The wave of high critical acclaim for The Money Store was my first exposure to Death Grips. Like many others, my reaction upon first listening was confusion and aversion; I knew they had many passionate fans but I didn’t think I could ever become one. I couldn’t tell if I liked it or not, so one of the first things I did was look for a comprehensive breakdown of exactly what I’d just heard, however unlike the readily available guides I’d read before for artists like Kendrick Lamar or Frank Ocean, I found a few confused posts by fans failing to even broadly grasp what this album was about.
Many of us now consider The Money Store in strong contention as the best album ever made, so I set out to try and write down why.
Death Grips are Zach Hill, Stefan Burnett (performing as Ride) and Andy Morin, they originated and are based in Sacramento, California. In 2012 they released The Money Store, their first and only major label release, and their breakthrough in terms of popularity and critical acclaim. It was preceded by Exmilitary, their first full length release, and later the same year they released another album No Love Deep Web (NØ LØV∑ D∑∑P W∏B), completing a trilogy that to them constitutes kind of a single body of work.
The album was originally published by Epic Records (Division of Sony Music Entertainment) on March 24th 2012, and leaked to YouTube on March 14th. Since breaking their deal with Epic, Death Grips have independently re-published it on vinyl. It is generally the most well reviewed Death Grips project, and one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2012 overall, with scores aggregating to about 8/10. The album is known for being YouTube based music reviewer Anthony Fantano‘s first 10/10, and he is often credited with ‘discovering’ or popularising the group. It was the first of 4 Death Grips albums that have charted on Billboard 200, peaking at #130 for its opening week. From the release they supported the album with 5 shows including Coachella 2012, there was originally a bigger tour planned but this was cancelled in order for them to finish their next album No Love Deep Web, touring resumed in support of both albums in October 2012. Its duration is approximately 41 minutes and has 13 tracks:
- Get Got
- The Fever (Aye Aye)
- Lost Boys
- Hustle Bones
- I’ve Seen Footage
- Double Helix
- System Blower
- The Cage
- Punk Weight
- Fuck That
- Bitch Please
Broadly speaking, the album is very conceptual, figurative and abstract; it relates to several art movements including Modernism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Psychedelia, Pop Art and Punk. It lyrically incorporates: violence, occultism, crime, mental health, counter culture, popular culture, nihilism, individualism, hedonism and libertinism; conveyed through a set of vignette style mini narratives that are presented in an extremely subjective, anarchic and harsh interpretation of the more grounded reality that the rest of us occupy. Perspective is jarringly shifted around as the group weave themselves through the album in order to establish their stance, ultimately championing individuality in the face of the dark and dangerous aspects of the world.
“These songs were conceptualized in all these weird, random ways. We approach music almost like musique concrète: We’re sampling our day-to-day along with the filthiest things off of YouTube and trying to build powerful music out of all this stuff that’s usually seen as trash.”
– Zach Hill for Pitchfork
The Money Store has exceptionally striking album artwork:
The illustration used is taken from a zine by the artist Sua Yoo, she has had other influence on the visual work of the band, most notably when they used an image of her as the cover art for the instrumental release Fashion Week. Death Grips have done us the favour of explaining the album cover for us, in a Pitchfork interview:
“On the cover you have an androgynous masochist on the leash of a feminist sadist who’s smoking. The sadist has carved Death Grips into her bitch’s chest. There is an overly confident quality to the woman smoking and a calmness to the androgynous masochist.”
– Death Grips for Pitchfork
“The group wanted a cover with “the same progressive and edge ideology” that inspires their music, with hopes of representing their “views on sexuality and modern society.” They elaborated:”
“We consider ourselves feminists, we fiercely support homosexuality, transparent world leadership, and the idea of embracing yourself as an individual in any shape or form. Acceleration is a mantra, we’re not a political band, we are freaks and outsiders. It was important to project that message and energy through the artwork of this album. This is free thinking and eternally open-ended music… [The cover] is like an ambassador to the sound.”
– Death Grips for Pitchfork
There are deeper connections to the album art of The Money Store, for example it shares compositional elements with the High Priestess and The Devil of the Tarot deck, which further still connect to future Death Grips releases and artwork and other linked esoteric themes. Stefan in particular seems to offer the heavy occult and esoteric themes, his references and links to them are well established through his lyrics and even his many tattoos. For example the symbol of Baphomet on his palm, the Necronomicon Gate on his chest or what appears to be a Haitian Vodou Veve on his shoulder.
Some speculate deeply at the title of the album, relating its simple oxymoronic joke to the other themes of duality in the artwork and throughout the album. Perhaps Death Grips are taking a stance against capitalism by attempting to lampoon the rat race with an ironic title? While this idea is tangential to some of the album’s lyrics, the most solid conclusion drawn from the album’s title comes from Sacramento’s famous ‘The Ziggurat’ built to resemble an ancient Mesopotamian structure:
“What’s the most comically ugly building in Sacramento?
There is the Ziggurat building in Sacramento, it is designed like a giant stepped pyramid. It’s an amazing building, it used to be the headquarters of a loan company called The Money Store.”
– Death Grips for L.A. Record
Compositionally, The Money Store starts by looking at Hip-Hop as consisting of three basic elements, rapped poetry, the beat, and instrumental production. The sound of Death Grips essentially comes from separating and stripping each element bare, a hyperbolic exaggeration of each, and then mashing them back together. They describe their process as communal with all the conception and music made as a group; though each member has a focus. Stefan’s being lyrics and vocal performance, Zach for Drumming and production, and Andy for production and engineering. Occasionally Andy and Stefan are absent from song credits, and one tour was made just by Stefan and Zach performing using backing tracks.
This ‘Hip-Hop turned up to 11’ approach is the basic vehicle not only for the sound of Death Grips, but also the way in which the concepts mentioned earlier are conveyed. As classic West Coast Hip-Hop examples like The Notorious B.I.G. or N.W.A. rapped their street poetry, painting narratives of gang association and living through racist oppression; in the same way that the sound is overemphasised, Death Grips lyrics occupy a similar hardcore Hip-Hop ethos, filled with violence, fear, danger, occultism, and severely detached mental states. For this, Ride is often described as sounding like a violent deranged homeless person. Death Grips’ type of aggressive vagrant neo-punk delivery is an accelerated response to the Hardcore/Gangsta Rap that preceded them.
Zach mostly has experience drumming in the more rock oriented scene in California, with a large amount of session work and then several projects of his own. Hella is the best known of these projects after Death Grips, they are a mathy noise rock band usually consisting of just two members; their music provides a space for Zach to flex his drumming muscles. His solo work is probably the rawest expression of his unique skill and style, for which he is known to drum his hands raw enough to bleed, to produce a pile of broken sticks at his feet during a single performance, and to kick his bass drum so fast its sometimes mistaken for two.
Andy Morin is typically the most overlooked member, possibly because he seems to exert a smaller creative influence over the music of Death Grips. He joined after Zach and Stefan met and decided to pursue a project. He is an older friend of Zach’s who had produced on some of Zach’s drumming projects. Andy brings the glitchy, industrial, eclectic and very alien sound together.
“Yeah. Not necessarily music. We wouldn’t talk about what this thing would sound like. It was all about empowerment for ourselves, not for other people. We’d talk about it like it was another person who was in the room. It was about this place where we could let out a lot of internalized things with hyper-velocity. We would talk about a super-inspiring sound as a concept, like a drug you’d take. There were a lot of philosophical conversations. At the start, we never really once talked about what kind of sounds we’d make, or instruments we’d use.”
– Zach Hill for Pitchfork
Stefan has a long history with Hip-Hop, some time around the mid-90s he dropped out of studying Visual Art at Hampton University to pursue rapping in an experimental Hip-Hop group called Fyre, they never went far, but multiple lo-fi and very progressive albums were completed. Throughout these albums Stefan (As Mxlplx) does provide a rather different aesthetic as to Death Grips, but in hindsight this work was an obvious precursor especially in regard to his lyrical writing style. After Fyre disbanded, Stefan pursued painting, the first time Zach Hill visited his house, it was “stacked floor to ceiling with paintings”.
“Lyrically, Death Grips represent the glorification of the gut…the id..summoned, tapped, and channelled before being imprisoned and raped by the laws of reason… All songs are written collectively and then maximized through painstaking attention to detail. We practice the art of deconstruction with the devotion of possessed fanatics. Both idealists and pessimists live in delusional fantasies rooted in their incapacity to deal with the way of things. We are realists. Anyone who feels safe is a brainwashed lamb ready for the slaughter.”
– Stefan Burnett for CLASH
Rapping and early Hip-Hop were known for aggressive tone and content, and so Death Grips take this to an extreme. Now going as Ride (Commonly referred to as ‘MC Ride’; its thought that a missing comma in an early review led to this misnomer), Stefan shouts much of his lyrics violently and many incomprehensibly to a level that makes N.W.A. sound soft. Rather than the ego of say, 2pac‘s classic persona, what we get here is more like his unfiltered raw unconscious thoughts and reactions to the world around him. As an example of this, here is an iconic lyric sample from N.W.A.‘s Fuck the Police:
Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
A pretty clear message, delivered with an appreciable cadence and flow, the meter may not be Shakespeare exact but it does actually loosely follow the iambic pentameter he was known for, the emphasis follows a pleasing pattern and the lines are ended with stressed syllables. The rhyme scheme is also sensible, though ‘brown’ and ‘underground’ is only a slant rhyme, it is achieved without much of a stretch. Very well composed, this style obviously became hugely influential to Hip-Hop and this verse an iconic benchmark.
