Hell's Winter

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Cage's past is mostly hardcore and genuinely underground, but his style has bordered on shock for shock's sake, and with the Smut Peddlers he was especially prone to going off the deep end of garish and sleazy. That's why it's a little surprising this joint lands on Definitive Jux, a label that prides itself on being for real. They've thrown the big names at him too, not only El-P and RJD2, but DJ Shadow and the legendary Jello Biafra. Shadow and Biafra participate in the awesome and caustic "Grand Ol Party Crash" with samples from the classic video game Sinistar and casts Biafra as George W. Bush. Biafra's transforming of Bush into the ├╝ber-manic Frank from the film Blue Velvet would be the towering highlight of the album if it weren't for the wealth of brilliant, introspective tracks that take longer to sink in, but are twice as rewarding. Cage spills an ocean of venom on his absent father on "Stripes," which wryly plays off the fact his father shares the name of movie star Bill Murray. The chilling highlight "Public Property" acknowledges Cage's new, truer style of writing to longtime listeners, and while you can say he's been down this bleak road before and Hell's Winter is just his Movies for the Blind album with a better guest list, his prior horrorcore writing seems a silly kind of scary compared to the vivid despair here. Producers El-P, Camu Tao, and RJD2 all offer dense concoctions that are perfectly suited to the album's angst, and the whole affair is tight with no tolerance for filler. If he uses his traumatic upbringing one more time, then let the haters have at him, but besides being another reason to love the risk-taking Definitive Jux family, Hell's Winter improves on every Cage release that came before it and offers the most compelling insight into the tortured rapper yet.

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