Friday, September 2, 2016
Monday, July 18th, my alarm clock radio went off at around 10:50 a.m. I’d already been up for a bit, stretching out my rickety old man bones and joints when the radio cut through my personal state of yoga Zen like a goddamn shrieking hell baby from hell. HELL BABY. FROM HELL. Christ’s image on a Belgian waffle, I need to get one of those alarms that come with an iPod dock. I loathe radio with a passion and waking up to whatever garbage the radio’s pumping out, more often than not, sets the tone for an awful day. It is a quite literal rude awakening every single morning. I had it set it to The Current; a publicly funded, independent station, so it’s better than most radio stations out there…but it’s still excruciating to listen to a majority of the time. Don’t even get me started on the membership drives that seem to go on for all eternity. The bland, generic disc jockeys ceaselessly begging listeners for money, all the while holding the music hostage until they reach their arbitrary pledge goals. I would rather be water boarded than have to sit through that nonsense.
The song that came on on this particular occasion conjured within me, an even higher level of disgust than usual. It was a song called Here by some twenty-year-old Canadian kid named Alessia Cara. What bothered me most about the song was that it “borrowed” its instrumentals from a Portishead song called Glory Box. In my eyes, this was an unforgivable, blasphemous trespass. I love Portishead; their album Dummy, from which Glory Box hails, is an absolute musical masterpiece. Who the hell does this Alessia Cara person think she is? The sheer audacity to brazenly chop up Portishead like that. Such an act is equivalent to a kindergartener scribbling profanities all over the Mona Lisa…with their own feces. Oh merciful heavens, what have I done in a past life to have to endure such ear torture? Thankfully, the song concluded and the DJ turned to engaging in typical boring, monotone public radio banter. I do not recall if it was Mary Lucia, or Jade, or whomever. They really all sound the same to me. Nameless radio person gave a run-down of all the musical happenings around the greater Minnesota area for the day. Blah blah blah…I DON’T CARE. I was torn from peaceful, silent serenity and thrust into a musical purgatory. Please, oh, please just play a good song for me, horrible radio person. I was deep in the throes of sonic induced suffering when she mentions that Aesop Rock is performing tonight at First Avenue. “Dang, that’s tonight?”, I thought to myself. Reception of this news was like an ice-cold glass of lemonade for poor, pitiful Tantalus.
Ian Bavitz, who performs under the stage name Aesop Rock, is an underground hip hop artist currently signed to the independent, Minneapolis based record label Rhymesayers Entertainment. Aesop Rock, not to be confused with the exponentially less talented artist ASAP Rocky, is not typically who the general, uninformed populous would think of when picturing a rapper. Active since 1996, Aesop has been honing his craft for over two decades. His style of hip hop is incredibly complex and abstract; his lyricism is unsurpassed. It is appropriate that this paper is about storytelling, as one would be hard pressed to find an artist whose musical storytelling abilities were on par with Aesop Rock’s. In 2014, a study was conducted of the largest vocabularies in hip hop. It took data analyzing roughly 100 rappers’ vocabularies and Aesop decisively blew everyone else out of the water in terms of unique words used. The study sampled 35,000 words of each hip hop artist and compared them to history’s greatest playwright; William Shakespeare, along with Moby Dick author Herman Melville. Out of 35,000 words used in their respective works; Aesop Rock boasted a vocabulary of 7,392 unique words, compared to Moby Dick’s 6,022 unique words and Shakespeare’s 5,170 unique words used. The nearest runner up; the venerable GZA of legendary hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan weighed in with 6,426. To put it succinctly; Aesop Rock is thinking man’s rap. He is a genius. He is better.