Compare it to these Death Grips’ lines from I’ve Seen Footage that convey a similar idea:
armored cop open fire glock
on some kid who stepped so
fast was hard ta grasp what even happened til you seen dat head blow
off his shoulders in slow mo
Aside from painting a similar scene, but in this case we are not spared the graphic violence, cadence is mostly disregarded. Ride spits out these lines like they are written, a lumpy barrage. Lines 1, 2 and 4 do have a consistent syllable count, and are given a bar each, but in order to keep the ‘so’, ‘blow’ and ‘mo’ rhyme scheme line 2 is cut short with a pause ending its measure, then line 3 is like two and a half lines crammed into two bars, delivered with the inflection of a single line. Ride rushes through with brute force, dropping a syllable from ‘happened’ in order to link it to the already contracted ‘until’ (as ’til) allowing him convey a meaningful graphic image splattered across only 4 lines, contained in five bars, with an at least recognizable rhyme scheme. While the N.W.A. lines utilize the interplay of emphasis and relaxation, the Death Grips’ lines are just emphasis and more emphasis. The meter is similarly loose, particularly given the lack of any rhythm at all in the contraction and combination of syllables from line 3, however it is written mostly with a trochee foot, the opposite counterpart to the iamb of Shakespeare and N.W.A., resulting in a downward inflection in the last word of each line. To use the classic poetic meter analogy, every second syllable in the N.W.A. lines inflects upwards like the pulse of a heart, but the Death Grips lines are more like an arrhythmic heart attack beating backwards.
This lyricism and convoluted delivery is the signature of Death Grips and heavily present throughout The Money Store and the rest of their discography.
Sampling is another fundamental element of Hip-Hop that Death Grips take to a new level. They often take hugely ambitious samples everywhere from The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to obscure and eclectic YouTube videos of Venus and Serena Williams grunting or the Vancouver Skytrain. Their difference is that they are usually so twisted and mutilated that they are unrecognizable and in some cases took fans several years to identify. Some still occasionally pop up, no doubts that there are plenty more still totally undiscovered. Confirmed samples are listed and discussed in the individual song breakdowns below; however due to their eclectic nature they often come across as random or meaningless, perhaps chosen simply to stretch the references the group make as far out into the world as possible and to make something contrived out of something broken and chaotic.
When I first started interpreting Death Grips’ lyrics, they reminded me of the distinct Cubism Pablo Picasso is known for pioneering:
The link may not be evident at first, but at least on the surface Picasso‘s style and Death Grips’ lyrics are both distinct, unusual and cryptic. Picasso‘s Cubism is usually described to consist of subjects painted from multiple perspectives, jarringly overlayed upon one another. This feature I have found useful in deciphering some of Death Grips’ more incomprehensible lyrics, here is a sample:
i got this pregnant snake
stay surrounded by long hairs
a plethroa of maniacs
and spiral stairs
make your water break
in the apple store
sink or swim, who fucking cares
cut the birth cords
These lines are from the first verse in the final track of the album, Hacker. The first time you read through these lines, the meaning is pretty much unfathomable. They are structured a bit like a Garden-path sentence, so that the first half of the line gives you some context ultimately setting you up to fail by the time you reach the second half of the line; under the guise of technically correct grammar and syntax the topic has already switched before you realize.
I believe these four lines were originally comprised by two separate vocal takes of three lines each that have been stitched together, this is most clear in lines five and six. By itself “Make your water break in the Apple Store” does make sense; however when you really listen to the line, it sounds like there is a split after “Make your water break” with a separate vocal take of “in the Apple Store” attached. Taking the separate topics and sounds through the verse, it is possible to recognize two smaller more sensical verses that have been mashed together; split them back apart and you get:
i got this pregnant snake
make your water break
Sink or swim, who fucking cares, cut the birth cords
stay surrounded by long hairs
a plethora of maniacs and spiral stairs
in the Apple Store
Both become more clear by themselves, the first is analogous to release of the album (Expanded with full song breakdown inf.). The second is referring to Apple consumers as ‘long hairs’ (as in Californian hippies), Apple stores being known for having extravagant glass spiral staircases. An interesting feature of these two sets of lines and meanings is that they still have a rhyme scheme and consistent form after cutting them out of the original verse; both with an ‘AAB’ scheme, and then both third lines also slant rhyme with each other (AAB CCB). The way in which they are mashed together preserves the ‘snake’, ‘break’, and ‘hairs’, ‘stairs’ rhymes by keeping them in the same relative places in the mashed up lines; and it also takes advantage of the ‘cords’, ‘store’ slant rhyme that might have been missed had the two sets never been combined. By combining two vocal takes together rather than combining the lyrics then rapping the mashup in one take as its written, the emphasis and flow of each set is also preserved, even if fragmented, in the final product, ‘break’ feels and inflects like the end of a line even though its in the middle.
Why else combine the two sets? Aside from creating a stronger overall rhyme scheme out of two weaker ones, the meanings of each are now juxtaposed. Ride is comparing a dark, idiosyncratic analogy of this album’s release to the way the “plethora” of maniacs consume Apple products. Like Death Grips, Apple have a distinct aesthetic, are known for their loyal and passionate consumers, and have a no compromise progressive design/composition philosophy. Whether we like or understand the album or not, Death Grips have cut the birth cord of The Money Store, and I suppose in some way like water breaking prematurely in an Apple Store, the album was released upon the world.
With this technique Death Grips have created two verses in the space usually occupied by one, and in the process have achieved the multiple viewpoints of Picasso. These viewpoints or lyrical concepts are superimposed in one word painting, which adds a kind of fourth dimensionality to the lyrics very much like how the facial features of the lady in the orange béret and fur coat in the Picasso sample above are showcased as our point of view revolves around her head in the stationary, two dimensional painting.
Corrigendum 17th Oct. 2021:
When originally writing this breakdown throughout 2018 and 2019, I genuinely, randomly chose this lyrical passage from Hacker just as a generically interesting sample that would serve for a breakdown like any other lyric. I had no preconceived idea of where it came from, what it referenced or what it meant, and the Cubism angle I used came naturally as I listened to, researched and considered it.
Now nearly a full decade after the song’s release, I believe for the first time ever, a member of Death Grips has openly and transparently discussed the meanings associated to one of their lyrics. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Pitchfork have published an article of favourite albums from various music acts central to the publication, released in that time frame. In it, Zach Hill names U.S. Maple’s 2001 album, Acre Thrills and explains some of their influence on Death Grips.
Astonishingly, the exact lyrical passage I used for my example above is explained by Zach, about how the lyrics recount his first time watching the group U.S. Maple perform live in 1999, opening for Pavement. At the time he had described their performance as like “a big pregnant snake on stage squeezing all the air from the room and doling out oxygen when it hissed”, ‘long hairs’ is a reference to their first album ‘Long Hair in Three Stages’, and ‘Spiral Stairs’ is a nickname of the second guitarist of Pavement.
Given my interpretation’s place in the larger context of this breakdown, I’m not inclined to view it as any less valid. This new information serves to prove just how cryptic any Death Grips lyric might be, given the task of finding any meaning, it is best kept in mind just how futile it would be to try and extract the story of Zach watching U.S. Maple in 1999 from that particular passage and with no prior knowledge, by only literal and figurative deduction of word meanings.
I thought it important to add this reflection from a member of the group that comes during a time when Death Grips as a music project is viewed by fans largely as defunct.
“As a group, we’re perceived in large part as male or very aggressive, but we don’t think about those things. There is no gender to this group. It’s androgynous. But we know that perception. Peoples’ hangups with sexuality, gender, and nudity– it’s similar to how I feel about organized religion. It’s toxic and poisonous to the human mind, and the development of humans in the modern world. In our own modest way, through our artwork, that’s what it represents: pushing past everything that makes people slaves without even knowing it.” – Death Grips for Pitchfork
Song By Song Breakdown
The analysis so far was intended to provide an overview to the context of the album, and some insight to a broader sense of the style Death Grips have for those unfamiliar with it. From here each song will be broken down in order to provide slightly more specific meanings and relationships. I intend to open up the context of interesting points I can find rather than to over-analyse or to give my specific interpretations of all the lines, which would take too long and be too restrictive of your own interpretations.
Lyrics provided are copied from the Death Grips website, and are full of spelling errors and often don’t match the song exactly in structure. My guess is that this is how they were initially written in shorthand, as they’re often phonetic, reflecting Ride’s unique vocal delivery which sometimes seems quite Caribbean or African. It looks as though during the recording and production some edits have been made that produce the differences we hear between the final product and what I have copied. This is the best we’ve got in the way of official lyrics as lyric websites use user submissions and due to the particularly subjective nature of trying to decipher Death Grips’ lyrics I thought this method suited a breakdown best. In certain cases I’ve made layout changes, mostly just shifting line breaks to match Ride’s delivery rather than how they are originally written, helping to clarify what I’m trying to convey, hopefully without changing the original context too much. Lyrics are indented and colored blue, with the following paragraph breaking them down.
Samples: Papito, Iba one – Music from Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 1 – Yereyira
Get Got opens the album with a loose and deranged getaway narrative, described through the fragmented perspective of someone who is severely mentally ill, inebriated or both.
The music video is very characteristic of Death Grips, home made and raw. In a sense it feels like a parody, consisting mostly of shots of Ride in different places gesturing and lip syncing to the lyrics, like a stereotypical rap video. But unlike a standard rap video, this one’s aesthetic is very rough and dark. Many shots aren’t even lit, no thought is given to composition or structure, they are clearly using the most basic camera, and it is crammed with cheap glitchy digital effects. There are three main shots used, Ride sitting in a chair in the middle of the road in Chinatown, San Francisco, walking around nearby in the dark Stockton Tunnel, and then waving police lights around at night in front of the Sacramento Capitol building. The rest is either unintelligible or short shots of similar things in other locations. It feels almost parodic because it builds from the classic Hip-Hop music video ethos in a similar way to the music, in that it breaks it down to the core and disjointedly rebuilds it. A more simple way of putting this is that they probably had no plan, grabbed whatever camera they had and went out into California to film what they thought a rap video should be.
One of Death Grips’ more eclectic samples, Yereyira comes from two volumes of compilations, Music from Saharan Cellphones, from which Death Grips have taken four samples spread across this album. Compiled from Mali, the two volumes showcase the music popular among communities surrounding the Western Sahara Desert, who shared and distributed it purely by Bluetooth connections with their mobile phones in a kind of physical peer to peer network. However in the time between the two volumes releases’ extremists have taken over the area and banned music. Having explored Major label distribution, a Deep Web based Alternate Reality Game (ARG), and album release by torrent, there is no doubting Death Grips are interested in alternate and unusual music scenes and release strategies. Considering there are several through the album, these cut up Saharan Cellphone samples are an integral part of the sound DNA of The Money Store.
get get get get
got got got got
blood rush to my
head lit hot lock
poppin off the
fuckin block knot
clockin wrist slit
watch bent thought bot
tail pipe draggin volume blastin bailin out my brain red light flash
dem stop i smash
abraxas, hydroplane, massive
catch this flight flow
mastered mine and laced
the ave wit black cat fish tailin waves of stratus
curb right ta far left lane
The opening verse of the album, it very quickly establishes a strong tone and method that will continue throughout. In its own way it describes speeding in a stolen hot-wired car, mounting the curb, music blaring, running a red light, smashing through a stop sign, burning out the tires on the road leaving a cloud of smoke (“stratus”) and swerving on to the wrong side of the road.
drilled a hole into my head
pierced the bone and
felt the breeze
lift my thoughts out
dem sick bed
wit a pair of crow
know nothin since then
been floatin through
the nexus threadin dreams
This last verse contains an interesting reference to Trepanning, one of the oldest recorded surgical procedures in which a hole is made in the skull to release evil spirits. A perhaps too literal way of opening your mind; it seems analogous to Ride writing and then vocalizing his lyrics, as though the ideas we can uncover here are the ‘crow with skeleton wings’ blown from the ‘sick bed’ of his mind.
Better sense can be made of the narrative of this song if you read the verses backwards. Starting with Ride Trepanning himself, he ends up “floating through the nexus threading dreams”, he’s losing his mind and like a werewolf (“lycanthropic manic cycles”) wakes up in a rage and so makes his way to the nearest city. Here he disassociates from reality even further, sleep deprived and manic he finds a bar to get blackout drunk and then we find him in the opening lines, a crazed chase from things he knows can’t be there. This theme of paranoia from loss of sanity is threaded through all the narrative lyrics, trying to read and take it all in at once simply doesn’t make sense, it is very raw stream of consciousness expertly written from the perspective of someone who has lost grip on reality. This is very much the modus operandi of the rest of the lyrics.
The Fever (Aye Aye):
Similar to Get Got, The Fever delivers snatches of insane violence with abstract visual imagery. This kind of life or conduct is denoted as “The Fever”, described literally like a sickness or mental illness.
Samples: Casio Computer Co., Ltd. – Sounds Effect 88
The music video opens with an idiosyncratic night shot of Ride hanging by fingertips from a very unusual door frame that appears to open into empty space out of the second floor of a building (located on the North corner of J and 20th streets in Sacramento). The rest of the video is a live performance of the song by the group, however the already low quality video has been cut up disorientingly, it rapidly scales to different sizes, transitions abruptly, crops in to Ride’s face, and switches often from a fixed perspective to a digital stabilization relative to Ride’s exaggerated movements. Some form or combination of filters have been applied, elements fill with static, colors are distorted and contrast dulled, it feels like watching a semi-corrupt file that was fleetingly transmit through an illegal pirate internet network.
The sample here is just one of many sound effects available on Casio keyboards, its an interesting concept to record just that effect and build from that, rather than just playing the keyboard as an instrument in the traditional manner.
aye, aye, pass the dro my way
or no way twenty fo no 25-8
These lines introduce a phrase that comes up a few times in the album, “25-8”. On the surface this is an exaggeration of the term 24-7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), used to highlight something so constant and intense it somehow transcends the time limits of the day and week. This is very likely an allusion to The Beatles‘ song Eight Days a Week which carries a similar meaning. Also connected to a 25g 5/8 needle, a common size used for self injections of insulin or steroids, a thematic match to the rest of the track and album. Finally 25/8 (25 divided by eight) is an ancient Babylonian approximation for Pi, used in architecture. I would bet that Stefan is familiar with this, and he even has the first few digits of Pi tattooed on his torso but out of order. However, while it makes an interesting connection I can make no clear inference to the song.
In context the term is used like: “Twenty fou- no, twenty five eight”, he was about to use the common idiom ’24-7′ but corrects himself to escalate that even further. This style is very stream of consciousness as obviously if that correction was made mentally while conceiving the lyrics, it is not necessary to actually rap it, this style places you very much inside Ride’s mind, rather than just listening to him rap.
upside down in a
soft top bucket
These lines contain a reference to the John Berendt novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The line from the book is:
“It’s like my mom always said: ‘Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.’’
In ways I think the lyrics here could be like a sequel or maybe an expansion of the narrative aspect of Get Got. Except this time the jarring fragmented insanity that merely permeated before now makes the bulk of this track. The John Berendt reference indicates this with “upside down in a soft top bucket”, which sounds like the aftermath of a car crash in a soft top convertible, which fits nicely into the happenings of the previous song.
by any means necesserated
blade cut me
sewer drain grated
lurking in the deadest spaces
on your knees, black goat anus
christo anti clan of shameless
came ta whip those
here we go, devastated
here we go…
A very dark set of spiritual/occult references in this verse, perhaps suggesting a blood sacrifice ritual, being trapped (grated) in a sewer, and the spread of the ‘Black Death’/Bubonic Plague. The Black Goat is also a significant symbol; used in satanism, for fertility or vitality, a black goat in particular may represent bad luck or a bad omen. It directly relates to three particular symbols that Stefan has tattoos of; two of Baphomet (related to the Knights Templar, also referenced elsewhere in the album), and H.P Lovecraft‘s Necronomicon Gate via the deity Shub-Niggurath (The Black Goat of the Woods), used several times through the Lovecraft Mythos.
diamonds scrapin the marrow, out my core
whos in the mirror
whos at the door
wasnt there before
to the chord
pull it, pull that shit
i got the diamonds, scrapin,
sidin, wastin my life
in altered states dem
back it up, i got the fever
The imagery of “diamonds scrapin’ the marrow out my core” sounds so harsh and is such a gritty, under your skin description of presumably having injected methamphetamine or heroin into your veins. It evokes a gruesome image of perhaps a coroner scraping a glittery build up of crystal and marrow from hollowed out veins or even the bones themselves. Hard to tell if a double meaning was intended by spelling cord as ‘chord’ (like a musical chord), or if it was just a mistake among many others. Similarly ‘sidin’ reads as though it should be ‘slidin’ as in the ‘diamonds’ are sliding through veins, though this could also just be an interpolation of a separate meaning of siding like a side effect or maybe taking a side. All this culminates to a particularly dark ending for the track, presumably a chair being pulled out from under Ride, with the cord around his neck attached to the ceiling.
Samples: Death Grips – Live from Death Valley – Fyrd Up
If Get Got introduced Ride’s point of view as this violent detached manic state, The Fever then metaphorically described the state like literal fever, so then Lost Boys is a less abstract description of a group of people in this state, who are “lost boys”.
Death Grips are not the first in Hip-Hop to sample themselves, but they have more than usual scattered throughout The Money Store and have maintained a similar rate since. In addition to this self sampling they also share some of the same samples between several releases, and further still have sampled themselves in remixes of other artists’ songs resulting in potential remixes of samples of samples. The sample in Lost Boys comes from one of their more obscure releases Live from Death Valley, an EP released just after Exmilitary. The sampled song contains three noteworthy references, the first is in the title Fyred Up, the alternate spelling of fire is obviously inspired by Stefan’s previous project Fyre. The second is a self reference in the lyrics: “told rigor mortis grips”, rigor mortis being the process after death when all the muscles in the body become stiff, this perhaps offers some insight to the name Death Grips and defines one possible meaning of it. The third is in these lines from Fyred Up:
are you sure that it’s tonight
cause if it’s not I might get got
the complication of your system
unexpected, don’t wanna be the victim
Fyred Up loosely explores being outside ‘the system’, falling prey to the rejection by society; which is referred to with “you might get got”. This is obviously the same idea, this mental state or position, that has so far been expressed through The Money Store, providing the title of the first track Get Got, and gives us a definition for the phrase.
other side of da tracks
nothin ta loose
strike of midnighters
The common idiom ‘wrong side of the tracks’ is referred to in the second line, which colloquially refers to the ‘bad’ side of town, tracks are also the inflammation or vein damage left by chronic intravenous drug use.
