Artist: Aesop Rock
Title: The Impossible Kid
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Talking Aesop Rock albums is something of an anomaly. With a seasoned fan, it’s incredibly easy because for 20 years now Aes has taken this thing that he’s mastered and chopped it up in a completely unique way. And he does it again here, so if you are a fan of his music then you probably got what you need from this review. Yeah, he does it again, in fact he does it better than normal, go take a listen because it’s probably going to be right up your alley.
But to a casual listener or someone whose never listened to Aes before, it’s difficult to explain this “thing” he does so well. Because like talking about his work, he himself is a bit of an outsider which is a topic he comes to embrace, which is something you might expect on an album called The Impossible Kid. What an Aesop Rock album can be boiled down to is a concept backed with some off brand production told through the eyes of one of rap’s most sociable introverts. So you will not find the next hot dance song or thumping party banger on this album. There is no paint to go hard in, there is no base being served, and there are certainly no pandas. There are however songs about his latest visit at the shrink, an awkward trip to the local Baskin Robbins and his pet cat Kirby.
If there are bangers on here, they’re made for the after party of a college spelling bee. A data-scientist crunched the numbers for 85 rapper’s first 35,000 words used (somewhere between the first 3-5 album’s worth of material) to find how many unique words each rapper used. By this study, Aesop ranked number 1 with over 6,400 unique words and blows the likes of Wu-Tang and even Shakespeare out of the water. Now whether you agree with how the study was conducted or not or if you really think Aesop had more lyrical talent than Shakespeare is beside the point. The point is, Aesop Rock projects have all had very dense and sometimes cryptic lyrics which has remained a popular selling point for many fans and they do not disappoint on this project.
The general theme of the project is a look into Aesop’s current life and his expansive vocabulary details it in a very engaging way. It simultaneously works as a story book from someone who has an outsider’s look on life and a series of relatable events for an outsider. So while a song about his cat and trip to the ice cream shoppe might seem pointless and ignorable, it all works into the bigger story. Take the song “Kirby” for example, where you get a song about owning a cat and all the smile inducing quirks that come with pet ownership. But the end of the song is what takes this from a quirky cat song to an important story moment, with the lyrics “15 years taking prescriptions/Now a shrink like, ‘Ionno, maybe get a kitten'”.
So now we can take a look at the song “Shrunk”, where he visits his shrink’s office and argues about how his intricate language can sometimes make it frustrating and his shrink’s part as well as the general difficulties he struggles with in his life. The songs play off each other, where his shrink suggests a fix to his problems through pet ownership and it seems to do the trick, at least partly. Then you have to ask what his problems are where you can take the picture even bigger and say it’s loneliness after his best friend and fellow rapper Camu Tao died. Death is a common theme Aesop pines over a lot on this album, but you can find most predominantly in the song Water Tower and specific references to Tao in the song “TUFF” with lyrics like “Roll out/Ghost of Camu on the pegs”. It’s times on the album like this that make it so engaging where Aes lays out this trail of crumbs that connect to make a bigger story on where he’s at in his life or just little individual topics that the average person can relate to.
If you’re the type of person that looks to get into an album through the sound, there’s no lack of interesting sounds on this album either. The sound of this album is easily his most accessible since his 2001 classic Labor Days. The production can best be described as a cross between The Rising Tied/Meteora Mike Shinoda and Fantastic Damage El-P meets a Jak and Daxter or Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. It’s like the soundscape to a rainy night in your favorite Cyberpunk movie that is complete unique to Aesop. The production is littered with equal parts noisy, futuristic synths and classic late 90s/early 00s record scratches. It’s all the more impressive that Aesop produced every single beat on this project. Some people have been pretty obsessed with Aesop being over the Cyberpunk beats tinged with a folk sound made by Blockhead that Aesop has notoriously been over in the past, but it’s not only admirable but impressive that he undertook the entire production as well as writing of the album and it came out so well. While Aes has never been known as a producer, it might be just be something to look out for in the future.
Aesop Rock is not just an anomaly, but a paradox. 20 years or so in the game and he has managed to make the exact same thing in a completely different way every single time he makes an album. It’s a rare site to see something that sounds so formulaic be so unique, creative, and interesting every time. The Impossible Kid proves that it’s at the point where you know exactly what you’re going to get from the next album he puts out, but you couldn’t be any more excited to hear what he puts out next.