“I’m just weird, I’m just fucked up. I wish it wasn’t that way."
Company Flow MC El-P (AKA Jaime Meline) has just presented his first solo album in five years, with Cancer4Cure (C4C) garnering excellent reviews. But what took him so long?
The laconic Brooklynite, one of the godfathers of the backpack hip hop movement, plays down any suggestion of major creative blocks. In fact, the occasional beatmaker (and jazz pianist's son) quietly dropped an instrumental mixtape, Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3, in 2010. Still, in the high-turnover world of rap, five years is an eon. “It just unfolded like that – I don't know why, just life kinda unfolded like that,” Meline sighs. He needed a couple of years to even get started on C4C. “I'm just weird, I'm just fucked up,” he quips. “I wish it wasn't that way. I wish I did this much easier for me. But in the past I haven't made records until I was really ready, until I could carve out the time in life, and until I had something to say, you know?” And that, he says, “sadly” tends to happen in five-year intervals. The feted Company Flow fragmented in 2001, Meline issuing the solo Fantastic Damage the following year. I'll Sleep When You're Dead arrived in 2007.
There is a lot to be said for a D'Angelo. He disappears for a decade at a time yet delivers masterpieces. “Yeah,” Meline jokes, “take a few years, go crazy, smoke crack, get humongous, then eventually come back – that's the method! Nah, it is what it is... I spend longer on the details of my record than probably your average person, anyway – and I have a parallel production career that keeps me busy. So I've never had to really desperately pump out these records – and it's given me the ability to really try to craft something that I'm proud of. I would like to get it [done] quicker, and I think that I will be able to do more quicker, I really hope, because my life has been a bit simplified over the last couple of years.” Indeed, through the 2000s Meline devoted himself to his indie label Definitive Jux, its launch prompted by Company Flow's unsatisfactory experiences at Rawkus Records, but it's now dormant. Lately, he produced Atlanta MC Killer Mike's RAP Music – big news.
Led by The Full Retard, C4C has a dark, strong and provocative title that Meline explains is partly a reference to those daily “battles” we wage that are of our own causing. C4C isn't a critique of today's mainstream hip hop culture – a materialist, hedonist and even elitist culture. “I don't have the time to think about a comment on the music scene when I make music really at this point in my life,” Meline insists. “I'm fighting bigger battles in my head.” That he creates authentic alternative hip hop is a “statement” in itself.
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C4C has its surprises, with Interpol frontman Paul Banks a guest on Works Every Time. “Paul's a friend of mine and someone who I got to know over the years. He's a huge hip hop fan. He knows just as much about hip hop as I do – and that's a lot. So we had a mutual respect for each other and we just became friends.” Meline originally sang on the track, but decided Banks would do a better job.
Meline, touring behind C4C in North America and Europe, hopes to return to Australia. There's also the prospect of a full Company Flow reunion after they performed a run of dates last year – among them the UK festival I'll Be Your Mirror, curated by Portishead. “People kinda kept asking,” Meline says. Company Flow realised that they still had something. “By the time we got to the last show, though, I had a feeling where it was just like, Let's not keep doing the reunion show (laughs) – let's not keep performing the 15-year-old album [Funcrusher Plus].” He, Bigg Jus and DJ Mr Len plan to cut fresh material. Yet Meline is determined that they not pressure themselves, rather recording as “friends” and “see what happens.” “We're gonna give it a shot.”