These first three songs together really break down ‘getting got’ in terms of how it happens, who it happens to, and most importantly what it feels like.
Samples: No confirmed samples discovered.
The lyrics of Blackjack are written similarly to the preceding tracks, this time including various descriptions of ripping people off and stealing described using Blackjack and gambling analogies.
The music video has an interesting intro that isn’t in the regular version of the song. The visual is a color changing Clonazepam pill, a benzodiazepine used to treat seizures, with a sample in the background of what sounds like a depression medication advertisement, this only lasts a few seconds before we get to the regular version of the song. The main part of the video is framed as though looking through a port hole, interestingly this frame is the outer bezel of a floor light, taken from a picture which was later used as the cover for the album The Powers that B, and different versions of this picture can also be seen in the music video for I’ve Seen Footage.
shawshank the box
cant be contained
man came ta pick the lock
empty the vault
and leave no trace
sleep dont wake
This is a reference to the fictional Shawshank prison from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption adapted to film by Frank Darabont as The Shawshank Redemption. Spoiler alert: the plot revolves around a famous prison break, but this reference actually sounds like the opposite, breaking in to a lock box or safe of some sort at night while everyone is asleep.
(cant do a thing but fold)
comin from that hit me until
twenty one makes
your chips mine
high king, ace, to knees the place put down by g’s raisin the stakes
no need ta count the deck
i own it
These are all excerpts from the lyrics that contain Black Jack references. It is a simple game played one on one against the dealer, the objective is to get the highest value of accrued cards without going over 21. “Hit me”, and “count the deck” are specific Black Jack terms respectively meaning you want to be dealt another card, and a system of essentially memorizing the previous game play to calculate probabilities of what cards will come up next. Folding and “raisin the stakes” are more poker related, to fold is to concede your hand for the round. A raise is to increase the bet; however bets in Black Jack are made before the round starts and can’t be changed in that way.
- Rodney O and Joe Cooley – U Don’t Hear Me Tho
- Casio Computer Co., Ltd. – Sounds Effect 88
Hustle Bones is one of the first points of the album where the lyrical point of view becomes more lucid. The tracks up to this point all feel like the unfiltered perspective of the insane, whereas Hustle Bones is more of a self aware brag from Ride to the listener.
The music video contains another iconic Death Grips concept, putting a camera and drugs inside a spinning clothes dryer. The opening shot is very confusing, its hard to tell what perspective you are viewing from as the camera spins with the machine, appearing fixed while a pile of cannabis flies about. Aside from this they put stacks of money and an open beer inside the machine, and for only a couple of seconds, what appears to be an actual example of the canine gimp mask that appears on the front cover of the album. With the camera fixed to the door of the machine, it sometimes swings out revealing Ride exaggeratedly rapping along, as though waiting for the dryer cycle to finish.
Fairly unusual for Death Grips to sample a Hip-Hop song, excluding the self samples, this is the only one on the album. The sampled track is a fairly typical example of early 90’s Hardcore West-Coast Hip-Hop, and bears a similar relationship to Death Grips as explored above with the N.W.A. verse. Worth noting is the album this track comes from, Fuck New York, named for their frustration at New York critics’ bias toward the East-Coast that seemed to be holding back the careers of many west coast rappers.
hustle bones comin’ out my mouth
The meaning of this recurring line is the subject of ongoing debate. Some people interpret the bones as money, as in they get paid for their music, and Ride providing vocals means his money comes from his mouth; others say that ‘hustle bones’ are the lyrics, in that they’re the fragmented remains of a past lifestyle he no longer leads, these memories and lyrics are the last the thing left behind like a skeleton.
eons beyond the line never crossed, by dem punks livin soft while i ride that bomb
into the sun
look no hands megatons
rode like man we can’t lose
no shit, no shit
This is a reference to the Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The Cold War satire that famously ends with a re-called but uncontactable B-52 pilot straddling his nuclear weapon down to the surface and inadvertently triggering a doomsday machine designed to wipe out all of humanity.
A Megaton is a unit of measurement, in metric SI units this would represent 1 million metric tons (ton = 1000 kilgorams), however in this case it is talking about TNT equivalency which conveys a quantity of energy released in an explosion. If the weapon Ride is riding to the ground has megatons of TNT equivalency, then it is most likely a nuclear bomb that would release approximately the same amount of energy as several million tons of TNT when detonated.
The whole verse breaks down to imagining a line that would never be crossed by punks living soft, Ride is eons beyond that line by riding a bomb into the sun. “megatons rode” would be describing this, but also can be interpreted as the past tense form of himself, if he was ‘Ride’ he is now ‘rode’ since being consumed by the bomb.
I’ve Seen Footage:
Samples: No confirmed samples discovered.
I’ve Seen Footage is an almost conspiracy style account of seeing too much real shit, being so aware, but paranoid to the point of not being able to tell whats real any more. The song is known for use of the word “noided” which has become a meme in the Death Grips fan base, it is a contraction of ‘paranoided’, an unusual past participle form of ‘paranoid’ which essentially embodies the meaning of the song.
Has one of their more unique and telling music videos. It consists only of a rapid succession of images that chronicle the world from the perspective of Death Grips. Many taken in their signature ‘cursed’ style, in the dark with the flash on, they look as though they tell the story of a Death Grips tour; with many shots of the members travelling, setting up or rehearsing live shows, setlists, other music video scenes, shopping malls, airports, planes, backstage areas, et cetera.
While many of the pictures are totally indecipherable or given no context, some other frames are of note, such as: photos of an early show of theirs that used a guillotine as a prop, a gold bar, a few Lady Gaga posters in different places, drugs, what looks like Zach’s old home address on a package, the early concept versions of album artwork for future releases Government Plates and The Powers That B, the police lights Ride waves around in the Get Got video (Possibly sitting on a shelf in Stefan’s house?), dead animals, and Stefan inscribing “Death Grips” in as many places as he can. Many other frames have also become memes that are still popular, possibly due or relating to the rise of ‘cursed’ memes. If you put headphones on, turn the volume up, relax your focus and stare through the video it has a kind of intense hypnotic effect as you are drawn into their world. This is very fitting as they are essentially creating footage out of the sum of experiences they share travelling around as a group and the shady things they get up to, its like a literal version of what’s happening in the lyrics.
“The line “I’ve Seen Footage” was from a conversation I had with this street-person dude in Sacramento named Snake Eyes. A friend of ours recorded him on the porch in a conversation– he didn’t know he was being recorded. He was all fucked up on drugs and shit, just rattling off all this crazy information. He was talking about structures on the moon. I mean, I talk about those things, too. So we were talking about moon structures, and Snake Eyes says, “I’ve seen footage! I’ve seen footage of it!” And I was like, “That’s good!””
– Zach Hill for Pitchfork
Clearly this encounter was not only inspiration for the title, but for the whole song. The verses in particular sound like they could be coming from Snake Eyes’ mouth, as a drugged street wanderer.
hand held dream
shot in hell
deep space ghetto (streets)
show me somethin
i aint seen before
mystery hind that
Ride can’t tell what ‘that’ is because its like a dream in hell filmed on a mobile phone. The only thing he hasn’t seen yet is what happens after you die.
got a no-no goin, one time
creeps up behind me
over my shoulder
turn around try to see
but its nowhere
static on my blindside
“One time” is colloquial for police, originating from the idea you should only look at them ‘one time’ because if you keep glancing in their direction you’ll attract attention; Ride thinks they’re creeping up on him and he turns, but there’s nothing there. The last line here is a great summation of the song. as though his peripheral vision is filled with static, its fuzzy, you could see anything in it, feeling like he’s being followed, he’s Noided.
whats the science on
flyin that high
Sounds like the rambling of a fake moon landing conspiracist, ironic that the song was inspired by a conversation about structures built on the moon.
Both the word ‘noided’ and this idea of not being able to trust what you perceive come up a few more times in the rest of the album. It can be used as a kind of filter to look at the rest of the lyrics through, if you read a lyric and struggle to understand what it means just keep ‘noided’ in mind as you are probably trying to take it too literally.
- The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Blue Jay Way
- Cheb Wasila – Music from Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 2 – Hwa Heda
- John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band – Mother
“Double Helix” is a reference to the structure of DNA, the song breaks down Death Grips’ DNA to highlight their relationship to music as a whole.
Another iconic Death Grips music video, it is filmed entirely through the reverse parking camera of a 2007 Toyota Prius. It features Ride threateningly gesturing and rapping straight into the camera. The video feels a little like being trapped in the locked car while the deranged Ride taunts you trying to get in, hes behind you, and you can only see him through the parking camera, adorned with the now ominous message, “Check surroundings for safety”.
