Aesop Rock and I have a long, complicated relationship, which is another way of saying I've spent years thinking about his music and he probably doesn't remember the one time I interviewed him for ten minutes (rightfully so). Along with Mos Def, he's one of the few rappers who made me rethink what's possible in hip-hop, what a rapper can sound like.
The first time I heard "Daylight" it was 2001 and I had no idea what I was getting into when I pressed play on this random Labor Days album. I'd never heard of this Aesop Rock guy, but the cover looked interesting, Amoeba Music had just set up stations to listen to any CD without buying, revolutionary at the time, and so why not? Four minutes and 19 seconds later janitors were sweeping up bits of my cranium that had exploded onto the concrete floor.
On the surface it sounded purely experimental, combinations of words and sounds I'd never heard come from a human's mouth, which was fascinating in its own right. But as time went on I also unraveled very real meaning in every line. Like RapGenius, but inside my actual brain and not the internet, I eventually came to appreciate the real power in a line like:
"His origami dream is beautiful / But man, those wings will never leave the ground / Without a feather and a lottery ticket, now settle down"
Aesop Rock just released a new album, The Impossible Kid, the seventh solo album in a career that's defied any defined path. Much of the new album was recorded in a barn in the woods. Seriously. I've been thinking about how to write about the new album for days now, but fellow Aesop fans didn't need me to tell them that a new album was out, and starting off a new listener with The Impossible Kid would be like starting someone on season three of The Wire; "Good luck figuring out who everyone is!"
So I thought that, instead of reviewing the new album, I'd use our Holy Shit You Need To Hear This series to recreate my own first "holy shit!" moment with Aesop's music, "Daylight." And even better, I'd also include "Nightlight," a self-remix of sorts where he flips the lines and beat of the original but with a darker angle at every opportunity, a concept I've never seen anyone attempt since.
I'll hold the door open so you can stumble in / If you'd stop following me around the jungle gym / Now it's honor and I spell it with the 'H' I stole from heritage / Merit crutched on the wretched refuse from my teeming resonance - Daylight
I'll hold the door open so you can stagger through / Then send berserker bred Jukies in after you / It's gutter and I spell it with the G I stole from "Get the fuck up" / Noise crutch stolen wretched refuse of my teeming dumb luck - Nightlight
Above all else I'm an originality junkie. Whether it's Ghostface Killah, Mos Def, ScHoolboy Q, MF DOOM or many others, the one thing all of my favorite rappers have in common is that they sound like absolutely no one else. You couldn't copy their styles if you tried (although many try anyway, and fail). It's why I can appreciate Young Thug, and it's why Aesop Rock will forever be on my all-time greatest list. I'm well aware that many people, probably most people, will listen to "Daylight/Nightlight" and walk away. That's fine, it's not for you, this isn't for you. This is for those people who hear it, think "holy shit" and find themselves checking out Impossible Kid and discovering a brave new world of hip-hop they never knew existed.
Fifteen years ago that was me - it's still me every time I hear "Daylight." Holy shit I love this music.