It’s fucking crazy that it was 2001 when I was first introduced to the space ghost known as Aesop Rock. It’s one of those moments that are pressed into my memory like a coat of arms into hot wax. I bought a few CDs at the now extinct Tower Records in Pasadena. A friend had recommended Aesop and Slug and few other heads I had never heard before. Aesop’s Labor Days went into the deck first. I was riding shotgun while my ex-wife’s dad drove us to dinner. I remember being geeked so hard I played “Daylight” four times in a row. I got blank stares when I looked around the car. These coded-language lyrics were being branded on my brain waves, right there, right then, in blazing glory and the reaction from everyone else was meh. This was the moment I think I really realized I couldn’t stand any of them.
Too many words, we can’t understand him, and really weird were some of the descriptions. To me it was like a glass of cold water on a hot day. Like a bandage for some untended wound. Like a slap upside the head like, “Yo, dummy!”
I went on to discover Atmosphere and Rhymesayers, the Def Jux fam, Sage Francis and all of the music that ushered in the reemergence of underground rap. I will still argue anyone to death that 1993 was the transcendental year for the art form known as rap music, but, personally, 2001 was a close second.
I followed everything Aesop Rock put out, going backwards and copping Float, and downloading tracks from the impossible to own Music for Earthworms, and Appleseed off of fucking Kazaa and shit. I was a fan, straight up. Bazooka Tooth was a little too weird for me and left me disheartened. It took things too far, even for an artist that I had come to cherish for his ability to layer language in a gluttonous orgy of syllables and code. Undaunted, I preorded and received a signed copy of the Nightlight, EP and luckily it did not disappoint. None Shall Pass, released in 2007 piqued my interest but ultimately spelled the end of my blind passion for ol’Ace Rizzle’s rappity raps.
It wouldn’t be long before I found him again though. This time it was as a producer and the record was the third installment of the Slug/Murs collab series, Felt. Felt 3, A Tribute to Rosie Perez put me on to Aesop’s production skills. Dissonant, chunky, and drum-riddled, it was a more than competent effort. It was then that I realized that much of his early music was self-produced. This fucking guy! I had kind of assumed most of that ill-shit was all Blockhead.
On a trip to Austin, I coincidentally happened to catch Aesop with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz. I was once again smitten like fucking fan boy. I think one of my favorite Aesop Rock tracks is the collaboration with Kimya Dawson called, “Delicate Cycle.” I still find myself in troubled times mumbling to myself like Joel bearding bee hives, “My life is a delicate cycle, a delicate cycle…”
With the hiatus of Def Jux, I didn’t hear much from Aesop for a minute. I figured he’d probably gotten married and had her shitting out some kids, or was having a psychotic break somewhere and weeping at El-P’s feet. You know, one or the other. Turns out I was sort of right, as he married and then divorced Dirty Ghosts singer and guitarist Allyson Baker.
Then, seemingly from out of nowhere Joel put me on to Hail Mary Mallon, the co-project of Rob Sonic and Aesop. The record was released on Atmosphere’s Rhymesayers label and I was thoroughly impressed. It is a beautiful record full of hard knocks, quotables, and that old attitude I had missed so much. It was like the musical equivalent to mail box baseball. Yes, I know that’s the name of one of the tracks. Go shit yourself!
Then comes word that his newest solo effort was in the works. Rhymesayers again would release it. And it was rumored Aesop would produce the record as well. Dude is 35 years old now. Definitely on the man-shit side of his career. No more bullshit. What’s this dude gonna do to advance his music? I was excited, but measured. I was skeptical, but hopeful. I would let the record form my opinion and abstain from any preconceived notions. Secretly I hoped for less weird, and more bangers, more back to the style of his previous releases where he toppled the columns holding up the heavens and then blistered them stupid with his laser tongue.
Aesop and I are both recently divorced. In a new chapter of life. I definitely admit that I’ve grown up with Aesop as a major contributor to the soundtrack of my life. This fucking weirdo has had a formative effect on my sensibility and expectation of what hip hop should be. I simultaneously hate him and love him for it.
Skelethon is everything I’d hoped it would be. It’s gritty yet sharp, with sample-heavy slamming breaks. More than anything, Aesop is back with his tell-tale razor spits: “Somebody in a cultivated moment of distress, composed himself enough to artfully carve Zoso in his desk.” – “ZZZ Top”
There is enough strange that it serves as a progression but it’s like he’s learned to tame it. He’s figured out how to incorporate the weirdness into the show like a bearded lady without letting that hairy bitch overtake that biz-nass! Skelethon is the perfect marriage between Float or Labor Days and his weird shit like Bazooka Tooth, while showcasing some serious production chops.
Aesop is still one of the best constructors of rhymes in the game. The wit and sizzle with which he spins tales in almost unparalleled. “Ruby ’81” is a horrific narrative of a little girl getting pulled out a swimming pool by a dog while family fireworks explode in the sky. That’s some sick, sick visual shit!
The beat for “1,000 O’clock” demonstrates the grinding illness descended from the altar of El-Producto and gifted to Aesop like some kind of legendary weapon. This fucking track is face melter. It’s the kind of track that had me banging on the walls and making that scrunched up GYEAH face on some borderline headbanger shit!
After being a fan of Aesop Rock’s music for over a decade, I feel like I’ve grown up with him. He can never ever top Labor Days or Float, but I’m not expecting him to. I can never top those days in the early 2000s in my life either. I was in love and seeing beauty in all things ugly. I was broke but the happiest I’d ever been. Now things are more measured. Less hype and more substance. Less potential and more accomplishment. And I couldn’t describe Aesop Rock any better. Skelethon is the release of a mature artist who is succinctly aware of what he is capable of. Aesop understands what he brings to the table and is serving it up by the ladle-full.
Consider yourself served.