|Origin||Sacramento, California, U.S.|
Death Grips is an American experimental hip hop band formed in 2010 in Sacramento, California. The group consists of MC Ride (vocals, lyrics), Zach Hill (drums, production), and Andy Morin (keyboards, production). Though he is not the band's frontman, Hill has been credited with being the driving creative force behind the project. Their sound, paired with Ride's aggressive performing style, draws on punk rock, electronic, noise, and industrial styles.
The band released the mixtape Exmilitary in April 2011 and their debut studio album, The Money Store, a year later; both received critical acclaim. Shortly after signing to Epic Records in 2012, the group leaked their second album, No Love Deep Web, for free download in breach of their contract and were dropped from the label. They released their third album, Government Plates, in 2013. Following several broken performance commitments, the group announced their "disbanding" in July 2014 along with the release of their fourth album The Powers That B. However, in March 2015, the group revealed that they "might make some more" music and later announced a world tour.
Later in 2015, Death Grips announced their fifth official studio album, Bottomless Pit, which was released in May 2016. Their sixth studio album, Year of the Snitch, was released in June 2018. Their fourth EP, Gmail and the Restraining Orders, was released in June 2019 in celebration of Warp Records’ 30th anniversary.
2010–2011: Formation and Exmilitary
Death Grips were formed in Sacramento, California, on December 21, 2010. On the same day, they recorded their first song, "Full Moon (Death Classic)". It was released on March 8, 2011, with a video and a free self-titled EP which featured the song alongside five other songs. On April 25, 2011, Death Grips released a free mixtape entitled Exmilitary, containing three tracks from the EP along with new songs. Throughout the spring and early summer in 2011, they played small shows while Exmilitary was spreading steadily throughout the Internet and receiving favorable reviews from music critics. The band members were largely elusive during this time, with the only confirmed member being Hill.
2012: The Money Store and No Love Deep Web
Death Grips signed with Epic Records in February 2012, under the recommendation of Epic's then-executive vice president of marketing, Angelica Cob-Baehler. They announced the release of two albums in 2012. Their first studio album, The Money Store, was released in April and debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at No. 130. Termed as "avant-rap", Pitchfork called The Money Store "confrontational, abrasive, and chaotic". The Los Angeles Times called it "punk rock with a hip-hop face-lift".
October saw the release of No Love Deep Web. It was described as a darker album by NPR, saying that the group creates a "soundtrack to modern urban living" with lyrics that describe "constant paranoia". The album contains heavily edited vocal performances from Ride. Its cover art drew attention and controversy for consisting of a picture of Hill's erect penis with the album title written across it. The album was recorded within four months in Sacramento. Prior to that, an international tour was scheduled to support The Money Store, but was immediately cancelled in order to complete No Love Deep Web. This caused conflict between the group and their fans, as well as their label Epic Records. In particular, the album was self-released for legal download via BitTorrent as an effort to bypass their label's original intent to release the album in 2013. Death Grips was cut from their recording contract as a result, and would launch their new label Third Worlds in the following year from "a unique relationship with Harvest/Capitol”. Material would then be distributed by Caroline Records.
The band remixed two Björk songs from her album Biophilia, "Sacrifice" and "Thunderbolt", after receiving an artist-to-artist note of support. The re-workings were featured in her 2012 remix album Bastards. A non-album track titled "True Vulture Bare" was issued in October 2012 and was accompanied with an animated video by Galen Pehrson. This project was created for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
2013–2015: Government Plates and The Powers That B
In March 2013, the band released a series of videos to their YouTube account, collectively called No Hands. On March 20, 2013, a music video for "Lock Your Doors", which was recorded at a live show in SXSW, was released. Hill did not attend the show physically, but played the drums via Skype. Hill wrote and directed an original feature film in May, with the involvement of Death Grips in the soundtrack. During this period, Hill was also working on the group's album.
