Aesop Rock, “Nickle Plated Pockets” (2002): “The prickly outer shell’s genetic; it helps defense mode/ But it also helps to fuck up a couple of sacred friendships”
I’m a pretty private dude, I feel like. I’m good at making friends or whatever — I got jokes, son, get at me — but I spend a lot of time in my own head. When I run into trouble, my first thought is to handle it myself instead of asking for help. This goes from getting really bad news to just venting problems to friends, really. I’m not that guy, for whatever reason. There’s a gap there for me. I tend to think that it comes from moving every couple of years all through my formative years. I had to learn how to make friends real quickly, but I also had to learn how to forget them, you know? But maybe that isn’t it. I don’t know. I am careful who I let inside my circle, though, and the inner inner circle? That’s probably just me and the wall.
Aesop Rock, “1 of 4 (Thank You)” (2002):
This ain’t a burner for the whips (no it isn’t)
This ain’t even Aesop Rock fly earthworm demeanor (no it isn’t)
My name is Ian Mathias Bavitz and I was born in Long Island, New York, ’76, before Graham and after Chris… okay
In August of 2001 my seemingly splinter-proof brain bone scaffolding imploded
I kept it on the hush, but nearly tumbling to the cold hard concrete on near bodega trips for cigarettes and soda shook me to casper
Dizzy with a nausea chaser, motor sensory eraser
Agoraphobe tunnel vision, guilt, self loathing arrangement
Rose rapidly outta fog I’d never fished in
I got depressed after high school and didn’t realize it until I was dropping out of college four or five years later. I got caught flat-footed and had no idea how to process what I was feeling. I didn’t even really know what I was feeling. It felt like drowning in space, or suffocating in air. I usually call it a black cloud these days, because I like that image. My friends knew something was up, but not what. I remember one guy saying that there were two Davids. One told jokes. One was prickly. I didn’t get it at the time, but I appreciate being told that now.
I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know I needed help, I think. I spent a lot of time alone. It was the new normal. You want to know how to be productive on your comics blog? Get depressed and don’t do anything but write, because writing is the only thing that doesn’t taste like ashes in your mouth. I’ve never been a therapy guy, but I should’ve let that prickly outer shell down more often than I did. I should let it down more often than I do.
I got put onto Aesop Rock in high school, back when I was backpacking and a hardcore def.jukie. I dug him and then I dig him now. I dig him partly because he put into words a mode that I struggle with. Back in the day, it was obfuscated beneath thick language and hard metaphors, thanks to his style. Now it’s this, from “Cycles to Gehenna” off Skelethon: “Here is how a great escape goes when you can’t take your dead friends’ names out your phone.”
Or this, the third verse of “Gopher Guts”:
I have been completely unable to maintain any semblance of relationship on any level
I have been a bastard to the people who have actively attempted to deliver me from peril
I have been acutely undeserving of the ear that listen up and lip that kissed me on the temple
I have been accustomed to a stubborn disposition that admits it wish its history disassembled
I have been a hypocrite in sermonizing tolerance while skimming for a ministry to pretzel
I have been unfairly resentful of those I wish that acted different when the bidding was essential
I have been a terrible communicator prone to isolation over sympathy for devils
I have been my own worse enemy since the very genesis of rebels
Aesop Rock has routinely and casually scooped my guts out since I first started listening to him in 2001 or so. He was the headliner of the only show I’ve been to, back when the Bazooka Tooth tour came through Athens. He’s a dude my favorite teacher described as writing tenth grade poetry, and he’s still a writer I’m massively jealous of. I study Aesop Rock.
It’s hard to put this into words that make human sense, but listen: I’ve greatly enjoyed the times that Aes has savaged me and my emotions. It helps put things into perspective, show me the options I have at my beck and call, and forces me to own up to my own emotions and shortcomings. It gives me a chance to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. It inspires awareness.
Aesop Rock has a way of laying complicated and horrifying emotions bare. There’s something so honest and straightforward about his style, even when it’s obscured by wordplay, that hits me right in the soul. It’s not a tearjerker, I’m not that guy, but if I was that guy? Sobbing in the shower at what I’ve made of my life. Instead, I just think it through and try to make it better next time.
Skelethon is his latest, and it’s a high watermark, both in terms of emotional content and sheer skill. He’s escalated his emotional onslaught at the same time that he’s refined and nearly perfected his style. He’s still got a chance at being Rap Game Heideggar, but his rhymes aren’t as dense and opaque as they used to be. The density is the same, but you don’t have to work as hard to divine his meaning. He used to be difficult. He’s still difficult. But now, there’s something about his delivery and approach that makes him feel easy.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up listening to his music, and this is the musical equivalent of being able to identify a director’s tropes and interests. I don’t know, but I feel like at one point in time, Aesop Rock was an axe. He would hit something and it would break and leave you a mess. His style was enjoyable but bulky and heavy. Now he’s a knife in the dark. He’ll sneak up on you with something that’ll rip your soul bare.
He sounded like an underground rapper, the mental image that people come up with when you say underground rapper, for years. Now, he sounds like something different. More confident and more effective.
Skelethon makes me feel good, even when it’s reminding me of past horrors. I’m not saying that Skelethon is his best album. It is definitely among his best. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But I do think that if someone told me it was his very best, and I could tell they believed it, I couldn’t fault them at all. Skelethon is tremendous. I’m happy to own it.