Over the past decade, Definitive Jux Records has provided hip-hop with an infusion of innovation and originality. While artists such as Aesop Rock, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and Dizzee Rascal all have garnered substantial credibility within the hip-hop world, owner Jaime Meline, more commonly known under the pseudonym El-P, stands as the label’s cornerstone artist. Originally a member of the influential 1990’s hip-hop group Company Flow, El-P has cemented his place throughout the past decade as one of hip-hop’s best, and most underrated artists primarily through his own solo work. Meline proved this case with the release of his 2007 album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.
Raw cynicism and skepticism remains the focal point of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, as El-P’s dark lyrics broods through an album running the gamut of distrust and doubt. While Meline is far from the first, or the last to delve into the pessimism of the human experience, he nearly mastered the art with this album. The darkness here never stands out as forced or unreal, but rather provides genuine insight into the struggle of one with their inner-conflict.
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead evocatively shades Meline’s pessimistic wariness through a variety of tales and topics. Just as the album opens with “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” El-P heeds his warnings of modern life in this day and age, commenting “This is the sound of what you don't know killing you / This is the sound of what you don't believe still true / This is the sound of what you don't want still in you.” As the loosely cohesive message continues throughout the album, its shows up early and often, whether through discerning “Up All Night,” the lustful submission of “The Overly Dramatic Truth,” or the mundane repetition of personal self-destruction found in “The League of Extraordinary Nobodies.”
The album ends with an unlikely collaboration of El-P with Chan Marshall (Cat Power), on “Poisenville Kids No Wins Reprise,” where Meline pleads with a friend contemplating suicide, attempting to dissuade the suicide by relating with his own similar experiences, as he adamantly asserts, “So what the fuck are you feeling that makes your struggle so wondrous? / Enough to arrogantly pull what's left of the rug out from under us? / I think not, you're in the same barrel all us other crabs are caught / And if I have to live, you have to live; whether you like this shit or not. With I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, El-P has found the perfect ground between adept lyricism and honesty, combining to form one of his best works, and arguably the decade’s best indie hip-hop record.