An Intro To Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock is a 43 year old rapper from Portland, Oregon, who has been one of the most consistently impressive lyricists of the last 20+ years. Aesop started rapping way back in the early 90’s, also playing piano, bass guitar, and eventually acquiring a sampler and making his own beats. He independently released his first album ‘Music For Earthworms’ In 1997, prompting the album himself on his own website. He put the money from the album towards his second project, the 1999 EP ‘Appleseed’, which received critical acclaim in the underground hiphop world. The attention garnered in the underground led to Aesop signing his first record deal with the Mush Label, leading to him releasing his studio debut album ‘Float’ in 2001.
Aesop Rock’s studio debut received rave reviews, which led to him signing a new record deal in 2001, this time with Def Jux. He released his Def Jux debut ‘Labor Days’ that year, with the album providing a couple of hits for Aesop. The song ‘Labor’ was featured on the Tony Hawk Proskater 4 video game; and the song ‘Daylight’ becoming popular enough that Aesop re-released the track as part of a 7 song EP in 2002. ‘Labor Days’ was also Aesop’s first project to chart, and he built off this momentum by releasing yet another album, ‘Bazooka Tooth’ In 2003. Bazooka Tooth has features from artists such as El-P & Camp Lo and has most of the production handled by Aesop himself, and a remix of one of the songs ‘No Jumper Cables’ appeared in another one of the Tony Hawk video games.
Towards the start of 2005 Aesop Rock released his ‘Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, & Knives’ EP in a spectacular fashion, with the original including an 88 page booklet containing lyrics from Aesop’s past 5 projects. After a bit of time of Aesop had a big year in 2007, starting with his collaboration with Nike which saw him producing a 45 minute instrumental track for the Nike+iPod running system. He followed this up with his fifth full length album ‘None Shall Pass’ In August, with the album receiving positive reviews from both critics and fans. For the next five or so years Aesop went quiet, announcing that his label would be on hiatus and therefore not releasing any solo material in that time.
Despite the hiatus Aesop continued making music, and in 2012 he made his reemergence; releasing the first single for his upcoming album ‘Skelethon’ in April. The album released in July of that year, ending the almost 5 year hiatus. The album was followed up shortly after by the lead single for his upcoming collaboration album ‘Hokey Fright’ with singer Kimya Dawson, with the album dropping in May of 2013. Aesop continued to bounce around the place creatively, releasing ‘The Blob’ mix in 2014, describing it as ‘…32 minutes of beats & sounds that have otherwise been orphaned by their Hell-bound father’. He then released the 4 song ‘Cat Food Ep’ In 2015 to accompany a limited edition vinyl toy. In April of 2016 Aesop dropped his next full length album, the album ‘The Impossible Kid’.
In 2017 Aesop scored his first movie soundtrack for the film ‘Bushwick’, and then his next notable work came in 2019 when he collaborated with producer Tobacco for their ‘Malibu Ken’ collaborative album. Aside from all of his solo work and the work mentioned above, Aesop is part of the group Hail Mary Mallon with rapper Rob Sonic, a group which released full length albums in both 2011 and 2014. Aesop also collaborated with rapper Homeboy Sandman for a series of 3 EP’s known as the ‘Lice’ series, released between 2015 & 2017. He also spent some time as part of the rap collective ‘The Weatherman’ alongside El-P & Cage among a large roster of others.
And that brings us to 2020! On 7th of April 2020 Aesop Rock released his most recent album ‘Freedom Finger (Music From The Game)’. The album contains music made to accompany a video game made by Aesop’s friend Travis Millard, and therefore only has 3 fleshed out rap tracks, as well as their instrumental counterparts, and four short instrumental snippets from the game. A more detailed background on the album can be found in this Aesop interview. Below I’m going to review the album in two parts, first will be my observations on each track as I listened through, and following that will be my thoughts on the album as a whole. I’ll include some links to stream the album and some discussion questions at the end. Enjoy!