Death Grips were scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza in August, but their performance was cancelled after the band failed to show up for an after-party show the previous night at the Bottom Lounge, instead putting on a playlist of pre-recorded tracks. Draped over the back of the stage was a huge printout of a fan's suicide note, written to the band in the form of an email. Fans at the show destroyed and stole pieces of the band's equipment after being informed of the cancellation. Their subsequent performance scheduled for Montreal's Osheaga Music and Arts Festival on the next day was cancelled, as well as performances in Boston and New York. The group however, never planned to actually appear at Lollapalooza; they later stated that the drum kit, suicide note, and pre-recorded music "was the show". The drum kit that was destroyed was revealed to be a children's learning kit and not Hill's actual kit.
Government Plates (2013) was released for free download on their official website. An NME review called the record "a challenging listen" but dubbed the album along, with Slant Magazine, as "transgressive". The album “[pushes] further away from typical hip-hop" and "[toys] with electronic dance music of various eras", according to The New York Times. In January 2014, Warp Music Publishing signed an exclusive worldwide publishing agreement with the group, covering previous and future releases. In June, Death Grips announced a double album titled The Powers That B, along with a download of the first disc, subtitled Niggas on the Moon. The second disc, Jenny Death, was announced to be released later in the year. Niggas on the Moon features chopped up samples of Björk's vocals. The double album's first half received mixed to positive reviews. Pitchfork called it the group's least intense effort in their entire discography. A review by MusicOMH stated that it had less of Hill's percussion and claimed that Morin lacked direction in producing the album. Death Grips were scheduled as a supporting act to tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden in July but the group announced an abrupt disbandment, thus cancelling their appearances. An image of the following message, posted on their Facebook page, was written on a napkin:
We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over. We have officially stopped. All currently scheduled live dates are canceled. Our upcoming double album The Powers That B will still be delivered worldwide later this year via Harvest/Third Worlds Records. Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. Above and beyond a "band". To our truest fans, please stay legend.
In January 2015, without any prior notification, Death Grips released a free instrumental album entitled Fashion Week. The song titles, each beginning with the word "Runway" followed by a letter of the alphabet, spelled out the phrase "JENNY DEATH WHEN" in reference to the then-unreleased second disc of The Powers That B. The album was released in its complete form in March and reached the Billboard 200 chart at No. 72. In the same year, Hill and Morin formed a side project called the I.L.Y's and issued their debut album I've Always Been Good at True Love through Death Grips' official website; it was initially released with little information about the project.
2015–present: Bottomless Pit and Year of the Snitch
In October 2015, the group uploaded a video to their YouTube page titled Bottomless Pit. It features footage from 2013 of American actress Karen Black reciting lines from a film script Hill wrote months before her death. They also posted on their website and Facebook that this would be the title for their fifth studio album. In March, the band published a 32-minute video to their YouTube page titled Interview 2016, which shares its name with their second EP; the video shows the band being interviewed by Matthew Hoffman of Tuesdays With Matthew, an online volunteer project that aims to combat loneliness in elderly people by recruiting them to act in recreations of famous movie scenes. However, all of the interview's audio is replaced by the album's songs, while the EP's cover art consists solely of a picture of Hoffman looking into the camera. Death Grips uploaded their third EP, Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix), to their YouTube channel in May 2017; the EP consists of a single 22-minute song of the same name. Following this, the group co-headlined an autumn U.S. tour with industrial metal band Ministry.
In March 2018, Death Grips posted images on social media outlining that they were "working on the new album" titled Year of the Snitch with Australian noise artist Lucas Abela, New Zealand film director Andrew Adamson, and American musician Justin Chancellor (best known as the bassist for Tool). In April, Death Grips uploaded a video to their YouTube channel writing the track listing for the new album with text messages.
In May 2018, Death Grips uploaded the singles "Streaky", "Black Paint", and "Flies". In June, they uploaded a single titled "Hahaha", as well as an accompanying tweet announcing the release date for Year of the Snitch as June 22. A week later, the band released another two singles: "Dilemma", featuring Andrew Adamson, and "Shitshow". On June 21, Year of the Snitch was systematically made available on streaming services after the time reached midnight on June 22 in New Zealand, subsequently leading to listeners spreading differing versions of the album hours before its full scheduled rollout. The band also tweeted the album being "leaked". The following day, Year of the Snitch was officially released.
