EL-P, Mr. Lif, Cannibal Ox | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

EL-P, Mr. Lif, Cannibal Ox 

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EL-P, MR. LIF, CANNIBAL OX

"I make my own grain and go against it," rapped El-P on Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus. It was no hollow boast either: on the 1997 album, one of the unqualified classics of underground hip-hop, El-P and fellow MC Bigg Jus packed a breathless barrage of tongue-twisting verbiage with off-kilter internal rhymes, obscure hip-hop references, and bizarre imagery. The album sold more than 100,000 copies, but there was nothing remotely commercial about it. El-P also produced, topping a dense mix of dirty head-nodding beats, catchy sluggish bass lines, and elusive samples with the nimble scratches of Company Flow's third original member, Mr. Len, and words can't adequately describe the queasy paranoia he constructed out of these basic elements. By the time the group released its follow-up, Little Johnny From the Hospitul, in 1999, Bigg Jus had split and El-P was keeping his mouth shut; the all-instrumental collection made clear how warped the underlying sound really was. It also revealed that the group was essentially El-P's brainchild, and not surprisingly he and Mr. Len formally parted ways late last year. Before they did, though, they recorded a few new cuts for a split release with the Harlem duo Cannibal Ox--the first release on El-P's new Def Jux label. The three Co-Flo tracks are thicker, louder, and more disorienting than any of the old stuff, and El-P's touch is evident on the two Cannibal Ox cuts as well. Boston's Mr. Lif, another recent Def Jux signee, is less musically harsh but lyrically harsher: On his Grand Royal single "Farmhand" he displayed a knack for nasty old-school boasting, opening with "You step to the stage because you think that you're fresh / But I'll burn off your flesh like David Koresh," and on his forthcoming Def Jux EP, Enters the Colossus, he delivers gross-out rhymes like "Jeffrey Dahmer day / My favorite holiday / Served lukewarm with sauce / Yeah, hollandaise." This underground megabill, which is El-P's hotly anticipated Chicago debut, also features the Minneapolis duo Atmosphere, LA's Mastermindz, and New York weirdo (and new Def Jux signee) Aesop Rock. Sunday, February 11, 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

PETER MARGASAK

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