Rap that can join the unflinchingly candid with the unfalteringly compelling.
Adam Kennedy 2012
When not claiming beloved artists in their prime, death's influence on popular music is more often a positive force to creativity. Exhibit #2,872: Skelethon, inspired by a less-than-sunny recent spell in the life of Ian Bavitz, aka New York-raised rapper Aesop Rock, during which his best friend perished and his marriage disintegrated.
Skelethon continues a talent honed over a 15-year career for wilfully deconstructing wordplay with a snarky v-sign to the constrictions of hip hop. To misappropriate a line here from highlight Zero Dark Thirty, Aesop's approach is at an “angle perpendicular to everything”, rarely taking an easy path when a new one can be thrashed out. And with a shadow of mortality colouring the sky, that means denser, more tightly-woven rhyming patterns than ever.
Wherever he accelerates to full velocity – such as Racing Stripes' breathless verses – it's almost overwhelming. In terms of dropping science, this is equivalent to speed eating the text of an entire Open University course in a single sitting. Consequently, with sufficient words to reach the moon and back, whittling down worthy quotables is a NASA-level mission.
The full gamut of emotions is ransacked, nevertheless. Aesop angrily derides less-than-positive critics in slightly puerile fashion on Tetra as readily as he squeezes in surreal interjections on 1,000 O'Clock: “Maybe you'd feel more majestic and less fatty if a 12-year-old wasn't beating you with salt water taffy.” Let's face it, who hasn't experienced that particular problem?
It's a difficult listen, no doubt. But just when Skelethon appears to be drifting towards a less-than-lapel-grabbing conclusion, closing confessional Gopher Guts pulls an astonishing passage from nowhere. It’s built on possibly the most affectingly honest lines Aesop has ever delivered: “I have been completely unable to maintain any semblance of relationship on any level / I have been a bastard to the people who have actively attempted to deliver me from peril.”
We're suddenly lent a very real glance into the personal turmoil that catalysed Skelethon. In such moments of clarity, Aesop Rock shows an accomplished ability to join the unflinchingly candid with the unfalteringly compelling.