop that’s exploring lyrically and musically how far they can push the limits of the genre, and then there’s the cookie cutter autotune rap.  How do you feel about this division between the two genres, or do you even think that there is even a division?

El-P: I think that division is the same division that exists in any genre of music when you get to a pop level.  Pop music, be it pop hip hop, pop rock, pop R&B, is a hell of a lot different than the stuff that’s not that way.  It’s always been the same way, you know?  Popular music is just a hell of a lot different than other types of music.  It’s always been that way and it always be that way and it’s not wrong.  Look, it’s a lot easier to dance to something that isn’t particularly thought provoking. 

HEAVE: But I still feel that people can dance to your music.

El-P: I do too, and my fans probably do.  But I’m not making music for everybody and I know that and I’m not mad about it.  I don’t believe that my music should be the music that gets played in giant clubs where everybody’s just coming after work on a Friday to get shit-faced and dance.  I’m making music that’s a little bit more challenging and I don’t think it’s better or there’s one way to do it.  Music is for different moods.  I make music for maybe a different idea, maybe a different mood.  You don’t always want to listen to music because you want to party.  Sometimes you listen to music because you want to be affected emotionally.  Same thing goes for film.  Sometimes you want to watch a real character study as opposed to just a popcorn flick.  They’re both great for whatever mood you may be in and I think that it’s good that they both exist.  Neither of them could even exist if the other one didn’t exist, there has to be balance.  So it’s all good to me.

HEAVE: You’re releasing your new EP for your project Central Services soon.  Why did you decide to release now in the advent of Camu Tao’s posthumous album?

El-P: Because we’re putting his record out and we never released it, I thought it was a really good way to kind of get people interested in Camu.  That record was sort of the genesis of Camu’s style on the King of Hearts record.  That was the first time that he started really singing on record.  He was known as a rapper and producer and he had this great voice.  The Central Services stuff is the first stuff where he started singing.  It was the beginning of what ultimately became King of Hearts.  So I just think it’s relevant.  It probably wouldn’t have ever been released unless it was in conjunction with his record.  At this point the more you can hear of this guy the better.  There’s music that he’s done that hasn’t been out there yet and this doesn’t seem like any better time to let the world hear it than now.

HEAVE: Why did you guys decide not to release it when you did it?

El-P: Well it was just a timing thing, it was just one of those things.  We did the record and then he moved back to Ohio and then he started working on his King of Hearts album.  Then he got sick.  His record was suppose to come out two years ago, three years ago and it got delayed because he got very ill.  So it kind of delayed everything.  We had planned on putting out the Central Services thing out with his record around the same time the whole time, that was the plan.  Sadly it just had to wait.

HEAVE: You’re releasing a new album too, but this one is all instrumental.  Why did you decide to do an instrumental album instead of another rap album?

El-P: It’s just something I like to do every once in a while.  It’s a lot easier to do an instrumental record than it is to do an entire rap record.  I take a lot of time to write my lyrics and I just wanted to immerse myself in some music and just do some music and put it out there for fans while they waited for me to get my shit together to do the next record.  I’ve been putting instrumental albums out since 1998 here and there and it’s something that I’ll always come back to.  I just think it’s cool aspect, it’s a fun way to do a record.

HEAVE: You collaborated with artists on your last album that aren’t within the hip hop/rap world like Trent Reznor and Cat Power.  Is it different working with an artist that’s outside your genre or is an artist an artist no matter what?

El-P: I really think an artist is an artist.  There’s so much mutual respect throughout the different genres of music.  Lot of guys like hip hop, lot of guys like rock.  We’re all in love with the same influences.  Some people just took different paths.  So I really believe we’re all the same.

HEAVE: Do you plan on collaborating with anyone in the future?

El-P: I love collaborating with different people.  I don’t have any definitive plans to do anything yet but I’m open to it, I’m always open to it.

El-P’s new album Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 comes out August 3 on Definitive Jux.  Camu Tao’s King of Hearts comes out August 17 on Definitive Jux/Fat Possum, with the Central Service EP being released in conjunction with the album.  You can download Central Services’ single “What God Should Do” now through their Bandcamp page.

Posted by Amy Dittmeier on Jul 27, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

pitchfork music festival, el-p, camu tao, central services, definitive jux, interview