Review: Aesop Rock “The Impossible Kid”

Anyone who knows me has, at one point or another, undoubtedly been bored to tears by my endless rants on Aesop Rock. Last week he released his new album The Impossible Kid. 

Also known as Ian Bavitz, Aesop (I SAID AESOP NOT A$AP DAMN IT) is one of if not my all-time favourite lyrical lyricist. Not only is he statistically proven to have the largest vocabulary in hip-hop history, but his storytelling rhymes, the type you absolutely need headphones and repeat listens for, are as linguistically detailed and thematically surreal as many of my favourite novels.

Aesop Rock is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not an easy listen – his intricate verses are fast as all hell. Many an hour have I spent listening to Labor Days and Bazooka Tooth, not to mention his collaborative work in groups like Hail Mary Mallon or Weathermen deciphering and dissecting with the help of Genius. A legend of underground hip-hop who first came up on now-defunct label Def Jux (founded by a guy you may have heard of named El-P), The Impossible Kid marks his second release on Rhymesayers. Last year, he also released collaborative EP Lice with Homeboy Sandman over at Stones Throw, a short but sweet release which immediately became one of my favourites of 2015.

The Impossible Kid is a lyrical and emotional triumph. By far his most personal, reality-bound record to date, it is real, dark, depressive and contemplative. This is unsurprising, considering that the backstory feels like something of legend: following the death of a close friend, Bavitz retreated to a deserted barn in a remote neck of the woods, where he remained, presumably alone, for an extended period of time.

Something I noted on last year’s Lice EP was that one song in particular demonstrated a personal side to Aesop’s rap that we weren’t usually privy to. To be a wanker and quote myself, “Both artists reveal so much about themselves on this track; it truly feels like the layers have been pulled back… Aesop [admits], “On a tour of the wild frontier, lying awake, I tell myself it’s all to broaden my societal take, And while I sorta still believe it, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d like to curl up on Long Island and die.” Ever the storyteller, it’s not often that we hear his story.””

I therefore found it interesting to discover that The Impossible Kid took this notion farther than I could have imagined. It provides insight into Aesop’s own life, his mind, thoughts and insecurities in a way we had never experienced before. The first track released was Rings, accompanied by an incredible video where you see him cut open, every nook and cranny invaded and explored.

One of my favourite stories is on third track Lotta Years. He begins by comparing an ice cream store clerk’s sexualised lipstick tattoo to a more modest one of his own (trivia: the tattoo in question was drawn by Alex Pardee, who also designed the cover artwork for this album,) and later describes a girl’s waist-length dreadlocks. He overhears her discussing how she grew them for years, only to cut them off, and can now reattach them “anytime I want ‘em.” Cue one of my favourite observational moments, “My mind’s fucking blown, the future is amazing, I feel so fucking old, I bet you clone your pets and ride a hoverboard to work. I used a folding map to find the juice place in the first, These kids are running wild, I’m still recovering from church.”

This religious notion pops up with increasing frequency throughout. Aesop grew up in an orthodox household, and it’s obviously haunting him on The Impossible Kid.

“Die already,” he begins on Supercell, later revealing an ideological quandary, “Truthfully I don’t know which makes me a bigger coward, either stomach all the hubris, cash in his two cents, loose lips locked up over a chewed eucharist” – ie, does he stick with the Christian values imbued with him as a child? “Or, may reappropriate the energy, holed up, passing the poultry to Hecate” – or does he follow an occult tradition instead? Considering he’s calling both acts cowardly, I imagine he’s saying that spiritual devoteeism is generally pretty weak.

Lazy Eye is both a bitter critique of modern trends and a plea to “act natural, whatever that means for you,” which one Genius annotator insightfully suggests is a comment on depression, about searching for something (clearly not god anymore,) an identity. “Before climbing douchebag mountain, I was skate or die, started eating kale and came to terms with my lazy eye, puttin’ on the yoga lady, cutting off the cable guy, whistle while you’re waiting for your condition to stabilise.”

Get out of the Car is an extremely powerful song which looks at how grief can affect you in many ways, for a long time. Aes talking about the death of Camu Tao, his friend and fellow Def Jux rapper, who passed away from cancer in 2008. It is an introspective and retrospective track, which was initially supposed to be called The Impossible Kid, before this was ultimately used for the album title. Here’s some of the song’s profound lyrics:

“Ah! Watch the Impossible Kid. Everything that he touch turns promptly to shit. If I zoom on out I can finally admit it’s all been a blur since Mu got sick,
“None of the subsequent years stood a chance… I was poison, heart full of canines, head full of voices, whole life trying to quiet them down, like a suicide king with a knife in his crown.
“8 years, been one long blindside, I could pinpoint seven more turns that occurred cause he never really healed from the first
“Knowing ain’t half the battle, that’s a bullshit quip written by some asshole, you can own what you are, and still sit around stoned in your car.”

Last week, Aesop revealed on Twitter that, “The song “Get Out of the Car” was originally called “The Impossible Kid” but I took the name for the album and renamed the song.”

Kirby is another interesting track which talks about depression and therapy. Kirby is actually his cat in real life (as I said, this is a real album with real insight). As the song reveals, a doctor had recommended he buy a cat as a form of self help. “Fifteen years taking prescriptions. Now a shrink like, “I don’t know, maybe get a kitten.””

Image: Genius

This song is also hilarious, by the way. You thought Meow the Jewels was good feline rap? Check this shit out. An entire song about the strange antics of a cat. “Homie don’t fetch, only woke to stretch, under a thought bubble rich with bowls of goldfish. Skittish in the company of stranger danger, otherwise, chase drawstrings, tails and lasers in a steel cage match with a maze of cables… Oversized ears up, puke in the Meow Mix. shred a pair of earbuds, remedy his cowlick… Never lands on her feet though, I think she’s broken, mouser in training, nap on the toaster.”
He’s my favourite rapper for so many more reasons than just his lyrical agility. I just get it, and weird as it is to say, he gets me. The thought process, the anxiety, the analysis, the retrospect, the darkness, the cat thing, the self-aggrandising tongue-in-cheek attitude, the twisted humour.

I could talk or write about Aesop’s lyrics for many more hours, but you’ve probably already closed the page, so let’s switch over to production for a moment.

Some critique Aesop Rock releases by accusing the production takes a backseat to his lyrical prowess. While it’s certainly true, I do not think of this as a point of criticism. It is simply necessary. Can you imagine trying to decipher his lyrics with intricate, multi-layered, instrumentals?

At fifteen tracks and fourty-eight minutes, almost one hundred per cent populated by Aesop’s voice, it is not easy to get through this in one go. However, it is punctured by myriad beats, varied synths, percussive rhythms and driving bass lines, allowing the listener some semblance of melody and groove throughout.

Although simple, they are not boring, and although repetitive, they do not drone. Most tracks feature a solid groove, with industrial, almost post-apocalyptic synths, not unlike many of his old Def Jux compatriots. Rings is ominous and progressive, Dorks contains a phenomenal if subtle chunky guitar, there’s a seductively dark bass hook on Supercell, and the remarkably catchy Kirby has got to feature one of my favourite Aes instrumentals ever

I love this album. I love it. It’s amazing to be inside Aesop’s head like this, just as it is amazing how much this album has wormed its way inside mine. My expectations were high and they were exceeded. I can only hope that he’ll be visiting Australia some time soon, so that way may hear his tales in the flesh.

Here, watch the full-length movie accompanying the album:

Image: Mass Appeal