In the world of hip hop, the casual fan doesn’t know much about the underground rap scene. Artists like Bishop Nehru, Denzel Curry, and Towkio don’t get talked about much when one talks about rap music, unless you are a hardcore hip hop fan. Often times if you bring one of these artists up, the reply is, “Who?”
One of underground hip-hop’s elder statesmen is Aesop Rock. If this is the first time you’re hearing about him and you’re like me, you’ll inevitably get him confused with A$AP Rocky. But trust me, they are total opposites. The New York rapper has been at it since 1996 but just hasn’t found the mainstream success that some of his contemporaries have, even though many of his songs are as good if not better than many mainstream rap artists. The only mainstream notoriety that Rock has gotten was when his song “Labor” made an appearance on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.
The Impossible Kid, Rock’s newest release, just might give him the mainstream success that many underground artists clamor for.
Aesop Rock has always had a very distinct style that isn’t matched anywhere else in hip hop. His deep voice and fast flow somehow work, even if it takes a couple songs to get used to. His beats are reminiscent of late 90’s East Coast hip-hop, with turntables being a heavy focus. Fortunately, this doesn’t change on The Impossible Kid, fans of his will be pleased to hear.
Speaking of the beats, they are one of the best things about the album. Every track has a very distinct style, while keeping the signature Aesop Rock turntables. The opening of “Rings” sounds like a Castlevania boss battle, “Rabies” has a beat similar to Jeru the Damaja’s “Verses of Doom,” and “Get Out of the Car” centers around a soothing, satisfying guitar riff. 80’s and 90’s Nintendo and Sega video games must have been a big influence, because many songs on the album have beats reminiscent of classic video game soundtracks.
When it comes to the lyrics, they work really well with the production, even if they’re nonsensical. You may not be moved to tears, but Aesop Rock does tell a good story and any fan of hip hop will be happy with what he’s preaching. “Kirby” is an ode to his cat, and “Blood Sandwich” is about his family’s affinity for the Chicago Cubs (just in time for baseball season). Lines like “My spirit animal comes with a pretzel bun” show that Rock is here to have fun and it works really well.
One thing that is sort of odd on the album is the lack of features. Modern hip hop trends state that features are everything, and artists can’t make three or four songs without having someone rap a guest verse. However, for an artist like Rock to make this statement and have the album be all about him is really refreshing. While I love a good guest verse just as much the next guy (see Kendrick on “Control” or Big K.R.I.T on “1Train”), the album doesn’t need any. Rock is doing his own thing on The Impossible Kid and for that I applaud him.
If there is one thing I can complain about, it’s that the last third of the album isn’t as good as the other two thirds. Not to say any of these songs are bad, but some tracks have delivery that just sounds rushed and unnatural; but this is more nitpick-y than anything else.
While I liked Aesop Rock before The Impossible Kid came out, he wasn’t an artist I listened to often. When I heard this for the first time, I was honestly surprised. There really isn’t a bad song on the album, and something about it is just intoxicating. Rock caters to a specific audience, but with The Impossible Kid realistically anyone can listen to it and be pleasantly surprised, just like I was.
Written by Max Borushek