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Album of the Year Writeup #7: Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide

Artist: Aesop Rock

Album: Spirit World Field Guide




Apple Music



Background by /u/ItsBigVanilla

Aesop Rock probably wouldn't want you to know his real name. Despite the rapper's current standing as underground legend and collaborator extraordinaire, he's never quite been the approachable type. He doesn't revel in the obscurity of an MF DOOM or a Billy Woods – in fact, he's much more candid and intimate with his audience than either of them – but he is, decidedly, not an extrovert, either. A rare sight in the age of digital promotion, he prefers to use his social media as a journal, documenting his art and travels as he sees fit, and he keeps the conversation one-way by restricting his (obsessive, devoted) fanbase from commenting or interacting, even on news such as album announcements. He's had a multi-decade career and he boasts the biggest vocabulary in rap, but he's never been one to brag or adopt the typical look-at-me rapper posture. This shouldn't be mistaken for humility; rather, he's a proud introvert, a loner who picks pizza and pot over people and pictures, 10 times out of 10. So yes, sure, he's willing to give us glimpses into who he is, but only to a certain extent. It's a tightrope act: we know Aesop Rock the figure, the only rap GOAT who has walked the animal's walk (i.e. sleeping in a barn and eating trash) - but what can we learn about Aesop Rock, the man? I'd wager that most of his fans don't even know that he was born Ian Bavitz, in New York, 1976.

Ian was a middle child, sandwiched between two brothers whom he would immortalize in a song when he was 42 years old. By all accounts, he lived a normal, white, Catholic, nuclear, American life: bright kid (I assume), loved to skateboard, graduated high school at 18, studied visual arts at Boston University, picked up a bachelor's degree, even married a nice girl somewhere along the line (the exact “somewhere” is unclear, even on the mystical, all-knowing Internet, as is the date of their eventual divorce). To all concerned parties, he had no good reason to run off and become a rapper.

But run he did. As he made his way through school, Ian developed a passion for music. He inherited his older brother's punk rock taste – New York, riotous, Dead Kennedys, mosh pits before they called them mosh pits – but he also had an ear for hip-hop, which genre he followed from its infancy. And like every white boy does when he grows up on Run-DMC and Beastie Boys, Ian decided that he, too, might be good at that. Fashioning himself Aesop Rock, he started recording tracks while making his way through college, tapping into the creative energy of his friend Tony Simon, who would remain a steadfast collaborator for years, producing for him to this day. Tony – aka Blockhead – worked with Aes and producer Dub-L, and together they released Music for Earthworms in 1997, one year before graduation.

The album showed promise, and although it didn't propel anyone's career straight out of the gates, it signaled the start of something long-lasting and exciting. Aes and Blockhead followed it up two years later with Appleseed, an EP that highlighted their chemistry, expanded on their strengths, and attracted label attention. The label in question – Mush Records (which also released some early Busdriver albums) – offered him a deal, and in 2000, he released his official debut album, Float.

On Float, a sprawling, uneven record, Aes continued to throw everything at the wall to see what stuck. It's an album that, two decades later, feels charmingly dated, but it holds up in a way that many early-2000s indie rap projects don't. For a few long-gone New York rappers of that era, it would have been the high point of a career - but Aesop Rock was still just dipping his toes. And then he signed to Def Jux.

Definitive Jux should require no introduction, but alas. The label was (or still is, some argue) a New York-based collective co-founded by legendary rapper/producer El-P. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, Def Jux existed at the fringes of rap, releasing some of the most innovative, forward-thinking, and downright strangest music in the history of the genre. The label's roster reimagined New York as a gritty dystopia on now-classic albums like Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein and El-P's Fantastic Damage, which sound just as uncompromisingly fresh today as they did upon release. These albums, as well as those of artists like Mr. Lif, Cage, and RJD2, flipped the foundations of hip-hop on their ass, exposing a gleaming robotic underbelly of bizarre, creative energy and ambition, free from the constraints of any sort of mainstream attention. While the label hasn't been active since 2010 (good things, of course, never last), Def Jux represented a major moment for underground rap, which means that it represented a major moment for rap, full stop. This was Aesop Rock's moment.

Aes became involved with Def Jux shortly after releasing Float, signing with them as he worked on his next full-length project. He thrived in this space, both personally and creatively, forging close relationships with El-P and labelmate Camu Tao while collaborating with them - as both rapper and producer - on numerous tracks. Fans familiar with Aes's 2020 persona recognize the irregularity of this period – a time in which the rapper was anything but a loner, a time where the report card might have read “works well with others.” Experimenting within a bubble of oddball brilliance may have been the push that he needed to tap into his own potential, and in barely any time at all, he made his mark as an artist with the just-seven-days-after-9/11 release of his first Def Jux album, Labor Days.

