Aesop Rock - Skelethon
Genres are a polarising thing. Many journalists love them and the ease at which artists can be categorised to signpost further listening. At the same time some view them as a barrier that we, as music listeners, put up due to our constant need to put everything in a box. Underground hip-hop is one of those annoying genres with little definition actually attached to it. Apart from pretty much the prerequisite of being unheard of by the army of people who's knowledge of hip-hop extends as far as The Blueprint I, (no offence, I love Jay-Z too), underground hip hop is a category which stretches to cover acts as diversely different as People Under the Stairs and Insane Clown Posse so by categorizing Aesop Rock in that way it is pretty much futile; I may as well call his music by any noun and it would be as beneficial to you. This month he brings us another helping of east coast lyricism, following his acclaimed fifth studio album, None Shall Pass.
The first thing that hits me when listening to this album is just how unconventional the instrumentation is. With a lot of hip-hop you can see what is coming a mile off but Aesop constantly mixes things up using a vast range of instruments in his songs from xylophones to trumpets. Controversially the track 'Ruby '81' doesn't even have a drum beat behind it! You have to respect the guy's bravery for coming out with this extremely experimental stuff in what is usually a very formulaic genre. One thing that cannot be disputed is that Aesop was doing this very fashionable cloud-rap thing years and years before Clams Casino even bought his first laptop. With beats on this album he continues to use reverb and delay extensively but not quite as much as rappers like the similarly named A$AP Rocky are currently. One thing I am really not keen about in the album is Kimya Dawson's contribution on the track 'Crows 1'. She adds very little and it seems like she has been brought in for the sake of it rather than the song being written with her in mind or, better still, whitened with help from friends.
Lyrically, Aesop Rock, does not stray far from the obscure and abstract rhymes we are used to from him. For those that are unfamiliar the best example on this album I could find was on 'Zero Dark Mercy' where Aesop raps "Lanacane, band aids, mandrake root, Bindle on a broomstick, pancaked shoes And a handshake-proof campaign, can't lose." There is something distinctly stream-of- consciousness about his work like his brain is not filtering out one thought before Aesop puts pen to paper. His flow is always consistent frantically switching tempos and styles. Much like the work of MF DOOM, Aesop often skips beats before coming in as if in some form of musical hiccup which works to great effect.
Aesop Rock really brings you a very strange album that will totally keep you on your toes as you never know where he plans to take the song next. More usually than not I found myself surprised by the turns he took of his musical labour. All I can say is: prepare to have your preconceptions of hip-hop shattered by the album that is Skelethon.