El-P on Saturday night.Photo: Brandon Cuicchi
The Urban Outfitters on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street doesn’t seem like the ideal spot for an underground hip-hop show. But for rapper El-P, whose raw lyrics are full of pop-culture references, the sunny, faux-hip clothing mecca made a colorful backdrop for this Saturday-night show benefiting indie radio coalition Free Yr Radio. The irony wasn’t lost on El as he quipped between songs, “If you cheer real loud, everything in the store is free.” Throughout the show, he kept smacking himself in the head, as if asking What the hell am I doing here?
Nevertheless, El worked the crowd like a preacher, instructing his followers to clap, sing, and jump to almost every tune. At no point was this more fitting than during “Flyentology,” a song he wrote with Trent Reznor. He introduced it with the claim that “everyone believes in God before they die.” Halfway through the song, he got down on his knees, his hands together in mock prayer, confessing his sins and begging God to “save his ass.” Whether he wanted God to take him to heaven or just get him out of the clothing chain wasn’t clear. By then, the chorus had become a call and response: Reverend El shouting, “There are no atheists in the foxholes!” and “There is no intellect in the air!” and the crowd hollering back “No!” Did they really understand — or care — what El-P was preaching? It hardly mattered; the sermon had morphed into a party song, and his choir was happy just to sing backup. —Brandon Cuicchi