Aesop Rock has come a long way in the independent Rap game. After self-releasing his debut, Music for Earthworms, the Northport, New York native brought his brand of hyperintelligent rap to Mush Records via Float, and then spent a decade on Def Jux until the beloved label went on hiatus. Now, Aes Rizzle has found an appropriate home on independent staple Rhymesayers Entertainment, with Skelethon being his first release on the renowned label.
“Leisureforce” is loud and sprawling, as Aesop’s voice cuts through ethereal strings and frenetic drums. “Fryerstarter” sees the rhymes get more deliberate and the production get minimalistic. Over assorted synth stabs, Aesop continues to show he is completely not intimidated by the prospect of taking center stage with his rhymes. On “Ruby,” he puts on his storytelling hat: “July fourth, 1981, candles of a Roman ilk / Unloaded from a Chevy truck into the home her folks had built / Patio was charcoals and extended fam and folding chairs / Safely arched around the yard focus on the smoking flares / Couple cousins, uncles, aunts, mostly grown-ups, couple brats / Baby Ruby’s only two, she’s too close to the jumping jacks / Mommy scoops her to the house, buckles up the booster seat /...Telephone distracting mom, Ruby wriggles out her strap / Fingers press the Plexiglas, she’s off into the sour patch.” Fans will have to listen to the cut to hear the rest of the tale, but rest assured, this is premier Hip Hop storytelling on display. The production for much of the short cut (it clocks in at 2:33) is little more than tones, adding to the tension that the gripping narrative already provides.
Skelethon’s sounds are varied, but all play to Aesop’s netherworld mausoleum space-opera style. The sounds are often industrial and alien, and elements of El-P and Blockhead seem to have influenced Aesop’s work behind the boards, though neither appears on the album. “Racing Stripes” isn’t quite so heavy-handed, and affords the project a little diversity with its funky bass line. For the most part, though, the listener will be barraged with synthy echoes that are only a bit less abrasive that Aesop’s voice. This isn’t necessarily a complaint; Aesop is welcome to whatever style he chooses—the execution is what matters. In that respect, the project can drag at times as homogenous aesthetics can weigh heavily at times.
Take “Saturn Missiles” as an example of fantastic execution: the beat changes midway through to match Aesop’s switching flow. Also, throughout the project, Aesop does an outstanding job in accentuating certain words and lines for optimum effect with a marriage between the production and delivery. The sounds here are smartly put-together, so even if Aesop’s music isn’t necessarily accessible, it is always intelligent.
Aesop Rock’s style is such that his releases don’t have “something for everyone,” as many emcees claim to. That’s not his goal, and that’s not why he’s survived in the Hip Hop game for over 15 years. Ultimately, fans of Aesop will love this release, but those who have yet to find a reason to listen to his music won’t find one here.