Cage: Hell's Winter

Hell's Winter
Definitive Jux


Cage has few peers when it comes to uncomfortable humor. The New York MC, born Chris Palko, has spent a decade filling his horrorcore verses with enough viscera to give Rob Zombie night terrors. But while his lyrics have oscillated between Alex DeLarge-ian sexual sociopathy and unsettlingly vivid self-loathing, there's a purpose to the sickness: screw someone over enough times and pump him full of enough medication, and he'll be hell-bent to make everyone else feel as uncomfortable as he does.

That's why Hell's Winter stings on contact. Much of it feels like a self-exorcism, one fucked-up rapper's attempt to dismantle everything that drove him to drop so many ill-in-both-senses lyrics. "The Death of Chris Palko" runs a mile a minute through a blur of institutionalization, chemicals, animosity, and breaking-artist struggles, abstractions expanded on in the meth-casualty anthem "Peeranoia" ("Don't pass that shit, don't throw me a lighter/I'll put more flakes behind my face than Tony the Tiger") and previous-label-dis "Public Property" (where former cohort Mr. Eon catches some bad feelings). And the specter of Cage's abusive Army dad looms over two of the album's most pivotal tracks: "Too Heavy for Cherubs," where he recollects being party at age six to his dad's heroin addiction ("Walked in with a black bag/'Chris, we're gonna play a game, alright?'/Wrapped my rubber snake around his arm and made me pull it tight"), and "Stripes," which relates in stark detail the night his father held him and his mother hostage with a shotgun. His nasal haranguing has rarely sounded so simultaneously vulnerable and threatening--and, sometimes, like a sort of bizarro precursor to Kanye's flow. Jux's production-by-committee plan yields beats of unified gloom and triumph, with the label's usual suspects generally providing highlights: Blockhead's woozy "Cherubs," El-P's Upsetters-style funk ("Palko") and mecha-Zep thud (title track), RJD2's Freon-damaged electric piano on "Shoot Frank." There's also a surprise turn from DJ Shadow, who pinballs Cage's Bush-bait "Grand Ol' Party Crash" with glitchy moog and military cadence. Sleeping on this can only lead to nightmares.

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