Death Grips created one of the most raw and unorthodox sounds in hip-hop and indie rock last year. So it was a bit surprising that while shopping their debut album, the Sacramento trio found a home in the comfy environs of a major label.
“It was all very psychedelic and surreal,” drummer Zach Hill tells Rolling Stone about meeting with Sony Music executives concerning their new album, The Money Store. “You could see right away that they were genuinely feeling the music on a crazy level… It was very apparent to us that they were not gonna fuck with it.” The group signed with Epic Records the day of the meeting, leaving scrawls of graffiti behind them in a restroom at the Sony office in Beverly Hills.
Unlike their labelmates the Fray and Shakira, Death Grips’ genre-bending songs are guttural and abrasive, dipping into styles as varied as psychedelic dance beats and found sound recordings. “We recognized what we were doing was very unique but also very real and genuine and powerful, and it had the potential to connect with other people,” Hill says. “We are doing a lot of things with music, and rap music, that people are still trying to wrap their heads around.”
The band is fronted by the aggressive vocalist Stefan Burnett, known as MC Ride. A visual artist with little-known musical past, Burnett’s delivery has been described as an even more visceral and poetic form of rapping, resembling a blend of hardcore punk and spoken word performance.
“I had heard recordings that he did. He has a certain energy that’s so individual,” Hill says about his longtime friend. “I could just feel the empowerment that would come through with the right type of music.”
Although the three members are from Sacramento, the inception of the band took place in New York. While in town for a photo shoot, Hill and producer Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) shacked up in a friend’s rehearsal space and created the sound and samples that eventually became Death Grips.
“We stayed in that space for a week, basically slept in it, lived in it, and had some really interesting epiphanies out there,” Hill says. “So when we got back to Sacramento, we took all those tapes back and we were like, ‘Let’s fucking try this.’”
After adding the final piece in MC Ride, the band made Exmilitary, an online mixtape released in 2011, in addition to YouTube videos for songs like “Full Moon (Death Classic).” Since then, they’ve moved from samples to original found sounds and field recordings for the beats on their songs. The Money Store is out this week, and the band already plans to release their second album, No Love, in the fall.
“We’re always looking for natural rhythms and natural melodies,” Hill says about the new work. “We know what our sound is, but as far as the process, it is always ever-changing. It’s just a natural evolution of where the group continues to go.”