Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Popular Music and Culture


Dr. Matt Stahl


The experimental hip-hop group Death Grips, formed in 2010, quickly rose to prominence and signed with the major label Epic Records in 2012. Their first Epic album, The Money Store, (2012) did well and the band appeared to be settling in to a profitable and productive relationship with the company. Yet in 2013 Death Grips released their second album, No Love Deep Web, online, for free, and without authorization from the label. Despite this breach of contract, Epic Records did not do the expected and seek to enforce their contract or sue for damages. Instead, Death Grips were released from their contract and allowed ownership of their recordings. By offering an account of these events, and analyzing the response to them in trade journals, blogs, and interviews with the band, this thesis examines the actions of the band and the company in the context of the ongoing digitalization-driven restructuring of the music industries. My findings show that by analyzing the actions of Death Grips through frame works drawn from media studies, popular music studies, art history, and political theory, the group can be seen as taking advantage of a contemporary process of media democratization (brought on in part by new media technologies) as a means of rebelling against their employer. This disobedience affects the group's relationships to their intellectual property rights and their rights to control their own labour. I argue that Death Grips' actions suggest that new possibilities of artists' control over their work within the existing record industry and that it may be possible for other artists to take similar action, ultimately pushing toward a shifting balance of power in the record industry.