Too often confused with A$AP Rocky (never trust a rapper with currency symbols in their name), Aesop Rock has been one of the leading MCs in alternative hip hop ever since he dropped the underground classic Labor Days in 2001 on El-P’s now semi-retired Definitive Jux label. Since then he’s put out a further four solo albums including 2016’s career highlight The Impossible Kid, as well as a number of collaborative efforts with the likes of Kimya Dawson as The Uncluded and Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz as Hail Mary Mallon.
Influenced by eccentric MCs such as Kool Keith and Del the Funky Homosapien, Aesop Rock is known for his abstract and often complex style featuring multi-syllabic rhymes, absurdist humour and nerdy references. Believed to be the wordiest rapper of all time, a study by data scientist Matt Daniels finally confirmed this showing him to have the largest vocabulary in hip hop. He may not be to everyone’s taste and can be guilty of veering into nonsensical territory on occasion, but on his latest effort he’s operating at close to his best.
Ten years after working with Tobacco on the track ‘Dirt‘ from the Black Moth Super Rainbow leaders solo debut Fucked Up Friends, two singles appeared seemingly out of nowhere from the pair late last year. Featuring a grotesque Ren & Stimpy-like cartoon re-working of Barbie’s main squeeze on its cover (complete with plasters, pimples, bloodshot eyes and mucus dripping from his orifices), Malibu Ken finds both artists avoiding a potential clash styles to produce one of the strangest but also most fun hip hop releases in recent memory.
Blending retro-electronica and psychedelia with vocoded vocals, Tobacco is capable of crafting music that is much more challenging than the beats heard on Malibu Ken. Here he opts for something more accessible over which Aesop Rock is able showcase both the serious and more playful sides of his character. The second of two singles, opener ‘Corn Maze’ highlights his anti-social tendencies, while ‘Tuesday’ finds him joking about a mushroom growing in his car and how he struggles to keep a cactus alive.
Turning his attention away from himself, lead single ‘Acid King’ recounts in great detail the story of Ricky Kasso, a 17-year old metalhead who murdered his friend while on LSD in 1984 during the height of the Satanic Panic in the U.S. He does this at pace over Tobacco’s dark synth-led track which echoes peak Jean-Michel Jarre. Other highlights include ‘1+1=13’ with its strong hints of Boards of Canada, while ‘Sword Box’ finds him comparing modern rappers to magicians and con artists.
As modern hip hop goes, Malibu Ken feels fairly original. Besides the likes of Madlib, Flying Lotus and Shabazz Palaces, there aren’t many artists out there who have successfully incorporated elements of psychedelia into their music. With trap and mumble rap the dominant sound of the decade, it’s this kind of experimentation that the genre needs in order to remain fun and fresh.
Malibu Ken is available now via Rhym