“Only thought which does violence to itself is hard enough to shatter myths.” –Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment
In a typical Death Grips move, the Sacramento experimental hip-hop trio dropped a new track Saturday with no advance warning or announcement. Despite this apparent attempt at a low-key release, the band’s website crashed yesterday, presumably from a massive influx of traffic. “Hot Head” comes following the group’s break-up following the March 31 release of Powers that B, their sixth and highly-anticipated full-length project. Since then the group has tentatively reunited and announced a new album, Bottomless Pit, after months of radio silence.
The track itself, which may or may not be part of Bottomless Pit, mirrors in theme and structure the hostility the group has for easy fame and audience gratification. “Hot Head” opens with a jarring synth, something like the sound of an industrial-grade leafblower starting up. This leads into a relentless and irregular drum roll, and rapper MC Ride’s rapid, snare-drum vocals: “blowblowblowblowblowblowblowblow oh no.” The opening recalls Powers that B’s “Inanimate Sensation,” where the refrain was “blown-out base,” a phrase that seemed to refer at once to apocalyptic drug consumption and a literal explosion. Here the meaning is somewhat clearer: the blows (and, if you will, the blow) are coming from the titular “hot head,” who MC Ride proceeds to describe in his cryptic, nightmarish style.
“That pedagogue grab the microphone,” Ride reports. The pedagogue Ride refers to here is himself, or at least the character he’s playing, and his repeated “oh no” is a mocking imitation of the masses he purports to rule and enlighten. The character he portrays in the main verses seems closer to that of a demagogue than a pedagogue, some kind of satanic preacher (a character Ride has played before—see “Beware” on Exmilitary). He proclaims that his own state is “self-inflicted,” suggesting that it’s through pain he’s become enlightened, a reference to Nietzschean self-improvement. “What’d you tell them?” he asks himself. “I just told ‘em hell’s existence” comes the heavily filtered reply. This pedagogue is flippantly revealing horrifying truths, much like Nietzsche’s ubermensch might rip off reality’s veil to reveal the will-driven state of the universe. The narrator, whatever truths he dispenses, remains enigmatic: “you know me, don’t nobody know my business” is another call-and-response-esque line in the chorus. During the chorus, the beat is significantly slowed and some guitars undulate in the background; the focus, however, is on Ride’s story.
Much of this story is dedicated to savagely reminding the listener of his own blindness and Ride’s almost absolute power; “Hidden regime like ebola/ Blink and you’re over” is a particular gem. But this is more than typical rapper braggadocio—the song is constantly interrogating itself, whether through verbal question-and-answer, idiosyncratic song structure, or alternately distorted and crisp production.
During the track’s four minutes I thought less about the power of MC Ride and more about the power a certain hot-headed demagogue seems to be wielding in the polls.
The song ends with the brutal chorus, the final line of which seems to suggest that this is only the beginning, and a relatively tame one at that: “act natural, my start attack.” The synth and drums rise in pitch and frequency, as if building towards the most ejaculatory of conclusions—the bass drop. Then the song simply ends, prematurely, a study in gratification withheld. A simple and elegant fuck-you.