When EL-P’s alternative hip-hop label Definitive Jux announced, what has become a permanent hiatus, many of its roster were forced into decisions. Some signed deals elsewhere, some started their own thing up, but Aesop Rock did nothing. The verbose rapper from New York City was already enjoying a massive reputation after the success of Labor Days so clearly wasn’t in a massive rush to release his sixth studio album. However, it doesn’t take long to realise that he’s been at work this whole time, crafting one of the best alternative hip-hop albums in years.
Despite it being five years since the release of his last solo album, None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock has managed to keep that knack for covering uncharted ground in hip-hop and pulling it off as if there were hundreds before him. Skelethon has him lyrically exploring the boundaries of both death & youth to continue his pursuit of taking rap to new and interesting realms.
Skelethon’s lead single “ZZZ Top” is just an exceptional track that explores a young child’s reaction to discovering and the being part of a genre of music. Each of the three verses echo the same sentiments but for completely separate genres of music and still manage to sound genuine and informed. Bets are Aesop went through every movement himself.
The boom-bap sounding “Racing Stripes” has him tell the story of a producer who would shave parts of his hair badly to make him work for the rent. It sounds a little goofy, production wise it’s a great boom-bap track and lyrically it’s not the only track with a goofy narrative. Tracks like “Fryerstarter” & “Grace” have a similar light tone to the story behind the lyrics, but “Racing Stripes” is the only to match lyrics with appropriate production. It stands out from the rest of the album for this reason, but this departure in sound actually sticks with you.
Time for some action / Stab one ripe for a swipe and extraction / Brined in malpractice / Carried to the cavernous yap and obliged access / If only in compliance with a deep-fried fascist, peep / Literally bit down once
At 36 though it is slightly odd that there are many tracks paint Aesop as a man filled with teenage-esque angst, death, depression & homelessness. Luckily, Aesop’s poetic lyrics lend themselves well to these kind of tracks but “Crows 1″, “Crows 2″ & “Homemade Mummy” aren’t tracks to just have on in the background. Not that Aesop has ever been ambiance, but these tracks especially demand the listeners attention.
It would have been incredibly easy for him to call on Blockhead or EL-P to help on the production, but Aesop decided to commit to this being a solo album. A majority of the tracks on Skelethon have a good progression to them and a lot of this comes from Aesop’s heavy rock influence with breakdowns hitting when the story requires tension. Fast and hard hitting drums crash over beefy instrumentation, often featuring pounding guitars. It might start to blur together over the fifteen tracks, but it’s still great production that matches the thematic lyrics incredibly well.
Throughout Skelethon it definitely sounds like Aesop Rock spent five years working rather than taking a sabbatical. Since None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock has brought greater focus, clarity and maturity to his ever-evolving sound. Entirely unique concepts over assured production pretty much guarantees he’ll making many shortlists for album of the year
Aesop Rock’s Skelethon was released on July the 10th 2012