DJ Pain 1 is a Madison hip-hop success story. He got his first big break in 2008, when he produced a track on Young Jeezy's hit album The Recession. Since then he's contributed to releases by dozens of other stars, including 50 Cent, Public Enemy, Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane.
This year should bring him even more fame since his name's appearing on the front of an album, not just in the credits. That album, Death Drive, a collaboration with Anticon founder Sole, drops today. Its first video, for the track "Old Gods Ain't Dead," was filmed by another local hip-hop artist: Memory, a rapper, producer and guitarist from the duo Worthless Righteous.
The images and the song itself are ominous, to say the least. Sole raps in a snow-shrouded graveyard, wearing a hoodie-like cloak that may have been stolen from the Grim Reaper's closet. Images of world-changing figures -- Jesus, Buddha, Einstein -- flash on the screen during the chorus, passionately sung by Sean Bonnette of the folk-punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad.
A menacing guitar line sets the track's tone in the first frame, so when Sole starts slinging rhymes, it seems like all hell is going to break loose, especially when he spits out "I've broken every mirror/Googled myself to see if I existed/I've met my maker; he's a drug addict." Pain 1 fuses all of these elements with a slick beat that sounds a bit like a bomb timer ticking.
On paper, a few of Sole's phrases, like "Ask a penny about a thought" and "Ask a 30-year-old tree how it feels to grow up to be a parking ticket," look a bit like submissions to the Bus Lines Poetry Contest. But within seconds of uttering them, he redeems himself by distilling a saga into two powerful lines: "My father ruined himself to put a roof over our heads/We kept the roof but lost the man."
At times, the visuals -- white flames, wooden crosses -- take the song into folk-metal territory, especially when the guitar wails. This is the kind of rap you can headbang to. All the while, Pain 1's rhythmic melodies infuse "Old Gods Ain't Dead" with an urban spookiness shaped by the spirit of classics like Public Enemy's "Night of the Living Baseheads" and Wu-Tang Clan's "Fast Shadow."
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