Track by Track Review
1. Play Dead – Lots Of interesting synths, give a bit of a sci-fi vibe. Lots of intricate rhyme schemes from Aesop, flows quite well over the strange instrunental too. Love the change in the beat about 1:10 in, the church organ-like synths are a great contrast to the chaotic sci-fi like synths. Lots of impressive bars and enjoyable flows from Aesop throughout this, consistently great delivery too. Real good song, such a unique beat and Aesop killed it
2. KOWP – ooh real funky bass on this one, beat is quite minimalistic otherwise. Aesop’s flow is amazingly enjoyable, lots of great rhyme schemes and bars packed within too. Hook is simple but is quite catchy and I love the synths that make an appearance exclusively during the hook. Flows on the second verse are just as solid, Aesop just rides the minimal beat with such ease and his bars are so captivating. Third verse is just as amazing as the first, nothing new to add. Real good song, I think the first song had more exciting production but this had the better rapping
3. Drums On The Wheel – More insane rapping from Aesop, consistently confident delivery and a plethora of impressive rhymes and metaphors. Beat is quite chill on this one, has this somber mellow vibe but is a bit chaotic at times. Seriously a super impressive song lyrically and in terms of the flows and rhymes, showcases Aesop’s technical talent exceptionally. Another simple hook that is quite catchy. Yet another good song
4. Play Dead (Instrumental) – What the name says, first song without the vocals. Is still a very interesting beat regardless, but does get a little boring and repetitive at times without the vocals
5. KOWP (Instrumental) – Isn’t too exciting without vocals, is very simple for the most part with only a couple of exciting moments.
6. Drums On The Wheel (Instrumental) – Quite an enjoyable instrumental, has a lot of great qualities and changes up the sound enough throughout the song that it never really gets too repetitive or boring
7. Rat Skull – Interesting little instrumental track with some great drums and this real captivating synth melody. Isn’t too exciting but sounds good
8. Snowmobile – Love this production, has simple drums but this real pleasant funky little synth pattern. Nice little instrumental track
9. Twice Fried – Love the bass on this, whole song is very cinematic and demanding. Is short but very good for a little instrumental song
10. Frozen Caveman – Gives me Crash Bandicoot vibes, is quite an enjoyable little instrumental again but this one isn’t as captivating and is more repetitive than the last couple
Even despite the strange composition of the album, I felt like this project was easy to listen to and enjoyable all the way through. Aesop Rock had my favourite album of 2019 so I had high expectations from him and I felt like he delivered on all three of the songs with vocals, and the production throughout was captivating enough that it was enjoyable both in the context of a rap album and a video game soundtrack. I think due to the nature of this album it is just such a breeze to get through; with three lyrically dense tracks, 3 Instrumental’s that you can comfortably skip without missing anything, and 4 super short but intriguing instrumental tracks, it’s a fun listen and over before you know it!
I felt like Aesop gave an incredibly enjoyable performance on the opening three songs, with his signature lyrically dense bars and intricate rhyme schemes littered all throughout each song. I don’t think any of the songs stand out, but each are different sonically whilst maintaining a consistent level of quality flows, head-itching metaphors, and a confident & clear delivery. The production on each of these tracks is also amazing, with each song containing a number of intriguing synths arranged in a way that kept me constantly interested. I particularly love the bass on ‘Drums on the Wheel’ and the synth used in the hook of ‘KOWP’, but I feel the beat on ‘Play Dead’ was the most exciting overall; having this awesome old school arcade/sci-fi vibe to it which switches up to this majestic church organ at times. I felt the production on both ‘Plau Dead’ & ‘Drums on the Wheel’ was actually varied and enjoyable enough that even the instrumental versions of the tracks were fun to listen through. Each of the last four tracks are short and simple little video game snippets of sorts, but each of them sound fantastic, with the funky ‘Snowmobile’ being my personal favourite.
So with no real negatives this was definitely a quality project Front to back! Unfortunately due to the nature of the project, a lot of the songs don’t have much replay value though so it’s hard to compare this to other great Aesop albums or albums in general. Regardless, this project had amazing production, was easy to get though, and on top of that had some exceptional rapping on some of the tracks. Looking forward to seeing what Aesop can deliver on his next proper project!
Or you can listen for free on YouTube here!
My favourite songs were Play Dead, KOWP, & Drums on the Wheel.
What were your favourite songs on the album?
What did you think of the overall production on this project?
Thanks For Reading!
– Shan –