Labor Days is the work of a rapper whose head is bursting with ideas, ideas that must be crammed into the confines of a single record because the next one isn't promised. It's a young man's album – overlong and grossly ambitious – but that of a young man in complete control of his abilities, and one whose talents run at a higher voltage than most others'. To speak nothing of Aes's talent as a wordsmith (think “got stoned and read the dictionary”), Labor Days features a fascinating glimpse into the man that he would become, in the form of “No Regrets”. The track tells the tale of a girl named Lucy, who eschews almost all social interaction in favor of her art, taking a lover from a considerable distance, and eventually dying alone, surrounded by her work and completely satisfied with her accomplishments, unphased that the rest of the world sees her as an outcast. Should we view this as a metaphor for the rapper's own eventual isolation? He probably wouldn't want us to. He'd probably be uncomfortable with it.

That album has now reached cult classic status. It sent Aes's career into orbit (a small orbit full of skateboard gaming song placements and a fanbase of dedicated nerds), and cemented his place in the world of underground rap. It took him another two years to release another full-length, which came in the form of 2003's Bazooka Tooth, a concept(-ish) album where Aes reimagines himself as the titular super-loser, relaying stories of city living, drug use, and rap beef atop production that he mostly did himself. The album took his already cynical lyrical content to an even darker place, perhaps inspired by the rapper's own mental health at the time (this period clouded by unconfirmed reports of anxiety attacks/depression/a nervous breakdown). The years that followed saw Aes become further entrenched in Def Jux, featuring on members' projects and dropping the occasional EP, but he wouldn't release another album until 2007.

2007 was an epilogue for Aesop Rock. It was the year he released his last album for Def Jux, the last time he released a solo project with rap features and outside production, and the last year that Camu Tao would spend alive, before succumbing to lung cancer in 2008. It's a year that marks the beginning of a sea change in Aes's public persona, and a shift in the content of his art. So it's best first to focus on the album.

None Shall Pass is the culmination of a career spent learning and evolving. It remains Aesop Rock's most accessible album to date, but instead of sacrificing any of the rapper's esoteric sensibilities, it elevates them to a pitch-perfect sweetness: listeners might not catch exactly what he's saying, but they hum along regardless. Aes shared production duties with Blockhead in almost equal measure, and the chemistry between the pair shines throughout each track. The album was a success: dense enough to satisfy hardcore fans, yet fun enough to attract hordes of new followers. It was Aes's biggest and best album yet, and it felt like he had nowhere to go from here but up. So naturally, he went down.

In short, Camu died, Def Jux fell apart, and Aesop Rock didn't release a solo album for another 5 years. In some ways, there's not much else that feels comfortable to say about this period, because Aes keeps pointedly silent about it when he isn't in the booth. There are rumors – fans whisper of a falling out with El-P over how to handle Camu's unreleased music – but not much is definitively known, except that the frequency of material released during this period is considerably lower than any period before, or after, it. If we extrapolate from lyrics and interviews, we can piece together one major component: Aesop Rock and Camu Tao were great friends, and watching Camu deteriorate took a massive toll on Aes's mental health. He became depressed, unable to maintain regular relationships, and he disengaged from the crumbling label he had spent the last decade of his life a member of. In 2012, El-P released an album, Cancer 4 Cure, dedicated to Camu. He sampled the late rapper's voice for the project's first and only single. It was his first studio album not to feature a verse from Aesop Rock. Aes had other plans.

In 2012, he released a solo album, Skelethon, his first on the label Rhymesayers Entertainment, to which he is still signed today. The project was, for the first time in his career, entirely self-produced, and arguably bleaker than any of his past material. It's an album that embodies what makes Aes unique: playful songs about haircuts and eating veggies (which are clearly inspired by featured anti-folk legend Kimya Dawson) line a tracklist that's full of brutal introspection, concluding with “Gopher Guts”, the most painfully honest song he's ever written, a song about his utter failure to treat himself and others correctly, an admission that he is losing his battles with personal demons. Skelethon marked another career shift, into a level of insularity and reflection that he had not shown previously. The album's legacy shines still: it is fully realized, meticulously crafted, a masterpiece.

