It has been five long years since Jamie
“El-Producto” Meline
‘s otherworldly solo debut and over a decade since he
was striking vital nerves with Company
. It is because of these lulls in output, on the solo tip anyway, that El’s albums come with feverish
anticipation from the indie scene and his Def
. Well, that, and that the producer/emcee is immensely talented. El-P‘s hyper-intelligent paranoia raps
are every bit as cinematic and affecting as his 2025 post-apocolypse New York
soundtracks. Decipher it as you may, but I’ll
Sleep When You’re Dead
is such an incredibly fitting title, for reasons you
can’t even really articulate.

The opening and closing is really everything you need to know about El-P in a nutshell. The tracks in
between just add layers and colors to the canvas. The album opens with the epic
Mars Volta-assisted “Tasmanian Pain
Coaster” that boasts brilliant production twisting and turning that ends up
being as exhilarating as a Six Flags
ride. El sets off the claustrophobic
panic that grips the entire album; “Bumped
into this kid I know he often had walked strange/so I ignored the blood on his
laces so this cat could save face/…so I saluted him there, waiting for the
A/trapped in the empty platform but had the optional escape/gave him the
standard ‘yo what up man, how you landin?/and the hypnotized response was no
surprise, ‘I maintain’/yeah we all do, that’s the standardized refrain/but on
some really real man, good to see you/really, what the dealy deal?/oops,
screwed the pooch/asked too much, knew the truth/in the train now, A caboose/in
his brain now, no recluse.

The closer and love letter to NYC, “Poisonville Kids No Wins,” is as subdued
an El-P song as you’ll ever hear,
topped off with Chan Marshall‘s
sultry vocals. It is also El at his
most poignant posing paradox’s like “how
the fuck do you explain your self destruction and still remain trusted?

 “The Overly Dramatic Truth” has him talking his innocent lover years his
junior and telling her all the reasons that they just cannot work together.
It’s the kind of examination of relationships rarely heard in music, Hip Hop or
otherwise. El continues to flex his
highly intelligent perspectives on “Flyentology” as he creates his own religion
after a near plane crash had him praying to a god he once smote. The lead
single “Smithereens (Stop Cryin’)” is one of albums more ridiculous tracks, a
heart-racing anthem complete with a Ron
sample and El‘s acid
tongued tangents.

Even when El tackles seemingly
trivial subjects like driving (“Drive”), he frames it as if God is about to
send the locusts; “my generation is
carpooling with doom and disease
.” His acute vision of society’s ills and
well-placed paranoia will easily put some listeners into the fetal position
with a tin foil hat on. That, coupled with his granite-hard iron galaxy
production, makes this album less digestible than a $2 steak for most

The self proclaimed b-boy brainiac who will smack you out of your mittens
doesn’t make just make his albums for a buck or to keep his fans interested.
It’s abundantly clear his heart, soul and xanax perspcription are poured into
his art, following no trends and creating his own. Who else works with the
likes of Trent Reznor, Mars Volta and Cat Power and uses them for little more than what could pass for a
vocal sample? Anyone can experiment and try and make some next shit, few can
turn it into great music. Maybe one of these days El-Producto will spin off the gravel road into a ditch, for now, he
continues to pave the way. Bow to a true architect.