It's difficult to add on to Aesop Rock's legend. In his 20-year career, he's shaken up underground hip-hop time and time again with abstract, thought-provoking lyrics, energetic and biting production, and a vocabulary so dense a dictionary would get jealous. Whether talking about Polygraph.com's countdown of rappers with the largest list of unique words used (which Aesop topped), being in the vanguard of indie-rap Olympians Definitive Jux, or just smiling at lyrics like, "Cutters of the pie, throw your summers in the sky/ Collar-pop Jolly Roger, die motherfucker, die," there is no shortage of highlight-reel moments from Aesop's time as a rapper. But, looking only at his history is a short-sighted way to view the man of a thousand words, as his latest album, The Impossible Kid, showed us last year.
In fact, fans would miss a large part of the picture in his growth as an artist if they skipped it. "I feel like with [2012's] Skelethon and The Impossible Kid I am finally learning a little bit about making some real personality come through in an accurate way," says Aesop. "You don't just want a funny punchline — you want a funny punchline that reflects who you actually are."
And, if the majority of reviewers commenting on the personal nature of The Impossible Kid is any indication, Aesop succeeded in bringing that reflection of himself to the album. "I didn't set out to do something specifically personal, and I was sorta caught off guard when that was the reaction ... For me, though, it's just a natural forward motion."
That forward motion has been apparent his entire career. Aesop's become a more confident producer on his last two albums, and his lyrics have turned a different shade of cryptic, but he's always retained an emotional center that can be felt from the beginning through today. Songs from 2001's Labor Days, like "Daylight" or "9-5'ers Anthem," have the same melancholic reminiscing as The Impossible Kid's "Water Tower" or "Blood Sandwich."
"There's always a bit of the record before in the current one, and it's never really felt like any type of reinvention or phase shift that I was conscious of. It still doesn't."
One of the best testaments to Aesop's ability as a songwriter is that he's been able to make music with similar themes for this long without it ever feeling trite, and without ever leaving his cruising speed of take-no-prisoners.
In fact, Aesop continues to make music with a novel approach. It's difficult to find another rapper who's happy to be away from a music scene or doesn't have an album that features a guest verse on every other song.
"I'd much rather just say, 'Hey, I don't know anybody, I'm not cool, I'm off the grid. But I do have some songs, and I really like making them. So here they are."