The song has another Music from Saharan Cellphones sample, interestingly this one comes from Vol. 2, which had an official release date of January 5th 2013, nearly eight months after the release of The Money Store. Both volumes were compiled in 2010 so Sahel Sounds (the compiler) was sitting on this track for three years before it was released, and before these particular compilations were out there were supposedly some bootleg style cassette editions of these Saharan cellphone songs. This particular sampled track was also used by Grimes in a 2011 DJ mix, Weird Magic Mix where it is credited as untitled and as a collaboration with another artist featured on the Music from Saharan Cellphones compilations. Exactly where and how Death Grips and Grimes came across it we can only speculate, but its clear from the release date and crediting discrepancies that the release of these songs and the songs themselves were extremely eclectic at the time, Death Grips have definitely searched very far and wide for their samples.
No doubt a big draw to signing a major label was the ability to get some other very ambitious samples cleared; while you can get approval for a sample from The Beatles, it is not easy. Exmilitary also contains some ambitious samples, but as it remains officially unpublished as a ‘mixtape’, seemingly Death Grips don’t want to or could not clear them.
Death Grips have spoken about their connection with The Beatles:
“For whatever reason I had a vision John Lennon would be a big fan of Death Grips.
Oh man! Thank you very much. They’re [The Beatles] often a topic in the music that we make. The way they did their shit and how they went about making their music through stages of development. At the same time highly conceptual. We talk about The Beatles all the time, how we want to be The Beatles of Rap. I say that without arrogance, it is just something to aspire to.”
– Death Grips for The Source
Their selection of Blue Jay Way for a sample seems particularly pointed as uncharacteristically for The Beatles, it references Los Angeles specifically:
There’s a fog upon L.A
And my friends have lost their way
We’ll be over soon they said
Now they’ve lost themselves instead
Maybe in their own way these lines in particular sound a bit like Death Grips lyrics, even if they are relatively down to earth. The song is set in a house on Blue Jay Way, part of a neighbourhood in the Hollywood Hills where each street is named after a bird, and where George Harrison was staying when he wrote the song. The sampled song is also referenced in the lyrics for Double Helix:
be back when you think im gone
blue jay way, dont belong
double helix phoenix
There are a few ways the reference could be interpreted, that maybe George Harrison didn’t belong in Blue Jay Way, that Death Grips wouldn’t belong in that area of L.A., or maybe that the sample doesn’t really belong in a Death Grips track. Considering this and it being among the more unsettling The Beatles’ songs, it comes across as a very fitting way for Death Grips to acknowledge one of their aspirations, obviously the implication being that The Beatles are part of Death Grips’ DNA.
The track opens with these descriptions:
bangin bones on roland
chicken skeletal system bombin
unidentified genre abductor
hit it from the back
hooded executor of
cant wait ta pull dat trigger shut gunner
They are all descriptions of how Death Grips’ music is produced. For example Roland is a Japanese company that makes all kinds of electronic music instruments, very likely a Roland keyboard or sample pad was used in the production of this album. “Jungle” is likely the electronic genre, which they sometimes share elements with, but their version is just a bit rotten.
This is Death Grips’ DNA, their double helix, they are the unidentified genre abductor, they fuck the formula. The “hooded executor” line is interesting, usually you would have a ‘hooded executioner’, the person who drops the trapdoor underneath someone to be hung for example. But here we need to carefully note the difference between executioner and executor, Ride clearly says “executor” in the song; someone who carries out a defined task, usually used to describe someone who has been nominated to oversee a will for someone who has died. Both terms are rooted in the word ‘execute’ which means both of these things, to justly kill someone (the hooded executioner), and to perform a task (the executor of the will), so in a way an ‘executioner’ is a kind of ‘executor’ and the meanings are combined, producing two interpretations:
Death Grips are the hooded executioner of cookie cutter music, they twist things up, and fuck the formula, as opposed to people who construct music like playing with blocks, out of pre-established ideas.
They execute (make or create) cookie cutter music, this is apt when you look at their use of samples and the combination of existing genres (genre abductor) that go into Death Grips’ compositional style. They are hooded because even if it is ‘cookie cutter’ its still uniquely dark and twisted.
The reality is that its both, like with every other aspect of this album it changes depending on how you view it, Death Grips ‘execute’ cookie cutter music, and they also ‘execute’ it.
(so you really wanna know how i freak it)
This little hook repeats through the song, and “freak it” is an interesting verb that the band seem to identify with, it comes up in interviews and several times in the lyrics of this album, notably again in the next song System Blower, which covers similar topic to this one. ‘Freak it’ was defined in 2007 on Urban Dictionary as:
“to do something really well; improvise musically; rock hard; making a cool song; being original”
Which makes sense as Death Grips have used the term to describe how they make their music no less than 5 times.
“The production is definitely a huge part of the aesthetic, what is the process for making the “beats” on this record?We just freak it out…work the graveyard shift.”
– Zach Hill for Coolehmag
- Venus Williams grunting
- Vancouver Skytrain acceleration sound
System Blower describes turning up their noisy music so loud that it blows the sound system you are playing it on, this is compared to riot, anarchy and tearing down societal institutions.
“For example, in the song “System Blower”, there’s this part that goes, “WA-WA-WA-WA-WA,” and the drop is the sound of Venus Williams screaming when she hits a tennis ball. It was in a video we found on YouTube. The only things we sampled were things like that, things from everyday life. We all carry around camcorders; we’ll record sounds with digital cameras and use those sounds on our records, with a real disregard for sound quality. We’ll build something around something that’s just fucked– like, you just shouldn’t use it. But there’s a majestic quality to that rawness. When people talk about how our music is like rap music, but punk, I think they’re talking about our use of instrumentation like that.”
– Zach Hill for Pitchfork
Zach leaves little room for interpretation here by explaining what the eclectic non-music samples are all about. They take parts of the world around them, things you may not expect, and twist them into something unrecognizable and dangerous. Its about re-framing all aspects of life and music to show something new, this philosophy of samples is clearly a crucial concept for the album.
yeah we came to blow your system
you know what im sayin
kill it or die
braggin about how you
had it all dialed
well whats up now
when your shit is
The opening line immediately establishes the double meaning of the song, “blow your system”, the system is both a sound system and an organised system of institutions. The last line of this recurring verse, “when your shit is…”, foreshadows a recurring hook in the last song Hacker, the full line is “When you come out your shit is gone”. With gone missing we can probably interpolate ‘blown’ in its place, as each instance of this line is followed by more examples of their music and its intent, to blow the system.
stupid dopefiend beat low hung blood spray all over
da death stomp drums
pun2k weight holding heretics
out till we’re like that track sound so sick
Introduces the term “pun2k weight”, seemingly a 21st century form of Punk, this idea has its own track Punk Weight, so it is more deeply broken down in that section. Also another instance of ‘freak it’ here, in this case “freakin” as a verb, though it sounds like the more common expletive.
just for kicks
cant fuck wit dis
sadomaso-kiss my fist
suck my dick, its not cool
im too sick, what time is it
system blower, systems over
deep in da klink base
cut straight to da chase
like a triple shot of 180 proof
kill-o-watts riots audio violence
breaks your windows and
takes all da loot
“Sadomaso-kiss my fist” is a pun, fittingly the insertion of “kiss my first” into Sadomasochism, which is a portmanteau of sadism and masochism, respectively the derivation of pleasure from giving and receiving pain, usually in a sexual context, obviously relating to the album cover.
Samples: Death Grips – Death Grips (Next Grips)
The larger concept of this track is relatively unclear, but given the title and a few lyrical moments, I’d place it closest to The Fever, except rather than an illness Ride’s mental state is compared to a cage. Alternatively The Cage could have a much more literal meaning, a prison or perhaps just incarceration in general; certain lyrics have a suspicious kind of tone and suggest a character avoiding the law.
mo cash will help you cope
sorry ta tell ya.. but it won’t
how do i get out then? you dont
These lines illustrate both the literal and metaphorical cage.
There is an interesting word play in the hook:
(i say kill it like ya, you say hate it
kill it like ya hate it
kill it like ya hate it
i say arrrgghh you say cant take it
i cant take it i cant take it)
It is a farce of the tacky and overused crowd interaction technique used by musicians forever, except with Ride also serving as the voice of the audience which he does with a different inflection. The first round is clear, Ride says “kill it like ya” as a signal to then say “hate it”. In the second round “arrrgghh” is the signal, but when the line comes “arrrgghh” and “I” are interchanged. It switches from a call and response to Ride just saying “I can’t take it”. Throughout the multiple repetitions in the song, Ride switches up his pronunciations and intonations and “arrrgghh”, “I”, “Ow’ and “Oh” all seem to be used in the “__ can’t take it” phrase, each time slightly altering the meaning.
terrified by da way a bassilisk come out him skin so fast
not the first wont be the last
barrel of my gun down the hatch 187 deep throat chokin eat dis fourty-four magnum dic
A Basilisk is a mythical snake that can kill simply with its gaze, the line seems to refer to it shedding its skin, like any snake, but also bears some similarity to the lines after it. I see a comparison between the graphic sexual imagery of forcing a gun down someones throat and the snake shedding its skin. 187 seems to be a Springfield rifle model, and a Fourty-Four Magnum is a famous handgun, which for a long time was the most powerful in the world.
rainin blood, burnin paper
a j acksons catchin vapors
Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States, and appears on the US $20 bill. So ‘burning paper Andrew Jackson catching vapors’ would be burning money, perhaps even a joint rolled using a $20 bill.
