The older I get the further I grow from hip-hop. But there are always dudes I will come back for. Aesop Rock is my guy. And you say: of course he is, bro. White rapper with tongue twisting, multi-syllabic nonsense. Backpack rap. Hey, man, you like what you like. It’s not my fault that rap changed at some juncture, moving away from the Def Jux, alt-hip-hop and underground stuff into the homogeny of drill and trap and whatever style it is that seems to dominate these days. Stuff the kids may love, but makes us olds wonder what ever happened to the art of hip-hop?
And what I don’t like is most of Hipster Jr’s hip-hop. Mumble. Emo. Trap. Whatever you call it, I can’t take the complete lack of care about the lyrics. No care. None. And, to my ear, not much care for production either. That same rat-tat high-hat hits, maybe some reverb on the vocals and nothin’ else. If there is a hook, it’s only a hook. Made for a 15-second TikTok boost. The craft seems to be missing. The artistry. The originality.
And it’s not as if Aesop Rock is storytelling here in the strictest sense. His lyrics are mostly short refrains that are just made up of words that sound cool together. Spit with true character and professionalism. All underlined with amazing bass lines, samples and thump. Not old-school in the general hip-hop sense, because Aesop Rock is old-school in and of himself. He sounds like himself and nobody else. And I’m sure his dense lyrical assault could be too much for some, but the rasp in his voice and articulation and inflection he uses to vary that rap attack is what makes him unique. Curling words around the edge of beats, a high-wire act, tip-toeing within the parameters in order to stay perfectly on beat. You feel almost sweaty after his songs, worried he might take one false step and fly off into space. He’s kind of the anti-Jay-Z that way.
I feel like perhaps he was going for a concept album here, basing the theme on some fake IT company. You know, something about technology and working and modern life and stuff. But I can’t for the life of me figure out or tell you if this is true. I mean, there is a weird talking rap song that is kinda-sorta a jazz spoken word thing about liking a painting by van Gogh. But not. Weirdly, I kind of like it. But it definitely has nothing to do with a fictional IT firm. Or the modern world. I do feel like this is somehow a more mature album than some in his past. More controlled. But not in a bad way. Tighter, but without compromising any of his wordplay and aggression. The best thing is the production, though. This record just sounds really good. And maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to so much of Hipster Jr.’s tinny garbage lately, but these feel like fully realized songs with really cool instrumentations, samples, beats and interesting forms that he seemed less concerned with previously. It was all attack, almost like he was trying to beat you into submission with his words. But now he has swells and breaks and things that, again, feel old-school, but also incredibly modern in a way that the carbon copies of carbon copies fail to produce in today’s “popular” hip-hop.