And it wasn't the only one. After a four year period and some loose material, 2016 saw the release of The Impossible Kid, another completely self-produced project with even less outside assistance than the last one (not a feature in sight). What's immediately striking about the album is its clarity: Aes traded in (most of) his lyrical maximalism for something more easily digestible, and a few confessional tracks can even be made sense of on first listen, specifically “Get Out of the Car”, which directly addresses the pain and loneliness he felt after Camu's death. We take a funhouse tour through the labyrinth of his personal life, some of which might be troubling if they weren't so on-brand (getting a therapy cat, living in a barn, feeling like an old man at a juice shop, etc.). Moreso than anything he had released thus far, The Impossible Kid solidified his status as a loner, a pot-smoking homunculus who prefers the company of animals to humans, and who, against all odds, is one of the most talented rappers of all time. (Not to interject, but this is my pick for best Aesop Rock album, and it's the one that confirmed his spot as my favorite rapper.)

But Aesop Rock cannot be defined by his solo albums alone. In addition to the fantastic career he's built on his own merit, he's also an ambitious collaborator. He's released two albums alongside Rob Sonic as one half of Hail Mary Mallon, a group just dumb enough to structure a project around a fundraiser-concert-to-save-a-bowling-alley narrative. He's teamed up with Homeboy Sandman to release the Lice trilogy, a perfect series of EPs packed with enough one-liners to make Bruce Willis sweat. He even rapped alongside Kimya Dawson on Hokey Fright: released under the moniker The Uncluded, it's a mix of anti-folk and geek rap, and it tackles subjects such as laundry, organ donors, and sandwiches. It might be the strangest piece of work that either artist has ever been part of, and it's especially notable because the pair's goofy musical chemistry flies in the face of the current personal animosity between them. In a revealing series of statements (as well as a song), Dawson has accused Aes of emotional abuse and manipulative behavior during their time together (fans were initially unaware of a relationship). These allegations aren't particularly surprising given the rapper's own admissions of similar behavior, but they do highlight the reality of his situation: the more insular and elusive he becomes, the more his mythology deepens. Even revelations of alleged shittiness feed into his carefully cultivated persona, and although fans condemn his actions, they're not exactly unexpected.

His most recent project is 2019's Malibu Ken, another collaboration, this time with producer Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow. It's a psychedelic trip into Aes's mind, and it demonstrates that he doesn't have to have full complete creative control to make great music. It's packed to the brim with the humor and wit we've come to expect, and it advances the personal, self-deprecating narrative that's been woven throughout the last eight year's slew of material. However, even though it's a full-length album, it felt like a minor release upon arrival - something perhaps less spectacular than usual - and fans wondered what else was in store for the future. Now, just one year later, we find out.

Review by /u/ItsBigVanilla

Rap is a young man’s genre. It’s a world full of masculinity, braggadocio, and sexual feats that the oldheads just can’t pull off anymore. Hip-hop has been getting louder, crankier, and more aggressive with age: if Phife Dawg were alive today, would he dare enter a rap show without earplugs? Rappers come with expiration dates: 20 is the new 30, and unless you’re one of the three 1980s-born artists we’ve allowed to top the charts, you’re a dinosaur. It’s a rule that some fading stars (who shall remain unnamed) have refused to accept, instead grasping at youth in a last ditch, gray-hair-died-black attempt to reclaim the glory that they lost before some current hit-makers were even out of diapers (it’s Eminem – I’m talking about Eminem). Even the most elegant transitions to the elder role, a la Jay-Z’s 4:44, are only possible in reference to a body of past work that is considered to be untouchable. And as much as we all claim to love the wizened perspectives of veteran rappers, let’s face it – nobody wants to hear Hov rap about his back problems.

In limps Aesop Rock, with a bucket of curly fries and a pocket full of arcade tokens. His career runs longer than most: his first album released 23 years ago, and since then he's been a fountain of material, dropping a steady stream of full lengths and EPs across a discography littered with both solo and collaborative efforts. The mid-40s rapper has seemingly done it all, from the too-wordy street tales of his youth to the grim depths of brutal self-reflection and back again, settling into his current role as a lovable loser, stoned on the couch watching cartoons while his dusty phone rings off the hook. In 2005's “Facemelter” he proclaimed himself a “longevity veteran”: that was 15 years ago, only a third of the way to where he's at now. In this time he's amassed a fanbase devoted to dissecting his lyrics and speculating on his personal affairs, a fanbase so large and dedicated to supporting him that he can hardly be considered an underground artist anymore. Aesop Rock is a bona fide rap star – he's just spotlight-averse and happy to keep it to himself.

