Review: “Malibu Ken” unites Aesop Rock’s abstract lyricism and TOBACCO’s synthesized rhythm

In Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, Music, Reviews
An illustration of Aesop Rock, Malibu Ken and TOBACCO (left to right).
(Anita Huor / Daily Titan)

Aesop Rock emerges into 2019 with producer TOBACCO to put out their first joint album “Malibu Ken,” the third release for independent hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment.

The record is a 34-minute, 10-song project and is Aesop Rock’s fourth music collaboration with someone for a studio album.

Aesop Rock, born Ian Bavitz, returns with his verbose brand of abstract lyricism layered over his Pennsylvania-based partner’s minimalist production. The music that TOBACCO, born Thomas Fec, creates for the album is built around the TR-808 drum machine beats and synthesizer keyboards. He highlights the production using synthesized sounds while accentuating Aesop Rock’s rhyming rather than taking away from it.

“Suicide Big Gulp” has a head-nodding bass that drives the groove of the song, which is punctuated by a snare slap that brings out the exuberance of Aesop Rock’s braggadocio when he claims that he’ll hit a plane out of the sky and kick a train off of a bridge.

The beat on “Acid King” has an ominous buildup based around different sets of keyboards playing, and drums that don’t start until the last minute of the song. The buildup goes well with the song’s dark subject matter where Aesop Rock details the story of fellow Long Island-native Ricky Kasso, who is infamous for killing his friend in 1984.

Although Aesop Rock is most known for his coded verses and stream of conscious-like delivery, he has always maintained a firm grasp of his thoughts and views of society.

Aesop Rock describes how his anxiety affects how he deals with the world, showcased through his discography like in his 2001 album “Labor Days” and his last album, “The Impossible Kid.”

The first song on the album “Corn Maze,” has Aesop Rock explaining what his insecurity feels like, rapping in the second verse: “Every day I wake up in a gallon of sweat, puke blood, hit the shower turn to Malibu Ken.”

The line describes how Aesop Rock deals with society — feeling nervous to the point where he makes himself sick, only to clean himself up and wear a facade for the world to see, to feel accepted.

“Purple Moss,” the last song on the project, shows Aesop Rock’s desire to escape to a far off place from the world that makes him feel off-centered. He ends each of his three verses wanting to stare at stars, watch weird, non-judgemental individuals and dream of a chair in a yard while on an Empire Builder, which is actually an Amtrak train that goes cross-country.

Aesop Rock’s ability to share his thoughts and feelings is one of his best assets, and his talent for impactful lyrics through metaphors and colorful imagery not only adds more depth to his rhymes, but it is what makes him one of the most gifted emcees in hip-hop. He showcases these techniques and assets on past songs such as “Cook It Up” and “Labor.”

On “Tuesday,” Aesop Rock describes many off-putting and disgusting portions of his home and hygiene. He warns the listener in the first line about the content of the track before mentioning how his neighbor found a mushroom growing inside of his car. The number of strange and distasteful imagery throughout his three verses ranges from a grey-stained smile through a “trench-mouth” to “Kool-Aid oozing out his toothache.”

In “1+1=13” Aesop Rock compares his unlucky everyday struggles to that of the lucky number seven, except he said his number comes up short and only makes it to six. Lines like “Summer of love, sleep under a murder of crows,” and “A face for radio, break a mirror,” which he said adds seven more years of bad luck to his life, are so good that the listener may forget to feel pity toward him and his misfortunes.

“Malibu Ken” does not stray too far away from the subject matter that Aesop Rock usually raps about, but the fact that he has been rapping for over 20 years and can still be both skilled and personable on a project, helps make this album another great addition to his extensive discography.

Though people may find the music of Aesop Rock difficult to decipher, the length of the album and the intrigue he conveys through his flow, lyrics and messages will inspire listeners to look forward to what he and TOBACCO might collaborate on next.

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