Rap music has always had an undercurrent of self-examination to go along with its social commentary, but it seems that now more than ever, we want introspection from our artists. From Kanye West’s lexapro lyrics to Kendrick Lamar’s visionary classic from 2015, verses that could have been ripped from the casenotes of a psychologist are de rigeur. It seems the time is right then for Aesop Rock, a man who has always traded on cryptic self-analysis and opaque rhymes.
It’s fitting, then, that this is arguably Aesop’s best album – the music is servicable enough, but its the words that make it special – a huge vocabulary combined with an introspective worldview. The name of the record, The Impossible Kid, reflects Aesop himself – the entire LP is basically a concept album about the mind of its creator.
To give you a sense of just how different Aesop’s rhymes are from other rappers (or other musicians in general), here is his description of the abandoned barn he moved to to gestate this album:
Tech support, feral army
In a cave on a failed bit of terraforming
Four corners of paranormal
Get shorn for a thermos and pair of thermals
In the warehouse air where his dairy curdles
These are the first rhymes of the LP, but they’re symptomatic of the entire record – something mundane is turned into a cryptic crossword of a lyric; more detailed than technically necessary, yet not cluttered or verbose. In previous records, you’d be lucky to understand one line out of forty in an Aesop Rock song – that dizzying wordplay is still here, but it’s always grounded in real feeling. Like with most great writing, you don’t actually need to understand every single phrase, as long as there is an underlying theme or concept.
Elsewhere, we get Aesop’s ruminations on brotherhood on “Blood Sandwich”, artistic relevance on “Kirby”, and a failed painting career on “Rings”. On each track, the introspections are profound and surprising. The standout for me is “Lotta Years”, where Aesop considers the maturity of young people today as compared to when he himself was in high school. There are no guest MCs on this record – it is 100% a product of Aesop Rock.
The thing that stops this record from being perfect is the music. In the age of Kendrick and Kanye, simply making nice music is not enough to guarantee that your record will be a classic. The music on The Impossible Kid is good, but does not stick in your head in the way “Ultralight Beam” or “King Kunta” do. However Aesop Rock trades on lyrical rather than musical innovation, and on these terms the record cannot be classified as anything but a resounding success.
Review Score: 8.8 out of 10.