- Cheb Wasila – Music from Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 2 – Hwa Heda
- Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced – Manic Depression
Punk Weight is also relatively abstract compared to the rest of the album. No clear narrative or message is expressed, lyrics are presented more like small glimpses. The title “punk weight” is used as a phrase several times in the lyrics and ties most of the song together; in this case stylized as “pun2k weight” seemingly to represent Punk but for Y2K (the millennium starting in the year 2000). Sounding like an evolution or maybe even an ‘answer’ to Punk of the 70s.
This particular Music from Saharan Cellphones sample is the only one on the album that contains appreciable lyrics. They are spoken in Moroccan Arabic, and are apparently very difficult to decipher; the meaning is not easy to interpret, but it seems to be a Gnawa song (from the area around where the compilations were made) detailing a narrative between two people and based around certain aspects of Sufism. Its hard to say if Death Grips had the means to interpret this particular song and the line that they sampled, considering their approach to the rest of the samples I’d be more inclined to say that they chose it for aesthetic reasons.
Only one recorded interview with Stefan has been published, he said little, but used one question to name Jimi Hendrix as a favourite musician before stopping himself to reiterate that he mostly looks within for inspiration now and that he has no interest in sharing his idolization of others. So what may be the significance of using a twisted nearly unrecognizable sample from Jimi Hendrix – Manic Depression in this track?
I think the answer is vague, but actually lies in the scene surrounding Jimi Hendrix and the year in which his landmark album was released, 1967. This year was a big turning point for Rock and Roll/Psychedelic music, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Door’s S/T, Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow were all released within months of each other, and all ushered in a completely new overt style of drug influenced music, Psychedelic Rock. But the first and perhaps the most influential of 1967’s edgy drug infused Rock and Roll was The Velvet Underground & Nico. Punk as a genre hadn’t yet formed, but TVU&N is widely considered the first Proto-Punk album, and was an early example of heavy drug use and perverted sex being openly linked to Rock and Roll; all Punk, Psychedelic, Experimental, Underground or Alternative music is indebted to it, including Death Grips.
“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”
– Brian Eno for the Los Angeles Times
Death Grips’ samples are often extremely obscure and outwardly quite meaningless, to attempt to connect Jimi Hendrix to the meaning of this song, in that perhaps the album that the sample is taken from somehow represents Punk is probably too much of a stretch, but I think it is a clear acknowledgement of Death Grips’ deepest roots.
storm the gates
25 8, twelve gauge pun2k weight
(25 8 pun2k weight out yo flesh)
Here lies another connection directly between TVU&N and this song, through the Andy Warhol reference in the above lines.
“Actually, we kept talking about the ‘Warholian nightmare’ while we were making The Money Store. We kept talking about this record as directly relating to certain things about Andy Warhol, if we had to choose an artist. It’s the same, in our minds, as pop art.”
– Zach Hill for AQNB
Pop Art was a movement starting in the 1950s that in ways was a reaction against Fine Art and Abstract Art. Often ironic, it typically consists of images from popular culture and particularly advertising material, de-contextualized and visually mimicking mass production by using techniques like screen printing. Warhol took well known visual imagery from outside what would usually be considered art, and re-presented it, so that the artistry was no longer purely in the visual image or the skill required to create it, but now in the context of the image and the intent. It simultaneously challenged the perception of the popular imagery used and also the fine art that this context was usually exclusively given. It is this new representation of ideas that Death Grips’ share, these dark and eclectic parts of existence are taken and re-processed into these synthetic sounds that are given spaces they usually have no business in. Like Warhol made a supermarket shelf into a gallery, Death Grips have formed these sounds and their concepts into an album.
The reason this connection is significant is because Andy Warhol was the producer and manager of The Velvet Underground during the Proto-Punk period, they were absorbed into his collective of ‘Superstars’ and part of several of his projects. The way it occurs to me is that this idea of a ‘warholian nightmare’, the way Death Grips thought of their album while making it, helps define ‘pun2k’. As Warhol was fairly integral to the formation of Punk, which in a sense has led us to Death Grips, that makes them the nightmarish, abstract version of Pop Art. Both Punk and Pop Art went against the grain, but we are now so far from their conception that by themselves they no longer are contrary in the same way they were; Death Grips however are contrary to the current ethos of music (at least more so at the time The Money Store was released), and their use of the concepts Punk and Pop Art feed into that, creating pun2k.
That gives some meaning for ‘pun2k’, but still leaves a lot of ambiguity for the full phrase ‘pun2k weight’. The joining of the two words doesn’t really make sense, but its used over and over like a mantra, the use of the word ‘weight’ often feels somewhat redundant, like you could take it out of the song and not really alter the meaning. But other times it links ‘pun2k’ to another concept, like in the “25 8 pun2k weight out yo flesh” line. This is a reference to Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. A pound of flesh is a harsh form of payment demanded by the character Shylock for defaulting on a loan, whose name has become synonymous with lending money at an extortionate rate, and the ‘pound of flesh’ (pound being a measurement of weight) payment as an unpleasantly large or impossible debt.
Similarly, the previously discussed term “25-8” is used again several times, and tied in as ’25 8, twelve gauge pun2k weight’, to me this makes it sound like a boxing weight class (As opposed to Heavyweight or Welterweight). Considering Ride has used the term punk (not pun2k) as derogatory earlier on in the album, it would seem to be the weight of a lighter, weaker person. Twelve gauge is a very common gauge number for shotgun ammunition that denotes the inner diameter of the barrel. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that in these contexts ‘gauge’ and ‘weight’ are synonymous in a similar way that the ‘gauge’ (diameter) of a piece of wire can be described as its ‘weight’.
There are a couple of other usages: “smoke pun2k weight for breakfast… “, and “scale richtor pun2k weight of dis sound”. In these, ‘pun2k’ is now the part that sounds redundant, as they both seem to focus their meaning on ‘weight’, as in the Richtor scale used to measure earthquake intensity, and smoking for breakfast would suggest some weight of cannabis, usually measured in grams or ounces.
Looking at all these examples, the meaning of ‘pun2k weight’ is very diverse, it sounds like a state you might be in (like noided), but then also flexible enough to suggest some amount of mass, always relating to that state.
end beat limbo, baba spitting
blood in slow mo, la la chimney
In several languages “Baba” is a respectful older male, or just ‘father’.
off in the rhythm like
beta in the bong
“Off in the rhythm” is a reference to ‘flow’, the increased creative state that many associate with cannabis use. Beta is a band of brainwave frequency, related to cognitive tasks or focused mental activity, and is one mental faculty that is altered by cannabis.
mic spray kyrlon
“kyrlon” is a misspelling of Krylon, a popular paint manufacturer, focusing on spray paint. This line is a reference to a clip in their Adult Swim segment, where Ride spray paints a microphone red (RED MIC=MC RIDE?).
ask samo how he flipped that material girls pancakes.. as zydeco copper kettles
Speaking of Andy Warhol, this line contains a reference to another underground New York artist, this time active in the late 70’s. SAMO was a well known graffiti tag used across Manhattan, Ride uses it here to refer to its co-creator, Jean-Michel Basquait who became extremely well known before dying at age 27 (Putting him alongside Jimi Hendrix in the 27 Club). “Material girl” is the Pop star Madonna, who before her music career had begun was in a relationship with Jean-Michel Basquait. Zydeco is a Blues based music genre originating in Louisiana. The line does seem to describe their relationship as loud or unpleasant sounding (like a copper kettle), but the pancake flipping and Zydeco references I honestly cannot explain; this is one of the most confusing lines of the album for me.
Punk Weight also established a link that would not become fully apparent for several years, which is the relationship between Death Grips and the Icelandic artist Björk. Its not known exactly when and how they first connected, but about the same time as this album came out, Björk was releasing a series of guest artist remixes from her album Biophilia, and Death Grips did the tracks Sacrifice and Thunderbolt, in which they slipped a small production element also used in this track. Not long after; they’d committed to completing their next album NO LOVE DEEP WEB and had cancelled a tour and withdrawn from the world to do so, apparently they were having a tough time and she actually reached out to Zach.
Their biggest collaboration has been Niggas On The Moon, part of the double album The Powers That B; Björk is featured on all 8 tracks as most of the instrumentals are cut up samples of her singing, some coming from the then unreleased album Vulnicura. She also has a habit of including Death Grips in her semi-regular DJ sets, typically dropping Guillotine or some of their instrumental work. Its not hard to picture Björk as a fan of Death Grips, and them of her; but the more I listen to both of them the more they seem to compliment each other, like that Death Grips are perhaps the antithesis of Björk.
“i am proud to announce my vocals landed on the new death grips album ! i adore the death grips and i am thrilled to be their “found object”. i have been lucky enough to hang and exchange music loves w/ them and witness them grow !! epic : onwards !!”
– Björk on Death Grips
Samples: Yeli Fuzzo – Music from Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 1 – Abandé
Probably the most lyrically disjointed song of the album, it contains no consistent narrative or meaning that I can decipher beyond a very loud ‘fuck that’ from Ride.
over one nine breaker
slit throat, cut creator
hung from dem nail
hang em high
trek through dat next switch
set it off the roglyphic
jackal headed dawn of the under
check it, check one
you can suck it
till i get disgusted
“Third rail” is a reference to the power delivery system commonly used for trains, where a live third rail runs alongside the two that the train runs on. “One nine breaker” sounds like CB radio slang typically used by American truck drivers. Channel 19 is the most commonly used, and ‘Breaker’ is used to say you would like to start talking on a particular channel, in this case 19. Though here the common syntax is reversed perhaps making it sound more like ending communication rather than starting it, also supported by the inclusion of the word ‘over’ which denotes the end of a phrase in radio communication. Also reminiscent of a circuit breaker, which cuts a an electric circuit when too much current is flowing, usually caused by a short circuit, this would link the CB slang reference to the train power system reference. These first two lines nearly evoke a graphic image of someone attempting suicide by laying on train tracks, instead being killed via electrocution as they short circuit the third rail to the tracks and trip the circuit breaker, thus ‘ending communication’.
