The Sheer Insanity of Death Grips

(and why it matters)


Erin Altomare

Death Grips’ sound is explosive, mind-bending, and impossible to fully define.

Throughout the history of music, there have been those who refuse to sit still in imposed creative boundaries, those who do not let any genre contain what they can do or what they can be. From The Beatles to David Bowie to Kendrick Lamar, the innovations helped push music in new directions when their contemporaries were stuck in a rut, writing the same songs repeatedly. However, all of those artists listed are huge, tremendous forces in music that everyone and their mother knows, and it is only once in a while that an artist can be that big and unique. In fact, many of the artists pushing music forward are part of music’s underground, and it is criminal how little recognition some of these artists get. But even among the experimental and avant-garde underground, there is one group who is so off the wall, so incomprehensible, with songs so odd that they may even seem abrasive, that has managed to at least partially breach the underground bubble. That group is called Death Grips. 

Death Grips is best described as an experimental punk rap group composed of vocalist Stefan Burnett, who goes by MC Ride, drummer Zach Hill, and keyboardist Andy Morin. The first time you listen to Death Grips, one may be wondering, “What the hell is this?” Even the first few seconds of a Death Grips song are overwhelming to the senses, with the music videos not being any less insane. “Why is this guy shouting?”, “What’s going on in the background?” and “What the hell is that album cover?” are all things you may be wondering, all while your ears are being viciously assaulted by an unrelenting barrage of harsh noise. I would not blame anyone who turns off the music after about 30 seconds and thinks, “Where is the appeal in this?” That’s precisely the point. At first, it’s so weird and obnoxious that you never want to listen to it again. Still, one starts watching the music videos, reading up on the band’s crazy history, and looking at the bizarre, cryptic lyrics. Then, at some point, one starts to realize the appeal of Death Grips; they’re so different from anything else one has ever seen or listened to. Death Grips is so angry over things that one can’t even begin to comprehend, and the music videos, lyrics, and the group’s outward persona only help to solidify this impenetrable wall of Avant-anger. At the same time, it all seems to make sense. Beyond the ear-piercing instrumentals and impassioned shouting, there is a strange meaning in this music that one may not even realize, whether it’s about cannibalism or living your best life. It’s all extremely open-ended, and there are a million ways to interpret Death Grips’ sound and lyrics. At some point, Death Grips’ artsy anger starts to seriously grow on you. And then even the music that once seemed ear-melting sounds appealing, and you’ll actually enjoy MC Ride’s apoplectic shouting, even if you still have no idea what he’s saying. 

Death Grips was formed in Sacramento, California, in 2010. In 2011, they released their debut mixtape Exmilitary, which quickly garnered acclaim from critics and attracted the attention of the internet through the odd music videos of songs such as “Takyon” and “Guillotine.” All of this attention was enough for Death Grips to get noticed and signed by Epic Records, and in 2012 Death Grips followed up on the grungy, chaotic themes that defined their debut with the release of their first album, The Money Store, which received just as much acclaim as Exmilitary. The album’s grimy sound resonated with many searching for something fresh when music’s overall sound was overly produced electronic mush. Death Grips released music until their 2018 album Year of The Snitch, through many missed deadlines and even more controversy. By this point, Death Grips’ presence had extended out of music’s underbelly. They’d made fans out of stars such as Beyonce, Björk, and Robert Pattinson (the latter two have made appearances in Death Grips’ music), and had become internet icons through their iconic music videos and the memorable hooks of songs like “Get Got” and “Guillotine.”

Death Grips’ impact on both underground hip-hop and punk in the past decade is difficult to overestimate. (Death Grips)

In the end, though, the most critical aspect of Death Grips’ legacy is what they represent.  In eight years and eight albums, Death Grips has turned underground music on its head. Their genre-bending sound, rebellious persona, and oddly catchy hooks have had a massive impact on the direction of underground hip hop and underground music as a whole and turned them into bonafide hip hop legends. The group has gone from the bottom of the music underworld and transformed themselves into a symbol of innovation and ingenuity, a shining example of succeeding while not adapting to any trends. In a time when originality in popular music is becoming more and more scarce, that’s important. Artists like Death Grips prove to their peers that there is always an audience that will listen to you and that there is little reason to conform to what is safe instead of what’s genuine. Death Grips stands as a sign of musical rebellion in the modern age, proof that there is still limitless room to experiment in art despite what anyone may tell you.