Album Review: Nike Original Run: Aesop Rock
Who needs jogging? The elliptical will get rid of that gut just fine, and you can read while using it. And isn’t multi-tasking supposed to be what separates us Gen Y-ers from the pack anyway? What I do need, however, is a more consistent outside jump shot. There’s a team of Israeli guys in my rec basketball league who wear yarmulkes on and off court and play a Princeton-worthy zone defense. This is no joke. These dudes will give that Jewish Jordan kid a run for his shekels and when they throw on that iron-clad zone D, the only thing you hear is well, iron, as my shots clang off the rim. Enter Aesop Rock.
I’ll admit, when Nike announced that Aesop was the next man up in their Original Run series, I was skeptical. It ain’t easy to follow last year’s outstanding edition from LCD Soundsystem, and Mr. Bazooka Tooth seemed one of the more unlikely candidates to make a jogging mix for Nike. Granted, James Murphy might be a self-professed “fat guy in a t-shirt,” but Aesop Rock is practically the fucking Marlboro Man. He’s given interviews professing to have smoked three packs a day, and while that claim might seem a bit fantastic, listening to his charred, straight-out-the-bowels-of-hell baritone, I’m not about to contradict the assertion. Plus, while the erstwhile Def Jukie has come leagues as a producer since his earlier more dissonant attempts behind the boards, he remains best known for the deranged poetry of his lyrics, not the fluidity of his beats.
So when I trotted out to the elementary school playground across the street from my apartment, basketball in palm, iPod tucked into my ears, game with the Israelis a mere two days away, I was unsure of what to expect. Unlike James Murphy’s art-commerce meld, Aesop’s track doesn’t have much in the way of a warm-up. A few finger snaps, a few Prefuse 73-esque electronic squiggles, several stuttering drum hits, then suddenly Aesop’s voice bellows out of the speakers: “boy in the box, the fever is all day.” Swish.
Because Steve Prefontaine was a Terrible Producer
Keep in mind that this track isn’t one of the paranoid, claustrophobia-inducing Pro Tools bangers that filled Bazooka Tooth or Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, and Knives. Much of the instrumentation is organic, including keys, bass, and guitars, with a chopped-up breakbeat from DJ Big Wiz every once in a while.
Throughout the mix, Aesop keeps the serotonin and BPM’s fast and steady. Booming drums, wriggling bass lines, and bleeping Atari-esque sounds melt across the track. Lyrics are secondary—roughly 16 bars are sliced, diced, and inserted throughout the piece. Of course, it wouldn’t be Aesop Rock if the few lyrics weren’t replete with images of a “city gone ghost,” “catacombs,” and comparisons of the trajectory of the United States to the fall of Babylon. As the cliché goes, you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the dystopian George Orwell imagery out of the boy.
Like his predecessors in the Run series, Aesop’s contribution captures various moods throughout: at times eerie and ghostly; at times smooth, jazzy, and contemplative. Sometimes, it even veers on being techno-lite. If you weren’t sure it was the latest work from the man born Ian Bavitz, you’d be more apt to guess that it was early RJD2 or even Prefuse 73 (before he started calling himself Telly Savalas or whatever he goes by these days).
So then came Sunday, the holy day of reckoning, when my Aesop-Rock-honed 15-footer would be thrown to the gauntlet of a bunch of bearded, balling believers. From the sound of the first whistle, their defense was stifling. The zone was on and run with Mossad-like proficiency, to the point of where I could smell what they’d eaten for lunch (Baba Ghanoush, I think). But lo and behold, the D that had held to four points the week previous was helpless to the powers of my new ruthlessly efficient jump shot. We got up by 16 at the half and never trailed, ultimately defeating the best team in our league by 20, proving the efficacy of Aesop’s track beyond a shadow of doubt (probably). So thanks, Aesop Rock, for my new 15-footer—Mazel Tov.
Originally published at Stylus
MP3: Aesop Rock-"None Shall Pass" (left-click)
MP3: Aesop Rock-"Fishtales" (left-click)