I left work and made it to First Avenue at around 9 o’clock. Apparently, I arrived there just after the first opening act; Dem Atlas, another artist signed to the Rhymesayers label, had just finished his set. I made my way through the gathering crowd and found a spot up front. What a great spot; stage left, pedestrian right. This was extremely important as I am, ashamedly, a small statured individual at 5 feet 4 inches tall and could easily have my view obstructed by one of those Nordic giants Minnesota is known for. The strategic position at which I was stationed, was just a stone’s throw away from the door leading backstage, where performers would come out from. In the midst of standing around awkwardly, I noticed Aesop out of the corner of my eye and decided to try to get a picture of him to post up on Facebook. I fiddled with my camera phone, desperately trying to get a good shot. Alas, it was not meant to be, as every pic came out grainy and dark. Son of a biscuit. Screw you, Samsung!
I’d had the pleasure of seeing Aes perform live just once before; last year on February 4th, when he was touring to promote a new release for one of his other projects; Hail Mary Mallon. Hail Mary Mallon consists of Aesop and yet another Rhymesayers label mate; Rob Sonic. On this occasion, though, Aesop was touring to promote the release of his own album; The Impossible Kid. For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Rob would be joining him on stage. Oh heck yes! This was the very last leg on The Impossible Kid tour, but because Rob was there, for all intents and purposes, this was a Hail Mary Mallon concert. Aes and Rob absolutely killed it. They played every single song off of The Impossible Kid, with more than a few Hail Mary Mallon songs thrown in the mix, as well as some classic old-school Aesop Rock songs. Of course, they also performed the obligatory mash-up of Daylight/Nightlight; my very favorite to see live.
It was an absolutely cathartic experience. I hipped, I hopped. I bipped, I bopped. I knew all the words to all the songs, so I sang along. I sang loud and I sang proud. Not only did I throw my hands in the air, but I also waved them like I did not care. My nature is one of quiet reservation, but tonight I’d let that go. My hair was on point, my beard was looking good, and beautiful women were complementing my O.D.B. t-shirt. I felt like I was in my element, which, to be completely honest, doesn’t happen very often. I rarely ever have that “dance as if nobody’s watching” mentality, sadly, but something about tonight put me in that place. I felt invisible in the very best way. My self just disappeared, blending seamlessly into the music and the energy which it created.
The concert wrapped up and I headed to the merchandise tables to buy up all that they had to offer. I ended up buying a hoodie, a t-shirt, a slip-mat for my turntable and an Impossible Kid limited edition vinyl. Right around the time I completed my purchases, Aesop Rock had come out from backstage and a line quickly formed for an impromptu meet and greet. OH FRICK YES! I did not think the night could get any better. I made my way to the back of the line and anxiously waited for my chance to shoot the poop with the blindingly brilliant mind that is Aesop mother flipping Rock. I was all nerves. I, a mere feeble minded mortal, get to meet the king of the underground. I, a lowly peasant, had been granted audience. When my turn came to speak with the man, the myth, the legend, I told him that it was an honor to meet him. Fumbling my words, I thanked him for playing my favorite song from The Impossible Kid; Get Out of the Car and spoke of how I could not listen to the song without tearing up and on occasion, weeping like a child. It is a deeply personal song about the loss and 8-year aftermath of dealing with the loss of his dear friend Camu Tao to lung cancer. Aesop was soft spoken, full of “thank yous” and humble pleasantries. At the same time, though, I could see that he was high as a kite, toasted as toast. I don’t know what I wanted or expected from him, but the brevity of his responses and the feeling that he wasn’t completely present, was utterly disheartening. Here I was, face to face with a skyscraper of a man, standing a full foot taller than me at 6’4” and he just seemed…human. I found myself in personal crisis. There was no real sign of his brilliance now. I could not see his golden sheen. He was just a man. He gets baked and disconnects, just as I occasionally liked to get baked and disconnect. For the life of me, I don’t know why this experience was so disappointing. It reminds me of a line from his song Dorks that goes; “Maybe to sentimentalize is to be truly naïve, I know some shit about your heroes that you wouldn't believe”. I had the guy standing behind me in line take a picture of us together, had Aesop sign the back of my slip mat, and I headed home.