Music History

52 Albums That Changed My Life (and Other Exaggerations), Chapter 13: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

One of the most amazing things for a music lover is someone who blows you away instantly. That what you are seeing or hearing is someone who is talented. Someone who is special. Someone you can’t wait to share with everyone you know.

In my case, it was a guy who went by the name EL-P.

I have suffered from mild insomnia since I was a kid. It comes and it goes, it usually only lasts a couple of weeks but during that time of not being able to sleep, I end up reading a lot and watching a lot of late night tv and movies.

During one particular stretch in June of 2007, I was flipping channels looking for something that would either entertain me or bore my brain enough that we might be allowed a couple of hours of sleep. Instead, I come across an episode of Conan O’Brien’s late night show. It was probably a minute or two into the musical performance. It was this ginger haired dude that just leaped off the screen. He was impossible to ignore. I sat up and paid attention.

Unfortunately, my local affiliate cut really quick at the end of the segment and I didn’t get the name of the guy. This was before I could afford a smartphone so it took a little bit of time to figure out who the hell the guy was. The song, as it turned out, was called “The Overly Dramatic Truth” and the artist went by the name EL-P.

I’m a weird case of not being a huge hip hop fan. Most of it doesn’t really grab me, it’s not that it sounds bad, just doesn’t hit the right buttons. But on the rare occasions, it does, I tend to absolutely love it and want to devour all I can get. RUN DMC, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, I completely love these bands. With one song, EL-P ended up joining their ranks.

I needed this album that was apparently called I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead but by the point, I figured out who EL-P was, it was 3 am. Streaming music was in its infancy at that point so this became one of the first instances of me streaming an album from Youtube.

Youtube is a very interesting way to listen to an album, especially at that point. Sure, whoever had uploaded the album had listed when each song started but it almost forced me to listen to the album as a whole as opposed to skipping between songs.

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is dense with sounds. Somewhere between The Bomb Squad and Nine Inch Nails in terms of sound, this may be why I like it so much. The songwriting is also pretty top notch. This really feels like an album by an artist who was going to give it everything until he got what he wanted. He’s a fighter who is just swinging for knockouts until he the other guy is on the ground.

For me, the standout track on the album is “The Overly Dramatic Truth”. It’s probably the best written and honest sounding songs about being in a messed up relationship. The narrator doesn’t just blame one side or the other, he admits to knowing that the relationship is screwed up but yet he can’t let go. This song could have easily been all about sex or just a track whining over a relationship that should not be. Instead, you get this beautiful hip hop track with a maturity in the lyrics that you don’t find in a lot of hip-hop, especially by those who are at the top of the charts.

EL-P hooked me in with one brief television appearance and I have been hooked ever since. I would go on to pre-order his next album Cancer 4 Cure without hearing a single track (that album is also worth taking a listen to). Due to his production work on Killer Mike’s album R.A.P Music (and a very heavy endorsement from comic book artist Mike Del Mundo), I would check out that album. The minute the two joined forces for Run the Jewels, I was standing there waiting for whatever they might release.

More importantly, EL-P, reopened my eyes to the world of hip hop. I had kind of written it off. It was a music that only spoke of money and women. EL-P reminded me that there was a lot of good hip hop out there talking about other things that were well worth digging around for.

All because I couldn’t sleep and then EL-P really woke me up.

Next week, we go from modern hip-hop to modern disco. Stay Tuned!

Brent Chittenden

Brent Chittenden is a freelance writer with a gift for the geek. Currently a writer with A Journal Of Musical Things and a podcaster with True North Nerds, he's also written for Comic Book Daily, Explore Music and a dozen other places. Currently, he is the co-host of the True North Nerds podcast. You can find out more at

Brent Chittenden has 195 posts and counting. See all posts by Brent Chittenden

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