The Definitive Jux record label was a beacon of light in the alternative and underground hip-hop scene of the 2000’s. Aesop Rock was the most notable rapper on the label, frequently collaborating with many other artists on the label. However, cofounder and CEO of this label, Jamie Meline, known better by his stage name, El-P, announced the hiatus of the label in 2010. In the Def Jux glory days, Aesop Rock was featured on a majority of the records released by fellow “Jukies.” But following the end of Def Jux, Aesop veered towards more personal projects. 2012’s Skeleton marked the first record Aesop solely produced himself, with marginal success to be had from it. The features on that record were kept to a minimum, with no other rappers contributing any verses. Aesop goes back to this design model on his latest record, The Impossible Kid, giving new life to an old idea.
The Impossible Kid is Aesop’s most forward record. Previously, Aesop Rock was known for his convoluted and cryptic lyricism. This time around, the topics are more explicit and well defined. Aesop even took to Facebook to give a brief explanation of what the songs were about. And while this transparency may be new territory for the veteran rapper, it works. As a result, the record comes across as an intimate listen compared to his past releases, something fans of the emcee will find unexpected; nonetheless enthralled by it.
And they should be: it’s an incredibly personal record. Songs like “Shrunk” and (albeit to a lesser extent) “Kirby” make mention of Aes’ visits to a psychiatrist. Fittingly, the most abstract and confusing song on the record, “Tuff”, is explained by Aesop as being “My pre-therapy moment, losing control and going a little batty.” Lyrics like “The coke bottles tint film noir/Tripping out the milk bar/Poison horchata cup/Milf in the Zip Car” are the closest we get to the often absurd and dense writing Aesop Rock delivered on records like Bazooka Tooth or Float. We’re presented with much more prominent imagery with specific examples. “Been a bit since Mu died/Been a lot more loss in the wake/I recall thinking someday someone’s gonna say/It’s all from the same cause and effect”, Aesop spits on the song “Get Out of the Car”. The song is about the death of his friend and fellow ex-Jukie, Camu Tao, and Aesop’s subsequent mental state. Death has always been a popular subject for Aesop, and he doesn’t shy away from it on this record. The first verse on “Water Tower”, one of the last tracks on the album, discusses the cycle of life, death, and perplexingly, life again. After finding a dead bird in the form of a murder-present from his cat Kirby, Aesop buries the bird in his yard, allowing it to decompose into a natural fertilizer. This leads to one of the darkest lines on The Impossible Kid: “It’s tricky when you’d rather rot into the soil as a nutrient/Than navigate this mortal coil in human skin, dig?”
While Aesop may have gone in a different direction lyrically, his production style hasn’t changed drastically, instead expanding and perfecting what he’s delved in before. Granted, he has improved since his last self-produced record, but there aren’t very many new ideas explored. The only real problem with the production on this record is there are no real standout beats, though this works to the advantage of the record in that every track maintains a sonic consistency, granting synergy throughout. Both “Shrunk” and “Tuff” have New York vibes to them, both are primarily lead by overdriven synthesizers and gritty drums. The instrumental highpoint on this record is the punchy “Lazy Eye”, with its main bass line bumping around throughout the song, partnered with arpeggiated synthesizers and reverberated guitar plucks to combine into a beautifully rhythmic display. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only song to use that method, and a few of the songs blend together instrumentally, wafting dangerously close to “forgettable” or “confusing” territory.
Opening up lyrically and being more clear with his themes has created a much more involved record. The shake-and-stir method of two-parts lyricism and one-part production proves to result in one of the better Aesop Rock albums to date. Of course lyrics are to be placed first, but the production is subtle in a way that really accentuates the music without being distracting. Sure, there aren’t any “None Shall Passes” or “Daylights” on this record, but what we got instead is an album whose dexterity and density lends it to leave little in terms of visible cracks. Each song has its own charm and power as a single, begging to be heard as a standalone. And for a fifteen-track, aurally similar collection, it’s a pretty remarkable feat.
– Christian Varty