The “Panic Room EP” is the kind of record you need a few plays through to fully appreciate. A lot of people are going to sleep on it. Unfortunately. Because this is nothing short of a pure little masterpiece, effectively staking Chris Ellenwood’s claim as one of the most essential newcomers to the rap game. Something the Sacramento, CA indie artist proved on last year’s concept mixtape “DREAM/AWAKE”. You would be forgiven if this comes as something of a surprise, as Ellenwood’s rise has been both swift and subtle. And though in many ways the “Panic Room EP” is a natural next-step in Chris Ellenwood’s evolution, it functions first and most effectively as the opposite; as a radical thrust outward into uncharted territory. His previous works were all marked by his potent rhymes, off-kilter, jarring production and rapid-fire delivery, elements that are all still on display here.
Yet those very elements have been amped up to a degree that renders their former characteristics unrecognizable—this is the Chris Ellenwood sound pumped full of amphetamines and let loose in a dark and mysterious room, frantically turning the speakers up past 11.
Chris Ellenwood lets loose flows here that is unmatched in his back catalogue. It is simultaneously tightly calibrated and breathlessly freeform; his rhymes are precisely laden only to be immediately shoved aside to make room for even more bars. This inevitably plays to Ellenwood’s strengths, as it serves to further highlight just how many ideas and sinister stylistic flourishes he can pack into what feels like an impossible constraint without sacrificing an ounce of cohesion.
The first half of this EP alone, for instance, is a breathtaking carousel of Ellenwood’s now razor-sharp sonic sensibilities. EP opener “100 White Caps (Prod. MisterMojo)” starts out in an eerie background only to shift into a fuzzed-out caterwaul of slow and deep-thumping and industrial-grinding raps. “Hosanna (Prod. By Glasstorso)” forges another nerve-wrecking and repeating keyboard motif, above a muffled drumbeat, as Ellenwood shows off his ability to twist and subvert stylistic conventions as if they were made of clay.
“Poseidon Ft. 7TEAN (Prod. By Syndrome)” employs a warped version sound-alike of an iconic horror-flick soundtrack, as if someone has unearthed a crate of unheard of John Carpenter movie scores from the bottom of the ocean floor.
Not that “Sandlot (Prod. By Sid White)” attempts to lighten up the atmosphere any. On the contrary, it’s darker, as Chris Ellenwood continues with his portentous deliveries. By the time you get to the disturbing “Stuck (Prod. By ACR Radio)”, it is clear that there is truly nothing in the world that sounds like the kind of hip-hop Ellenwood conjures here.
Much of this malefic quality can be attributed to the squadron of producers he has assembled to bring these otherworldly visions to life, while his series of sepulchral raps trail behind each line, turning an already incisive commentary into an unnerving behemoth. The “Panic Room EP” is a triumph for Chris Ellenwood. This is the sound of alternative rap in 2017.