So how does a relatively low profile artist survive the gauntlet of a multi-decade rap career? Doesn't he run the risk of repeating himself, the fate-worse-than-death of descending into parody?

In short, yes.

It's no secret that Aesop Rock is a loner – he's been rapping about it for four presidential administrations. “Loser” is his M.O., his friendlessness makes us all feel like we're all his buddies, and despite his extraordinary musical abilities, he's spent years cultivating his image as an everyday slacker. He's been so successful from the fringes of the genre that he quite simply cannot claim to exist in the fringes of the genre anymore. It's the purest contradiction: he's an introvert, but he won't shut up about it. After 2019's (very good, but not quite up to par) Malibu Ken, this reviewer wondered: can a career like this survive, or is the formula bound to devolve into shtick?

Then, just one year later, Spirit World Field Guide arrives. At 21 tracks and 63 minutes, it's the rapper's longest album in 13 years (and fourth longest overall). Every track is self-produced, and only one (“Sleeper Car”) bears a co-producer credit. There are no skits or interludes past the intro, and, for the fourth album in a row, every verse is rapped entirely by Aesop Rock. By taking such complete control of his vision, Aes ensures that we're immersed in the world he's creating, and on this album especially, world-building is everything. As its title suggests, the project is structured to serve as a handbook for “all modern supernatural tourism” through the “spirit world”, a place of “unwavering otherness” that listeners may someday find themselves in. It becomes immediately clear – the theme isn't exactly subtle – that the world we're exploring is the rapper's own mind, a place of oddity and isolation, a phantom zone as full of adventure as it is divorced from reality. Bring on the eye rolls: just when he starts running the risk of beating a dead horse, Aesop Rock decides to make a concept album about it.

Rappers hate clear narratives. Adhering to a concept is difficult in any genre, but in one so wordy and full of distraction, the results are often less than cohesive. On such an ambitious undertaking, Aes could be forgiven for occasionally veering off-course, but instead, he spends each and every track building his universe from the ground up. After a brief and hypnotic introductory message in the form of a transmission from a spirit world traveler, we find ourselves at “The Gates”, a track that reintroduces us to the misfit we've come to love while cleverly delineating a physical starting point for our journey. In classic Aesop Rock fashion, it's brag rap about having nothing to brag about, sporting bars such as “I'm like Vincent Van with that instant rice” and “I don't stay for tea, I can't slow the code / I go coyote alone and ghost.” He's said it all before but it's still inimitable, and his flow has never sounded so technically perfect, so sure of itself over a beat that feels plucked out of a sci-fi arcade shooter. And with that, we're off. Welcome to the spirit world.

There's a lot to miss out on by half-listening to an album like this, but even the most cursory playthrough reveals that Aesop Rock has made astonishing progress as a producer over the last few years. The attention to detail rewards multiple spins: whether it's the Atari sounds that shape the wall of “Button Masher”'s Space Invaders-esque beat, or the subtle number-dialing effects that slide into the hook of “Jumping Coffin” as soon as Aes raps about “any kind of woo-woo tryna make a phone call”, there are so many production choices that serve conceptual and thematic purposes in addition to sounding great. Much like former collaborator El-P, Aes never lets his beats stagnate; instead, they're constantly shifting and evolving, introducing new elements between hooks or sometimes even within the span of a verse. Past projects may have seen the occasional beat switch, but never before has Aes been so sonically adventurous. From the mounting textures of “Pizza Alley” (complete with a glorious drum-dropping beat change) to the last-minute moodswitching of “Boot Soup” and “Coveralls”, the soundscape weaves and bobs, refusing to leave any room for boredom or repetition. Having self-produced his solo work since 2012, Aesop Rock deserves to be recognized as a visionary producer; this is the work of an artist talented enough to bring fantasies to life.

And those fantasies run deep. For all of its accomplishments, perhaps the most infectious thing about Spirit World Field Guide is just how packed to the brim it is with things that Aesop Rock loves. He's always been an animal lover – apparent from his album packaging to his merch to his lyrical content – but he's never managed to create a space so infested with critters. There are near-constant references to the fauna of the spirit world on each track (two of which are named after animals), and Aes is more likely to compare himself to a “deer in a scope” than to any of his peers. This is hardly gimmickry, as these references come to be greater than the sum of their parts, populating the album's human-averse universe with a menagerie of creatures both friend and foe. (Without peeking at any lyrics, I can think of mentions of horses, dogs, cats, flies, eels, fish, birds, dolphins, bats, wolves, and rats.)

