The big complaint since Aesop Rock’s breakthrough, Labor Days, seems to be that he hasn’t had the memorable singles. At this point, it should be clear that Aesop Rock writes albums, not hits. Skelethon is his sixth release, and first with powerhouse label Rhymesayers Entertainment.
While None Shall Pass (2007) had its moments, I’ve long felt Aesop Rock’s best work was with Blockhead on production. However, he has definitely come around with his textures and Skelethon maintains a steady beat that wavers between ambient-electro spaciness and more aggressive, banging moments that emphasize his distinctly articulate delivery, often synchronizing his flows along with the expansive beats. The production on this record has a consistent, yet varied, feel that works well with the rhymes and the record flows as well, if not better, than his previous releases as a result. In many ways, this record finds Aesop Rock mastering the slower-paced songs he’s been working on for years now—not to say his rapping has slowed down, but the pacing of the record feels much more calm and less schizophrenic: even keel, even. When the final track drops the line “greasy grimy gopher guts,” it seems like an easy reference point for newbies to get an idea what kind of wordplay Aesop Rock consistently utilizes, although his lyricism is typically of an in-depth storytelling perspective and doesn’t limit itself to tongue-twisters and alliteration.
One of Aesop’s long-running highlights has been his ability to belt out rhymes at a pace in which they have almost an echo-effect—without the use of a hypeman. In a natural progression, this record adopts actual backing vocals in songs like “Crows 1 & 2” and “Racing Stripes.” The vocals aren’t R&B croons, rather additional layers on top of the manic delivery that already defines his sound. It’s fresh and definitely new terrain, but it’s successfully complementary and I’m curious to see how he further uses this in the future. “Crows 1” is a standout on the record.
As for content, Skelethon covers a wide range of material—there are fast-belted rhymes that make you say “what?” and dig for a lyric sheet, and there are confessional and direct moments. Closer “Gopher Guts” stands out as one of his strongest pieces, building into the spoken-style delivery toward the end as he reflects, “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 a terrible communicator prone to isolation over sympathy for devils/ I have been my own worst enemy since the very genesis of rebels.” Direct, personal stuff.
Aesop Rock has always straddled a line of experimental rap, but he does so while maintaining a listenable and hooky undercurrent that allows a base accessibility. It’s serious fodder with a tendency to focus more on lyricism than beats, but here he manages a consistency that makes the new record worth the five-year wait. It shows growth, will please his old fans, and it stands strongly on its own without relying on his back catalog.
7.5 / 10
Posted Oct. 9, 2016, 2:11 p.m.
Following the December 2015 release of an EP under the moniker Lice, Aesop Rock and Sandman are back with the free Lice 2: Still Buggin'. The new EP is available ...
Posted Feb. 17, 2016, 12:39 p.m.
Aesop Rock has a new record coming out on April 29 on Rhymesayers. Named The Impossible Kid, it's his first solo release since 2012's Skelethon, recording with Kimya ...
Posted Dec. 3, 2015, 11:50 a.m.
Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman released a free 5-song EP yesterday available for free download at bandcamp. Titled Lice, the collaboration includes production from DJ Spinna, Optiks, Blockhead, Alex “Apex ...
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