I’ve liked rapper Aesop Rock, aka Ian Bavitz, for a long time, but for the most part I got lost in the sound and feeling of his performances and didn’t pay a ton of attention to what he was talking about. He helped create the acrid flavor of early-2000s underground hip-hop, seemingly searching for the darkest, most claustrophobic corners he could find. But his distinctive flow also has a playful energy that can make unwieldy words pliable and infuse intimidating blocks of text with a lively, almost bouncy momentum. Listening to his music, I often feel like a kid blowing bubbles with a plastic wand—I’ll get stuck on the fascinating shape he gives to one particular word as a flurry of others rush past.
On Aesop Rock’s seventh album, the new The Impossible Kid, all those traits are still present, but this time out I’m equally compelled by his storytelling. Early single “Blood Sandwich” is an ode to his two brothers, and he reflects on their shared childhood even as he admits they’re no longer that close (he’s particularly distant from his older brother). He raps about his younger brother’s little league days and his older brother’s teenage devotion to alt-rock at its 90s height. The song feels huge in part because of his vivid lyrics, which retain his exuberant flow even when transcribed.
I could read a novella of Aesop Rock writing about his older brother’s passion for Ministry, and the lines about his style and taste do more to capture the feel of “alternative” culture than any 90s think piece you can find today: “Not a part of the machine / Big brother, big idea / Nine-zero, 16 / Neubauten tee, plaid flannel-laden adolescent art kid / Tony Hawk hair, Skinny Puppy denim / And a record player vomiting Alien Sex Fiend / Peel sessions in a Christian home for field testing / It’s real youth in the palm of your hand / When your mom thinks Satan is involved in a band.”