Aes's preference for woodland pets over guest rappers isn't the only way he divorces his work from that of his peers. In fact, the Spirit World seems to exist in an entirely different decade than the rest of the genre. From the cheesy-80s-sci-fi-flick aesthetic of the album's music videos to the video game fetishism of its lyrical content (“I started spilling all my problems to the final boss / He shed a tear and let me by him like 'what's mine is yours'” on “Crystal Sword”), this project is more indebted to Sega and Ghostbusters than it is to anything to be found on Top 40 charts. Aes has been a student of rap since its birth, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when he samples Raekwon (“Straight up and down, don't even bother”) for a hook on “The Gates”, or weaves Ad-Rock's voice into a verse on “Salt”.He's utterly disinterested with the outside world, and even when he throws it a bone (i.e. a triplet flow at the ends of his verses on “Gauze”), we get the impression that he's only doing it to flex his muscles. The album feels like a throwback, albeit one that could have only been made by someone who's filtering his nostalgia through a time machine planted firmly in the future.

The result is something that we rarely find beyond rap's mainstream: an album brimming with pure fun. If it's a joy to listen to, that's because it feels like it was a joy to create. Late-stage Aesop Rock could easily phone in a few tracks every two years for a paycheck, but no - he refuses to kowtow to any will but his own. Every one of Spirit World's ingredients is something that he loves, and they come together to form a project that' feels like a personal victory lap: it's charmingly weird, infectiously confident, and as self-indulgent as a Tarantino movie.

Which isn't to say that there isn't a darkness lurking beneath the surface. Sprinkled throughout the tracklist are a few bite-sized songs, shorter than anything Aes has ever released in the past. These aren't merely interludes, they're the cracks in the walls of the Spirit World. On “Flies”, reality creeps through the facade, as Aes attempts to oust the horde of creatures infesting his drains, to no avail. “I'm clapping at the air, I'm cornered by the plates / I'm brought unto my knees, I'm forfeiting the space / I'm clawing at the walls, swarm ordering me ate / It's death from above, nobody saying grace”, he raps at the track's conclusion. It's funny in the same way that it was funny when he had a mushroom growing in his car, but it's also... a bit concerning. “1 to 10” is an ode to back pain that sounds like it's being rapped by a disappointed parent, or a man having his temperature taken – rectally. A bar like “Rate your pain level on a scale from one to ten / I said 'Well doc, I tell you, it feel like I lost a friend'” encapsulates the joylessness of middle-age, and if risks tiptoeing into dad-rap territory, it can be forgiven for its honesty. While these short detours feel like stares through the fourth wall, a few harsh moments of reflection seep into the longer tracks as well: when Aes raps about being the “architect of my Kodokushi”, what he's really saying is that he's created a life for himself that will result in a lonely death, one in which nobody will even find his corpse for days. Hiding a statement so grim behind a word that most of us won't understand without a Google search - and packing the whole thing into a one-liner – is enough to cause concern, especially considering that he said something pretty damn similar back in 2016. Just a few minutes later, Aes insists on “Marble Cake”, the true finale of the album (it was originally planned to be the final track), that he wants a death with no fanfare - “Y'all can feed me to the fucking pigs.” As much as he loves to couch these sentiments in snappy bars, they signal something else, a bleak cynicism that not even the fantasy of a Spirit World can obscure.

Yet overall, isn't this exactly what we've come to expect from Aesop Rock? Haven't we already seen him at his emotional worst on Skelethon, his most sentimental on The Impossible Kid, his weirdest on Malibu Ken? As enjoyable as these new tracks can be on their own, do they equate to a meaningful whole? Is there something fresh to be gained here, or is just Aes ushering in the new decade with a rehash of the last one?

(Side note: these are questions that I asked myself coming into this album, and I considered them every time I played it back. Aesop Rock is my favorite rapper, so I hold him to the highest standard; an artist's biggest fans should be the first ones to criticize them, and my conclusions are meant to reflect that.)

Spirit World Field Guide is a strong entry in the Aesop Rock catalog, and its high points stand among the best moments in the rapper's oeuvre. It's a culmination of the collection of skills he's acquired over the years, and it may offer a hint of things still yet to come. Aes sounds sure of himself in a way he never has before: he's mastering new flows, he's experimenting with production, and although he insists that he doesn't take himself too seriously, he really is gloating – 20 tracks, all by myself, not a skip in the bunch. He's perched atop the underground of rap, a veteran and a legend, and he knows it. It's a testament to his considerable greatness that an album released 23 years into his career feels almost like a greatest hits collection, and one that works perfectly as an entry point for new fans.

