EL-P with MR. LIF, RJD2, SOUL POSITION, CAGE and COPYWRITE at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Saturday (September 21). $22.50. 416-760-3332. Rating: NNNNN
As one of the founding members of Company Flow and the head of the wildly influential, widely respected Definitive Jux label, El-P is the white Jay-Z of the hiphop underground.
The New York producer and MC's influence is widespread in a scene he helped to prop up, whether by providing beats for Mr. Lif and putting out records by RJD2 or tickling the fringes of the mainstream with the volatile, now-defunct Company Flow crew. The hiphop underground wouldn't be the thriving industry it is now without his tireless energy and promotion.
Company Flow sold more than 200,000 copies of their independently released Funcrusher Plus debut. Even so, El-P insists that there's plenty of room left for hiphop's less flashy side to grow.
"We've all been working for a long time to take a chunk out of this pie and show people that the music can be done in this way," El-P explains from New York. "As a fan I've seen people with a lot of promise come and go, and that's what I have to remember as an artist and a businessman. I'm still trying to prove myself.
"Everybody wants to blow up, and that was on the verge of happening, especially when Company Flow was in gear. I want as many people as possible to be exposed to our music, but we have certain philosophies that mean that the industry will have to come to us, not the other way around.
"It is happening, though. It will be a matter of a couple of years, and then people will realize that we're on top of the industry, not in some mystical underground. I really do believe that's going to happen."
In part, El-P's been able to persevere through the underground's highs and lows because of the open-endedness of his music. Beyond his signature density, in which a dozen sounds seem to be colliding around one beat, there isn't one common thread among his different projects.
"My tastes are getting wider and wider," he agrees. "I don't just like music that sounds like what I do. I've always tried to give myself a lot of room, left and right, to move around, and I'm lucky that I've been able to do varying types of things in my music. The people who are into my music expect that from me and want me to mix it up a bit and surprise them, and that allows me to go different places."
Right now, it's with Definitive Jux -- formerly known as Def Jux until the cease-and-desist order from a remarkably similar-sounding mega-label arrived -- that El-P is having the most fun. The label takes up most of his time now, meaning a follow-up to this year's Fantastic Damage album could be a while, and he even sees a time when he will check out from the front of the stage for good.
"The foundation for me is being the artist, and all these other things have come later," El-P insists. "Me doing production for other people and running the label came after my own desire as a kid to be Big Daddy Kane.
"I don't know how long that will last, though. I feel like I've got a lot of room left to grow, but that's relative. My concentration's going to shift, especially toward production. I don't see myself becoming a 36-year-old white rapper."