SHUFFLER 0078: FANTASTIC PLANET URCHIN PUTTING WORK IN
Friday, March 13, 2015
Aesop Rock – “Labor” from Labor Days (2001 Definitive Jux)
A few interesting facts about Aesop Rock before we begin:
1) He is not the same person as ASAP Rocky. When I first heard about that dude, it was during a really confusing conversation wtih a student when we each thought we were talking about the same person. We weren’t. I’ve never heard ASAP Rocky before, but Wikipedia says he was charged with beating a man in a clothing store after that man maybe videotaped him doing drugs in the clothing store. I guess I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but, you know, different dudes.
2) Vocabulary. Maybe you heard about this, but, because apparently researchers are bananas, but, uh, rad bananas. Data researcher Matt Daniels conducted a giant study comparing rappers’ recorded vocabularies to the recorded writings of one William Shakespeare and some Herman Melville character. Aesop Rock led the pack, literary heroes included, with 7,392 unique words used. We’ll get into that a bit later on, but damn. GZA‘s solo material came in a somewhat distant second, to give some perspective.
3) I remember a friend once telling me that he wasn’t crazy about Aesop Rock because he was “too angry.” Coming from the world of punk rock, I thought that was kind of funny. I’m not sure if there’s a point buried in here or not, but it seems that these things usually come in threes, and I don’t like to depart from convention.
So, alright. “Labor.” It appears, as noted above, on the Labor Days album, an album that produced the instant classic “Daylight” as well as the extremely heavy-handed “9-5er’s Anthem,” so for me it’s kind of a mixed bag. That crazy enormous vocabulary definitely comes into play on this song, the thesis of which is this: I’m such a boss at rhyming, and this song is about that, and you can’t even tell at first because of what a boss I am at rhyming. Like, if there was a bigger word for braggadocio, that’d probably encapsulate it. Favorite moment: “I twist characters like Twist characters.”
There’s not a lot of anger here, necessarily, though the production is a bit aggressive, I suppose, with a heavy synth guitar and just a little bit of funkiness. It brings to mind the later work of Eyedea and Abilities, as well as fellow Def Jux conspirators El-P and Cannibal Ox. Like a lot of underground hip-hop from that era and especially from New York, it has kind of an ugly/beautiful dichotomy going on throughout, which really serves to underscore Aesop Rock’s arrogant dystopian vision of himself as a “fantastic planet urchin putting work in.”
Aesop Rock isn’t for everybody, especially people who don’t know what words mean. Even if you do, he kind of makes you work for it where deciphering meaning is concerned, and for a lot of people, well, that’s not something they necessarily turn to hip-hop for. For me, I like that he’s literary, but sometimes it’s a bit much.