“Savoir faire” is a French term that literally translates to ‘know how’, and is used to describe someone who knows what to do in any situation, ‘street wise’ may be an apt substitute here.
The Trans-Siberian is a famous train line that runs across Russia between Moscow and Vladivostok, obviously due to the size of Russia it is known for being exceptionally long and ‘epic’. ‘Through dat next switch” seems to reference a Railway Switch, the special split kind of railway track that allows trains to take multiple paths; the suggestion here is something like that Ride’s path to change is a long, cold journey, he’s cut communication and blown the circuit breaker on his way.
‘Roglyphic’ is a contraction of Hieroglyphic, and ‘Jackal-headed’ is Anubis, an ancient Egyptian god linked to mummification and the afterlife.
get off mine i got that juice
noo style cut your brain stem as my combat boots
grind your head to the cadence of this dreath stompin mu-
sick as fuck contagion wagin war with all you knew
mossberg ballistic flux massive
my shure beta 58a hazmatted
pump pump slugster radioactive
ride through a mine field
laced wit black magic
straight from the mayday…
naw fuck that (ONE)
broke off its axis, polar shifted granite
knock made ta off
every last bitch on this planet
fuck that, naw, fuck that
Couple of funny little things about this excerpt. First is “dreath”, which as far as I can tell is just ‘death’ spelled incorrectly, in the song it sounds a lot like ‘death’ but it also seems like a particularly blatant mistake to leave in there.
Ride’s delivery through this whole track is particularly harsh, he describes it as “death stompin’ music”, but with a little more lyrical cubism. ‘Mu-sic’ has been split across two lines which gives him the opportunity to continue with ‘sick’ as the start of a new line, and for ‘mu’ to preserve the “juice”, “boots”, “mu” and “knew” slant rhyme scheme. Its hard not to take “mu” as a reference to 4chan’s music board /mu/, where Death Grips were infamously active in the early days of their career and where they have posted leaks and partially hosted their ARG.
Mossberg is a gun manufacturer and Slugster is a shotgun model. Shure make audio recording equipment, the BETA 58A is a microphone, very possibly the exact microphone Ride is shouting into.
The imagery through this whole section is fantastic, probably Death Grips at their most vividly self descriptive. You can use as colorful creative words as you like to try and describe Death Grips, many people have, but none have nailed it as well as these. This ride through a black magic laced minefield, combat boots grinding through your brain-stem, lyrics fired point blank into your eardrum through a radioactive shotgun, everything you knew disintegrated as earth is knocked off its orbit in a sick as fuck contagion.
dealer push your wig
all the way back
head wear your face like a yamakulapse
never can tell
where you’re at
eyes stuck on the sky
always gettin jacked
tryin ta lookin the mirror like..
A Yarmulke is the Yiddish name for the skullcap worn by Jewish men, more commonly known in Hebrew as a Kippah, Ride has made a pun out of it here by combining the word with ‘collapse’ to describe ripping someones hair so hard that the scalp collapses and your face slides up to the top of your head like a Yarmulke, with your eyes looking straight up to the sky.
Fuck That is raw Death Grips, violent tribal drums, glitchy production peeled away to expose a minimal framework for Ride to stretch his disgorged esophagus over, all for a simple statement: if its not Death Grips, fuck that.
- Death Grips – Exmilitary – Thru the Walls
- Death Grips – Exmilitary – Takyon
This track is another loud self brag from Ride directed at the listener.
when shit goes down
ill be there
wit my hand on my gun, and my eyes on the road
ghost ridin ta hell fuck if i care… who wanna catch my droze
give a fuck blood
i aint goin nowhere
templar night and day, live an die by the code, code of the street
how ta stay in the zone, how i own it and freak it to da base of da bone
‘Droze’ is a colloquialism that perfectly describes Ride, it has a loose meaning that’s hard to describe, like an attitude of ultimate omnipotent confidence and power.
There is a pun in the second last line: ‘templar night and day’. The Knights Templar was a Medieval Catholic Military order prominent during the Crusades, and here Ride is describing his ’25-8′, ‘pun2k’, ‘night and day’, ‘live and die by the code of the street’, droze attitude as being like a Templar Knight of the crusades.
cuz i run this lik
like dogtown ripped
that raw shit like none other
low down dirty shit
shot off this hip
death grips, mothafucka
Dogtown was an area in Santa Monica, California that the skating group, the Zephyr Competition Team used to hang around in the 70s, made famous by the movies Lords of Dogtown, and Dogtown and Z-boys.
Like Fuck That, this track really speaks for itself; songs like Hacker and Punk Weight may bear intense breakdowns, but the best way to appreciate Bitch Please is just to listen to it very loud.
- Blue Devils – The Ditty
- Death Grips – Live From Death Valley – Poser Killer
- M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – Midnight City
The full trifecta of Death Grips sample types, an obscure YouTube video, a self sample, and a well known mainstream song unrecognizably twisted all in one track.
Despite the considerable output they’ve had since this was released, Hacker remains one of the most popular and accessible of their songs. Full of the most ridiculous and quotable lyrics they have, some have become memes among the Death Grips fan base. This is an important and defining Death Grips song.
The lyrics are a bit of a departure, they are reminiscent of Weird Twitter, and particularly the word salad style of composure pioneered by Dril in which cultural elements from the mainstream to obscure are rearranged together in a series of non-sequiturs. Ride does not hold back his interpretation of Weird Twitter, and much like Dril, his clamor has gone full circle to produce a twisted genius kind of meta comparison of themselves and the release of The Money Store, to technology, the internet and popular culture.
The track opens with:
goin back to Tangier
with some jordans and a spear
post chicken or the egg addiction shit
pass the sherm stick
be the freak you wanna see
just dont follow me
im on a journey to
the center of three
grab your fucking chain and drag you through the bike lane
while everybody’s like no
There is a lot to unpack here, firstly Tangier is an exceptionally old city in Morocco (potentially nearly 3,000 years), a historically important link between Africa and Europe and a diverse international cultural nexus known to attract the rich, diplomats, artists and spies, anyone can blend in.
Jordans are the famous Nike shoe line.
The third and fourth lines pair together and attempt to distill a philosophical world view. In Europe, Christianity defined the generally accepted views on life, happiness and purpose for a long period of history; the ‘chicken or the egg?’ question is also very old and represented a big philosophical dilemma. However, in our current ethos many of us have moved on from these factors defining our lives; science can essentially answer ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ (at least in a literal way), and similarly various forms of rationality are popular relative to Christianity not only spiritually but also in terms of ethics, philosophy, and psychology.
A sherm stick is a cigarette dipped in liquid PCP, a powerful dissociative hallucinogen infamously known to potentially produce psychotic dangerous behavior.
These references are amalgamated with a dynamic vernacular and set of styles. The group’s links to 4chan and the Deep Web are well known and the kinds of memes popular in these communities are a clear influence here. The non-sequiturs “Goin’ back to Tangier With some Jordans and a spear”, and “Post chicken or the egg addiction shit” in particular aren’t necessarily existing memes, but the no context and literal sounding finality is always tinged with irony, and is very reminiscent of memes that do exist, particularly the style of Ebonics used in the sphere of Black Twitter.
This whole verse feels very analogous to a few things, in a very meta sense the group and this album, but also the release of the album, and the presence Death Grips now has on the internet, popular culture and music culture. It serves to say something like “[We’re] goin back to Tangier…”, “[This is] Post-Christian shit”, which correlate to the creation and the meaning of the album; in a similar way, listening to it feels like having Ride grab your bike by the chain, and drag you through the bike lane while everyone else can only look on. I expanded the second half of this verse earlier when comparing it to Picasso, given that and now the contexts given to the first half, it helps to show how the 2nd and third verses also operate in a similar manner with similar meanings. Here are some individual lines from the next two verses that illustrate this:
you’re an intern
most loved therefore most hated
Wikileaks are obviously an extremely divisive organisation, there is very little middle ground in the stance people may have on them, much like Death Grips.
yingin’ and yanging’ noided
“Game changer” is quite clear, and has proved very true for this album. “Reclusive aggressive” is a very suitable wordplay of ‘passive aggressive’.
