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Aesop Rock Skelethon Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

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.

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