Aesop Rock has always been a rapper I felt like I should love: his wordy, surreal and disjointed lyrics are just the kind of weird that I usually adore in hip-hop, and the old school boom bap production on a lot of his music isn’t too far away from artists like Deltron 3030 or Cannibal Ox, who put together some of my favourite hip-hop albums of all time. But it wasn’t until The Impossible Kid released earlier this year that I actually found myself loving the guy’s music.
Lyrically, previous Aesop Rock albums have walked a thin line between obtuse and nonsensical: Aes likes to throw together lines filled with dense multi-rhymes and a lot of imagery, but for every time his lyrical overload comes across as inspired, there’s another moment where a line feels forced to fit a scheme or just a bit corny. On this album, though, Aes toned down some of his more esoteric word-salad lyricism and put together a personal album, one that deals with relatable issues and lets us see who Ian Matthias Bavitz, the man behind the mic, really is.
Bavitz turned 40 this year, and there are a few songs on The Impossible Kid that deal with getting older. ‘Lotta Years’ is a pretty funny anecdotal tune in which Aes tells us a story about a girl who works down at his local juice place. She has dreadlocks that she cuts off and reattaches any time she wants to, which causes Aes to muse: ‘My mind is fucking blown / The future is amazing / I feel so fucking old / I bet you clone your pets and ride a hoverboard to work / I used to fold a map to find the juice place in the first’.
‘Rings’ is another revealing tune, this one about how Aes used to be a visual artist but over the years lost his passion and enthusiasm for something that used to be very important to him. Over a boom-bap beat filled with hazy synthesizers, he captures the creative rush of drawing fantastically: ‘You can’t imagine the stars that align / When a forearm starts foreshortening right / Or a torso hung on a warping spine / In proportion reads as warm and alive’. But these skills, he tells us later in the song, have deteriorated as he has gotten older, and his other pursuits have taken over his attention.
Aes’ drawing skills might have deteriorated, but his ability to capture the minutiae of his life in a vivid and imaginative way is still as strong as ever in his rhymes. ‘Shrunk’ is a hilarious and bleak rendition of a trip to his psychiatrist’s office, in which he expresses both how beaten down and in need of help he feels, but also how sceptical he is of his psychiatrist, who is ‘a quarter mil in debt’ and gives him less guidance than his barber.
Moments like this are really endearing, and they pop up throughout The Impossible Kid. Where previous Aesop Rock albums might have told this story with inscrutable metaphors and symbolism, here Aes puts all his cards on the table, and lets us see into his life a bit more. Alongside some fantastic production, which has a boom-bap flavour but uses wobbly synths and guitars to great effect, this openness has resulted in Bavitz’ best album to date, and one of 2016s strongest hip-hop releases.