Yin and Yang are a dualistic Chinese philosophical concept used to represent any form of change. Yin and Yang represent the extremes of a scale on which this interchange occurs; in much of Western philosophy examples of this would be ‘Light & Dark’, ‘Positive & Negative’ or ‘Good & Evil’, if not any other pair. They are used to show how integral ‘opposites’ are in that they compliment each other and that one cannot exist without the other. “Yingin’ and yanging'” is an unusual participle Ride has created perhaps to describe his wild and erratic thoughts and behavior, you could even take it literally as like a mood swing; it also helps contextualize the heavy dualistic elements of the album artwork which clearly relate to the well known symbol form of the Yin and Yang, the Taijitu:
info warrior jack the hacker
the rolling stoner
profit on disaster
In the earlier days of Death Grips, they were actually more than a trio, Info Warrior and Mexican Girl were two previous ‘ancillary’ members. During this period most of their real names were not used, and the alias Flatlander was used like an umbrella term for the production side, this term is now often mis-attributed to Andy. Info Warrior seemed to focus on doing visual work with the group, but also has a co-production credit in Exmilitary. The context of the name in these lyrics makes it also sound like a reference to Info Wars, the American far right conspiracy website and the segment hosted by Alex Jones. The next line is also a reference to the band The Rolling Stones.
my existence is a
momentary lapse of reason
got the DNA of Gothic lemons
shred it thirteen times
out of eleven
A very nihilistic reference to the Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
A Gothic lemon would be very dark and sour, which makes it a fairly appropriate descriptor for Ride’s DNA. The last two lines remind me of the proverb ‘fall down seven times, get up eight’, except a little twisted. No matter the scenario Ride will always be ‘shredding it’ (also mentioned in The Fever above), 13 is also widely recognized as being unlucky.
burmese babies under each arm
screamin beautiful songs
the cray cray ultra contrarion
with your car alam
These first two lines sound like a kidnapping or perhaps a celebrity philanthropist having adopted some Burmese babies, they’re screaming beautiful songs and this sound is juxtaposed to a car alarm.
Ride is the “cray cray ultra contrarion”, ‘cray’ is now a very dated sounding reference, in case you’d forgotten it was a contraction of the word ‘crazy’ that people said back in 2012, it is older than that, but at that time Jay-Z and Kanye West briefly made it popular again when it was used in Niggas in Paris from their collaborative album Watch The Throne; “contrarion” is contrarian, slanted to rhyme with ‘car alarm’ and ‘arm’. The ultra contrarian disagrees with everyone and everything, contrary to the whole world.
A literal meaning for the end of the verse is that Ride has stolen your car and is talking to himself while he drives away with the alarm still blaring, but this image also serves a deeper meaning. The comparison of the screaming Burmese babies to this scene, also works as a self description, as in us listening to the ‘beautiful songs’ of Death Grips’ is like having a conversation with a car alarm.
Really every single line of this track can be interpreted as self analogous, through their cultural references, the contrived duality in meanings, the convoluted spellings and pronunciations, the philosophy, and the style.
“Lady Gaga is an example of making the most out of going major with universally positive results. The way she’s inspired people to embrace themselves as individuals in an age of such gross conformity and harsh ignorance is admirable.”
– Death Grips for L.A Record
Here, Ride slightly rephrases their admiration of Lady Gaga:
gaga cant handle this shit
If she’s inspired people to embrace their individuality in defiance of gross conformity and harsh ignorance, even with major label backing, then Death Grips take this so far that even she can’t handle it.
prodigal, fuck that nautical
teachin bitches how to swim
“Teachin’ bitches how to swim” is a good example of one of Death Grips’ more enduring lines, but many people miss it’s context in relationship to the song because of its repetition in the bridge. Like with the use of “25-8” way back in The Fever, this line is a stream of consciousness, Ride was about to describe himself as ‘prodigal’ but quickly corrects it to ‘nautical’ (as in: “Good, wait no, Great”), as if because the words sound somewhat similar that somehow ‘nautical’ is the greater or more advanced form of prodigal. Now he’s established that he’s so prodigal that its nautical, “Teachin’ bitches how to swim” becomes a simple brag. He’s so impossibly reckless that no bitch can keep up. Later in the song the idea is continued:
(teachin bitches how to swim)
through your k-hole
ya might slip
the table’s flipped now we got all the coconuts bitch
Again, so prodigal that being in a k-hole is like nothing, as he instructs you to simply backstroke through it, a confident but blind and rather vulnerable way of moving. Ketamine is notorious for bad trips that can’t be fought against or overcome, hence the need to cruise through and go with it which is why Ride warns you “don’t run, ya might slip”. He uses a very unusual inflection and vocal delivery for these first two lines, he nearly sounds like he’s presenting on a low budget cooking show or infomercial. The theme is continued up to the coconuts reference, using them like some form of currency works in a surreal nautical/island setting.
The album concludes with the hook that has been repeated throughout the song:
i’m in your area
i know the first three numbers
In addition to the meta-allegory, the track is interspersed with this idea embodied by the title ‘Hacker’. Of identifying, tracking down, and taking someone down, or the underground infiltrating the mainstream, likely the listener by Death Grips, but again this somewhat reflects the way Death Grips release their music, in this case leaked on YouTube ahead of its official release, but also their deep web ARG and the Torrents and it’s spread across /mu/. “I know the first three numbers” suggests the area code in the US telephone system, knowing the first three numbers of someones phone number allows you to track their location down to a rough area. An IP address or ZIP code could also work in this context. “I’m in your area” is also a repeated phrase in the EPMD track Da Joint, which wouldn’t be the first reference to EPMD in Death Grips’ lyrics, the track Takyon from Exmilitary name drops them and references their song Strictly Snappin’ Necks.
Many have proposed a link to Hacker that I have found erroneous; which is to the experimental film I-Be Area by Ryan Trecartin. The relationship between Death Grips and Ryan Trecartin was established with the release of @DeathGripz, an outtake or b-side from The Money Store that was published in the 2012 edition Adult Swim’s single series that samples dialogue from the film. Many claims have been made about further links between The Money Store and I-Be Area, including that Stefan and Ryan went to art school together, that Stefan and Zach appear in the film, and that certain lyrics from Hacker are lifted out of the dialogue, after some research, none of these seem true. Its fair to link the title of the film, and its repeated use of the word ‘area’ in dialogue to the “I’m in your area” line from Hacker, however I can’t infer any similar meaning surrounding the use of the word in the film to in the song.
The most valid claim I’ve found is that Hacker and I-Be Area share a theme, particularly relating to delivery of information and the internet, and that they each inform each other’s convoluted chaos. I-Be Area is nearly two hours of frenetic sensory overload, rather exhausting and unsettling to pay heavy attention to, a little like Death Grips in film form. The overarching concept of the film is often reduced to something like ‘what if the way we communicated using the internet was translated to real life?’, which while watching it feels fair, and Hacker certainly has something to say about transfer of information across the internet, but I honestly can’t relate them in words much beyond that.
This track really sets itself apart from the rest of the album, its by far the least aggressive and most accessible; one of the few whose lyrics are not purely the “glorification of the gut”. It is much more direct in its serving of concepts, such as individuality, which it crucially ties down to conclude the album.
If the question still remains, ‘What is The Money Store actually about?’, by this stage we can somewhat satisfy that question in Death Grips’ own words as the id of Hip-Hop, the 21st century answer to 20th century Punk and Pop Art, and the free thinking open ended empowerment of individuality.
I heard Nick Cave explain why he liked Leonard Cohen‘s Avalanche so much, even though he couldn’t describe what it’s about. He said something to the effect of that its dark incomprehensibility placed it in a special place outside reasonable understanding, and this spongy gap between the position of the song and our minds allows an infinite amount of possible bridges between the two, so many interpretations are possible. All music, art or even experience can be described in this way, but I find The Money Store sits in a relatively similar position, it exists in and taps into this place particularly far outside the world of language, outside of Plato‘s cave. For us to perceive it it needs to pass through an infinite space to our mind.
So at this stage, to me the simplest explanation to what The Money Store is about is that there is no answer. It can’t be described. The album can be linked to any topic or meaning in a way that is unique to every individual who listens to it. Whether Death Grips intended it or not, the ‘meaning’ of the album is to discover your own meaning through listening to it and the energy provided.
“I bought a pickaxe at the Home Depot in Glendale,” he remembered. “I concealed it in a guitar case, and I went down to the star. I put on some headphones; I was listening to Death Grips, which is some high-energy, ridiculous music. It gave me the energy I needed to tear through the star.”
– Austin Clay for GQ on destroying Donald Trump’s walk of fame star
“That’s when I realized that Death Grips was my meth. I put that on and I can do anything and do it efficient as fuck. … Nico, Travis and I legit almost died because I decided to put on ‘Stockton’ and burn rubber at a red light, which resulted in my car spinning down at street at 60, 70 miles per hour at an intersection in Los Angeles around 2:45 on a school day. Not one scratch, no one hurt, not one car touched. I don’t know what it was, but it led me to believe that I had a grip on death (sorry, I had to say that).”
– Tyler, The Creator on Death Grips
“Would you describe your music as surreal?
F: Partially… Death Grips are an outlet and a way to connect with people through something other than conversation or analyzation, to create something we don’t have words for yet.”
– Andy Morin for The Quietus
Quotes are linked in the text.
Images are screenshots from music videos or referenced where appropriate.
Lyrics are from the Death Grips website.
Several interpretations and references came from, or were inspired by Genius annotations (But be careful with these).
Discogs is invaluable in tracking down more objective information regarding music releases.
WhoSampled has the most comprehensive list of samples.
Frank Delaney‘s podcast Re: Joyce, a word by word deconstruction of James Joyce‘s Ulysses served as inspiration for the format of this breakdown/not quite analysis, and to make it through to the end.
Lastly the Death Grips subreddit, for unconfirmed/newly discovered obscure samples, and always provided the most interesting or obscure leads.