Back in 2014, Matt Daniels, a designer, developer and data-scientist, published a report entitled The Largest Vocabulary in Hip-Hop that plotted a graph showing the number of unique words used by a selection of American hip-hop artists. He compared their first 35,000 words to the first 35,000 words of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as well as the first 5,000 words from each of seven of Shakespeare’s works. Aesop Rock emerged on top with 7,392 unique words, leaving Shakespeare and Melville in the dust with 5,170 and 6,022 respectively. The closest that any rapper came to his lead was the Wu-Tang’s GZA, the genius with 6,426.
It would be interesting to run The Impossible Kid, Aesop’s latest LP through that test. It’s an album so chock-full of cryptic and intricate rhymes that it could it should keep the literary world busy for decades to come trying to decipher it. Since his brilliant 2012 release Skelethon, he has kept himself busy on other projects, collaborating with anti-folk singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson under the name The Uncluded with their album Hokey Fright in 2013 and releasing an EP last year on Stones Throw Records with Homeboy Sandman called Lice.
The Impossible Kid see’s the rapper/producer return to his familiar sonic territory, with a distinctive production style that utilises heavy rock riffs, stomping beats and eerie electronics. The production here is all handled by Aesop himself, with Philadelphia three-piece Grimace Federation providing the additional instrumentation and giving the album its live and grimy feel.
The opening track ‘Mystery Fish’ sets the tone with atmospheric samples that give way to a driving synth bass and a syncopated 2-step beat. Alongside the LP’s first single ‘Rings’, it’s a fitting introduction that encapsulates much of the album’s overall aesthetic, as Aesop muses on a variety of autobiographical topics like the balance between an artistic life and a positive mental health.
As dense and often mystifying as his rhymes may be, the recurring sentiment on The Impossible Kid is of a personal nature, sometimes comic and satirical, but also offering deeper glimpses into the rapper’s off stage persona. In ‘Dorks’, with its dark and distorted groove, he jokes about his distain for the establishment, with the refrain “Party over here, I’ll be over there”, while in ‘Blood Sandwich’ Aesop reflects on a childhood with his two brothers, “Just in case of rough waters, I wanna put one up for my brothers”. The latter track is a particular highlight of the album, with a two part structure that represents the differing personalities of his two siblings. The second half of the song offers a glorious payoff as the second verse kicks in with major guitar chords after a tense intro.
It’s difficult to pick out highlights from a release with so many top notch productions, but tracks like ‘Shrunk’, ‘Kirby’ and ‘Water Tower’ also deserve high praise. It’s a relentless album oozing with both a serious groove and an oddball humour, while all the time maintaining a very unique and singular approach to hip-hop that further cements Aesop Rock as one of the most creative forces the genre has to offer.