"Producer, label CEO, and rapper" is how you normally list El-P's credentials, and while those dense, fascinating, and funky beats he creates keep that “p” word in the lead-off spot, his 2010 announcement that his Def Jux imprint was going “on hiatus” meant “rapper” moved up a notch. Some would say “own worst enemy” should be worked in there as well, as he seemed more the “spiritual CEO” of the 2010-2012 underground rap explosion, "losing out" on a time where Def Jux had a shot at being Def Jam, and here he is focusing on his wordplay and metaphors while producing killer Killer Mike albums (R.A.P. Music) for other labels. So maybe Cancer4Cure isn't just one of those too-cool, Def Jux-ian titles that rolls off the tongue, but a metaphor for why this vital blast of purpose exists, and why, for artists like El-P, "winning" isn't everything. Support for this comes from an old Groucho Marx quip (“I wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have me”) which becomes a mantra during the supreme grinder “The Jig Is Up,” and while the now more full-bodied producer/rapper is talking about a fiercely confrontational, one-on-one relationship in this instance, the massive “True Story” is the macro-version, dropping “I shoulda stayed asleep/Wakin' up can get you killed” and recalling a time when irony carried more weight. Be it about getting bumped to the majors or any other kind of coerced sellout, “Sign Here” is the paranoia clampdown supreme with tight loops suggesting a small interrogation room as El-P repeats “tell me what I want to hear” until the listener feels violated. The main character in the slow robot called “Stay Down” is “dressed to the nines like a target” while the cryptic closer “$4 Vic/Nothing But You+Me (FTL)" wakes to “another showdown with the woozy and the conscious” before proudly declaring “You cannot thrown me in the briar patch bitch/That's where I live.” It would be unfair to pigeonhole Cancer4Cure as a conceptual album speaking on the state of hip-hop, because its “stay true” and “all that glitters is not gold” messages extend way beyond, but since it is the man's craft, this is a much more exciting attack than calling out offenders by name, or offering those old-school imitation albums that the competition often settle on. Cancer4Cure is about hip-hop like Glengarry Glen Ross was about sales, but these great works transcend their industries, offering solace and inspiration to anyone who would prefer a satisfied mind over a Cadillac Eldorado, or in current terms, an Escalade.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries