When the first cord of the evening snapped off its microphone, Brooklyn rapper El-P had a little fun, mock complaining, “This is [expletive],” as he pulled the instrument apart mid-word. When a second cord broke a few minutes later, he looked even happier.
Since the late 1990s, the underground MC, producer, and former label owner has made a career of pushing music to its breaking point, of finding catharsis in collages of thickly impressionistic raps and jarring, disjointed backing tracks. His first album in five years, “Cancer 4 Cure,” even seems to break open the parameters of hip-hop itself, as his impressive if slightly exhausting hourlong performance at the Paradise on Wednesday proved.
The modest but enthusiastic crowd — perhaps two-thirds male and 90 percent white, though impressively diverse in age — reacted instantly to the opening number, “Request Denied,” with two keyboardists and a hypeman backing El-P’s impenetrably dense rhymes. Like most of the songs on “Cancer 4 Cure,” the number mitigates the aggressiveness of El-P’s rap with a memorable instrumental line. Live, however, the new music sometimes recalled the electronic barrages of rock bands like Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, leaving little room for hip-hop’s audience interaction.
Yet the evening was also proof of El-P’s dogged determination to build community, and he offered up a long encore of looser old songs, bringing out all of the evening’s opening acts in the process. Stage diving and crowd surfing erupted, breaking the boundaries between performers and audience as cleanly as El-P had snapped apart two microphones.
El-P also produced the new breakthrough album by Atlanta native Killer Mike, a fellow 37-year-old rapper who seemed deeply grateful for his belated success. His clean and commanding 35-minute set rode bouncing Southern beats hard without blurring the groove. Opener Despot was as winning with his jokes as his loping raps. Mr. [Expletive] Esquire, however, seemed more of a joke than the prurient rapper realized.