San Francisco-based rapper Aesop Rock recently released his first album in five years, titled Skelethon. The album itself is a mixed bag, filled with several dynamic hip hop tracks but interlaced with a few duds.
One thing Aesop Rock undeniably has is a talent for spitting rhymes. He raps incredibly fast and has a impeccable flow; lyrically, he consistently writes clever lines that rhyme creatively. Aesop raps smart, too: one only has to check out his vocabulary to realize that he is not pandering to an unintelligent audience. Unfortunately, his ability to speed through a rap makes it difficult to comprehend what he is saying, and some of the more interesting lyrics may become undiscovered by listeners as a result.
Though Aesop Rock has the talent, his rapping can sound hyper polished and stylized almost too perfectly, causing some of the songs to blend together and lack distinction. Aesop Rock also shows no bit of vulnerability when he raps, which fits with his aesthetic but does no favors for the listener.
Skelethon appears ripe with creativity. Though Aesop Rock consistently uses typical instrumentation in his songs – drum beats, electronic sounds, and so on – he also takes inspiration from rock and metal styles, which add to the dark tones of the record. In addition, he picks from a wide variety of samples, from the vocals of prominent anti-folk artist Kimya Dawson to loud, high pitched fireworks. One song in particular, “Tetra,” features samples of gritty and lo-fi rock, and brings to mind M.I.A.’s most recent release, MAYA. When his formula works, it creates a scary, almost haunting tone that is fun to listen to and undeniably cool. Standout tracks from Skelethon include “ZZZ Top,” “Crows 1,” and “Racing Stripes.”
But it does not always work. Album opener “Leisureforce” has borderline nonsensical lyrics, and the instrumentation does not pop like some of the better songs on the album. And some of the rock music samples occasionally sound a bit like today’s annoying Warped Tour fare, which are best avoided at all costs.
Aesop Rock clearly as it all: great flow, originality, and outstanding writing ability. If he could channel all of his talents onto a record, he might have a masterpiece. Skelethon, though, only hits the mark part of the time.