Death Grips' music combines a variety of styles including hip hop, punk, electronic, noise, and industrial. Their style has been categorized as experimental hip hop, rap rock, electropunk, industrial hip hop, and punk-rap. The group is known for Ride's aggressive rapping style and bleak and cryptic lyrics, alongside their noisy and often chaotic production. They have also received attention for their wild physical performances and stage presence. Their live performances are notable for antics such as the destruction of instruments, their complete absence at one of their scheduled shows, Hill drumming to the point of severe injury or performing in handcuffs, Ride's intense and chaotic stage persona, and Morin's use of live sampling alongside his improvised synthesizer flourishes and violent dancing.
They are also notable for engaging in extended periods of live musical improvisation interwoven into their set as bridges between songs, typically performed on the fly by Morin and Hill. Ride has been known to adopt many different vocal styles on record and during live performances, such as shouting, screaming, spoken word-style talking, and even whispering. Morin's unorthodox style of production and sampling and Hill's noisy, fast, and unconventional drumming styles and patterns are also distinct features of Death Grips' sound. The band is also notable for their distinctive and lo-fi visual style made clear in their music videos, performances, and releases.
In popular culture
Björk is one of the most notable fans of the band. They remixed two tracks for Bastards, a collection of remixes from her album Biophilia. Björk allegedly recorded original vocal samples for the band, which they used on every track of Niggas on the Moon. Actor Robert Pattinson is another notable fan, friend and collaborator of the band; he played guitar on the song "Birds" from Government Plates, which was achieved by Hill recording Pattinson's playing on his phone in a jam session and later sampling the part into the song itself. Pattinson also appeared in a 2013 photo with the band and Beyoncé backstage at the latter's concert, which received viral attention due to its unlikely combination of people. Kasabian guitarist Sergio Pizzorno cited them as an influence on the band's album 48:13. According to David Bowie collaborator Donny McCaslin, Bowie was inspired by Death Grips whilst creating his final album Blackstar. Other notable fans include rapper Killer Mike, actor William Shatner, rock band Pearl Jam, filmmaker Edgar Wright, rapper Skepta, guitarist Tom Morello, rapper Danny Brown, actor Lakeith Stanfield, singer Corey Taylor, and musician Mike Shinoda.
The group's song "Hacker" is featured in the video game Battlefield Hardline. The song "I've Seen Footage" was used multiple times in the 2019 comedy film Booksmart. Their songs have also been used on commercials and TV shows as varied as Animals, Atlanta, BoJack Horseman, Top Boy, Westworld and Waterloo Road. The song "No Love" was used in BoJack Horseman during the title character's drug trips and the show included visual references to the band, such as stickers on dumpsters bearing their lyrics in the background of shots, during its final season. It was also used in a Burberry summer 2020 campaign, featuring Kendall Jenner. The song "You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It's Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" was used on an Adidas Predator advertisement. The song "Hot Head" was used on the season 2 teaser trailer for Animals, as well as in the season 2 premiere of Atlanta, in which the song is being played in a car by the character of aforementioned actor Lakeith Stanfield. The instrumental for "Inanimate Sensation" was used in the season 3 finale of Top Boy.
The band's songs, mostly the vocals, have been featured in many SoundClown mash-ups. The band is notoriously popular on 4chan's music board /mu/, which helped "signal-boost the group into public consciousness". On the board, the group has been referenced more than 300,000 times since 2012.
- MC Ride – vocals and lyrics
- Zach Hill – drums, electronic drums, production
- Andy Morin – audio engineering, production, bass guitar, keyboards
- The Money Store (2012)
- No Love Deep Web (2012)
- Government Plates (2013)
- The Powers That B (2015)
- Bottomless Pit (2016)
- Year of the Snitch (2018)
- Exmilitary (2011)
- Death Grips (2011)
- Live from Death Valley (2011)
- Fashion Week (2015)
- Interview 2016 (2016)
- Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) (2017)
- Gmail and the Restraining Orders (2019)
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