Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The sample that preludes Aesop Rock making his appearance in "Catacomb Kids" is a voice posing the question, "Why don't we jump?" It's meant to be rhetorical in a way and it's also meant to be the kind of query that gets answered in one form or another every single day, hundreds of times. Pulling one of those goddamn triggers, when it involves leaving solid footing and experiencing some unpredictable free-fall, is not such a reasonable choice in the face of the blankness in retort, where all that's below is expandable and expendable air.
Aesop Rock, one of the country's finest hip-hop men, is an expert puppeteer when it comes presenting these riddles and making them less daunting than it would be in leaping from rocks into a blue sea breeze followed by water or the ledge of a building's floor, near the tops of electrical wires and neon signs, leveled off by window panes and steel — that isn't going to offer much to hold onto after the first step's taken — and the roaring street and oblivious pedestrians are just there, unable to brace for the splattering. He is the head rush that makes such a plunge into oblivion, into the murkiness of such a splendorous torrent, the overwhelming teeth of overloaded stimulation, ideas gone bananas, observation and evaluation, minds taking leave and getting sick on everything airborne that flies this way and that.
Aesop Rock, born Ian Matthias Bavitz, is affected by everything and finds cause for literate composition in most of it, offering his intelligent and entertaining viewpoints on all that comes his way, making the best kind of hip-hop - jammed with cultural relevance and an example of a mind lighting up in all of the various nodes and compartments that show that there's more than just a small version of life (tits and ass and dollar bills) working itself out up there with the marbles. He arms his jams with a rapier's sense of wit and gives it out with ease of touch, making it sound so effortless that it's a sleepy kind of confidence and something that's more powerful than it would be delivered by a stone-faced lecturer with fancy diplomas and accreditation in gold leaf and calligraphied letters. Aesop is a man of letters and a man of the way that the formation of those letters into words and phrases makes what he says so poignant and disarming. It's more important to him to mean something than to just say something, one gets the impression.
The songs his latest — None Shall Pass - as any of his previous works are full of turns rich enough for the op-ed pages of the New York Times and yet bumping enough for all of the kids looking for the flyest new lids, unafraid of the wordiness that comes along with the package. He serializes the harlequins and the bastards and the hard asses in his words, spreading them through his thick and thin, giving them depth and dimension that they wouldn't give themselves credit for. When he puts it all together, the commentary is insightful and full of tragic figures who don't necessarily get lampooned, but just pointed out of the crowd. One gets a sense that a lot of the sketches that he allows into his songs would make for the kinds of booze-stained old men who could tell you some stories if you had an available ear and if they ever made to an old age that gave them more dignity than they have going for them at the moment.
Maybe most people are full of shit and maybe they choose to do things poorly when they're answering that jumping question referenced at the beginning of this essay. Maybe they never recover. Maybe most of them do just find a slab of concrete that doesn't give an inch. Aesop Rock gives us the angler with the beer tucked into his waders, scarred for life from a war that he never wanted ("carried war in his nature") and out there on the lake daily collecting unverifiable fish stories and it only gets more interesting - to the lyricist and us - when the bullshit that we allow ourselves to uphold makes memories of its own. It perpetuates.
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