Death Grips are one of the most unique hip-hop acts to gain widespread popularity in recent memory. They became the most legally downloaded artist on BitTorrent in the first half of 2012 (34,151,432 downloads), thanks to the extremely open Creative Commons CC BY 3.0 license that Death Grips assigned to each of their releases. They continued this trend with NO LOVE DEEP WEB, their second album for Epic/Sony Records, which they leaked on October 1 after giving a 12-hour warning via Twitter as a result of the label saying they wouldn't release it until early 2013. Death Grips website was temporarily down on October 1, and they tweeted that it got "shut down." Whether it was the label or traffic, the .zip file of the album is still on their website, as well as links to locations across the net.
Death Grips announced their signing to Epic in February after being courted by label owner LA Reid. I found their signing to be really strange and disappointing, but drummer Zach Hill has said that Reid was on the same page as them and was going to let them follow their vision. Sure, whatever, do what you want, but what does the contract say? In 2012, every artist knows major labels are shifty, greedy companies controlled by larger corporations that have very little to do with music. I have a feeling Death Grips didn't consider that too deeply, since Hill told Spin that when he went into Sony's offices, "I was like stoned out of my mind. We went in there, I was high as fuck. At one point the gum fell out of my mouth."
Did Death Grips consult a lawyer? If so, did they sign this deal knowing they would wreak havoc on the company? If this is a PR stunt engineered by Epic, it's a pretty complex and risky one - NO LOVE WEB DEEP's Creative Commons license could potentially allow another record label to manufacture copies of the album. On the other hand, could Epic have their hands in the advertising revenue of torrent sites? Stereogum suggested that it could be written off as an advertising expense or loss-leader for the label.
The most blatant argument against the PR stunt theory is the artwork - it's a penis with the album name written on it. It is doubtful a label did this, but maybe they were honest about letting Death Grips follow their vision. When you visit Death Grips' site and agree that you are over 18-years old, the entire screen is taken up by the album art, with the statement "U.S law states you must be 18 years of age to view graphic sexual material. We consider this art." Permanent marker on your dick in the bathroom, huh? Okay, so it's art and whatever, and it is definitely meant to appear as a big "fuck you" to Epic, as it is un-releaseable in most record stores. A censored cover has since been posted on Soundcloud, and a cropped version is the image at the top of the page. Maybe they could use that or just slip a big Spinal Tap black cover over it, just to make sure everyone knows they were censored. That's what they want, right? It seems they could at least come up with something in the vein (pun not originally intended, but here are some more Death Grips dick jokes) of The Money Store's style - provocative, but not as outright shocking as a bathroom pic of genitalia.
Similarly, the first glimpses into Odd Future provided hope that they would provide something similarly dark and creative as Death Grips because of its similarly edgy, rebellious marketing. By the time Tyler the Creator's Goblin was released, it was clear that they were just some goofy young punks with emotional issues, and that's only gotten worse from there. While Odd Future's "evil" image pales in comparison to the way MC Ride artistically throws around references to Hell, Satan, and the Apocalypse, Death Grips might be digging a grave for their integrity. Their reclusive behavior has bolstered their outsider status, and the Odd Future comparison is certainly not meant to imply that they'll end up with a show on MTV2, making sub-par music.
Taking advantage of the attention they currently have from the leak, Death Grips also announced a tour this week, which will be their first since The Money Store came out. They cancelled their Summer 2012 dates to follow their creative vision of finishing this album, which I consider unacceptable. Chicago's Bottom Lounge, where they are set to play on November 20, was not able to provide information over the phone on whether or not past ticket purchases would be honored.
For me, the album art of NO LOVE DEEP WEB, the cancelled tour, and the possibility that they made a ridiculously dumb decision in signing to a major label is a big hit to their integrity, though their core audience seems to eat it up. Even worse, if it's a PR stunt, the business of Death Grips capitalizing on a "punk" attitude is straight up sickening. Many have hailed how "punk" Death Grips are for the album scenario. That is bullshit. No band with a true punk ethic would bother signing to a major label for any reason, but rather ignore the mainstream and foster their own underground community. No real punk band would cancel a tour to record an album. There's a sense of greed and selfishness in Death Grips' decision making process - get out of the way, privileged artists coming through.
Enjoy some of their music (which is still good), contrasted with some bands that are a bit nearer to that punk aesthetic.