The Spirit World is more than just a half-assed metaphor, it's a living, breathing place. When Aes says “the river boils when it sees me”, then eight tracks later he's rapping about “river water that'll melt your fucking hands off”, it's because he's just as much an architect as he is a lyricist. It's truly remarkable that he can describe so much and never contradict himself, that he can drop 21 tracks and leave us wanting more, that he can rap forever and never spit a forgettable verse. This isn't an album, it's a bag of tricks: the paranoid storytelling of “Dog at the Door”, the double-time flow on “Gauze”, the 6/4 time signatures on “Side Quest”, the triumph of the synths that slide into the second half of the hook on “Holy Waterfall”, the crispness of the drums on every track – there's something new to fall in love with every time.

But when you're in Aesop Rock's position, a great album isn't always enough. This project represents the perfection of a formula, but the formula remains. Aes still mostly raps about being a loner, and while the sheer number of ways he's been able to revisit this idea is impressive, the content itself risks running thin. If this album is going to be remembered 10 years from now, it should be remembered as the end of an era – not as the moment a rapper became a caricature.

What keeps an artist great, decades into his career? If Aesop Rock wants to remain unique and compelling, to avoid treading the same waters twice, he will need to find ways to reinvent himself. He will need to capitalize on the experimentation of a Malibu Ken, or to expand on the introspection of an Impossible Kid, or perhaps to set his lyrical sights on something broader than himself. Maybe the coming years will see a more collaborative Aes lending his production skills to other rappers' work, or – heresy – even allowing them to feature on his. Hopefully some of the risks we're seeing him take with elements like song structure and time signatures will reappear in future projects. Spirit World Field Guide was originally supposed to be between 40 and 50 tracks; this might be feasible for the next one if Aes keeps his material as short and sweet as “Flies” or “1 to 10”. And call me crazy, but does anybody else wonder how he'd sound on a Griselda collab?

The possibilities are endless, and if the past is any indicator of what's to come, there will be surprises aplenty. On the album's final track, “The Four Winds”, Aes raps, “Baited adventuring out of his norm is a lesson in mapping the doors / Anything more in the lap of the gods, anything less an imbalance ignored.” I haven't figured out exactly what the hell it means, but I'm excited to find out.

Favorite Lyrics by /u/ItsBigVanilla

Tangentially related in the sense of one's environment informing what they're made of

There was a ghost who broke it all up into tiny numbers

And dated vector graphics, and New York Times puzzles

Who struggled knowing love as more than boring data entry

More reported from an orbit all his own, to say it gently

I'm reporting from an orbit all my own, to say it gently

• “Button Masher”

What ship, what shore?

I grew up writing riddles under bridges in New York

Now I travel like a highwayman who whispers to his horse

Sharing stories out of winter, trying to trigger something pure

• “Pizza Alley”

No stacked sash or accolades from authority

The backstory gets all back-into-a-corner-y

Abuses in the feeding tube that circle back to eat at you

Bacteria that tip the hat, adversity that gleam the cube

It's tit for tat with slippery aristocrats who pity cops

And brilliant rats who find the grit to slip out of the Skinner box

The moat's supposed to keep the rivals out

The calls are coming from inside the house

• “Marble Cake”

Breaking out of that boarded house, faking normal has wore me down

Hit the road, an old misanthrope alone, tip me over and pour me out

Cozy up to that pressure cooker, my heart's a bottle, my head's a butcher

My blood a mix of both milk and sugar, I push the pencil, no pencil-pusher

• “Boot Soup”

I've been ignoring any semblance of relatable Earth

I got a homie from the region who could name every bird

And tell you what it is to wake up with a tank in the yard

Type of shit to make you question what your days even are

There's a holy waterfall where you could rinse and repeat

Find religion while the minnows eat the skin off your feet

If you wake me on a January morning at four

Don't get excited when I bark at the door

• “Holy Waterfall”

Discussion Questions by /u/ItsBigVanilla

• 1) What can Aesop Rock do to avoid becoming too predictable and formulaic as his career progresses? Do you prefer solo work since he's been self-producing, or was his output stronger before 2012?

• 2) In my review, I mentioned a few production details that add life to tracks like “Button Masher” and “Jumping Coffin.” What are your favorite moments of production on the album?

• 3) If Aes did decide to work with outside producers or feature other artists on his solo work, who would you like to see him collaborate with?

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