Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #19 Aesop Rock
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#19 Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock is the best rapper you will never quite understand. Like Joyce’s Ulysses, Aesop’s lyrics are so heavily stylized that penetrating his meaning isn’t always the goal; it’s best just to sit back and enjoy some fiercely witty wordplay and turns of phrase. Fair enough if that ain’t your cup of tea; plenty of critics call him a “dictionary MC,” like it’s a bad thing to be literate and worse to favor abstract impressionism. You can keep your one-track rappers recycling the same twenty couplets. I’ll be over here in Aesop’s discography, where things have managed to stay fresh for nearly a decade.
For someone who dropped a bewildering but gripping grab bag of imagery on his debut proper, Float, it was impossible to see where he’d go from there. We knew he was an innovator: Float boasted the scenic hyperstimulation of “6b Panorama” and pointed critiques of common society in “Basic Cable” and “Mayor and the Crook.” But he waved the precise details around like a magic trick, which left listeners at once bewildered and fascinated. From there, he evolved into a more coherent condemnation of societal structure on Labor Days, an album largely about the working man’s plight. But to say the second effort was more put together is like watching a surrealist artist adopt a unified color scheme across a set of paintings: the product still trips you out in the end. Aesop grew into progressively stranger, more bombastic productions, as Bazooka Tooth and None Shall Pass saw him distance himself even further from the soul-crushing norms of rap music. Through it all, Aesop has defined himself as one of the foremost innovators in hip hop: he invented a style so out of left field that it should have failed. Instead the underground took note of his brazen disregard for convention, and Aesop Rock developed into one of the most recognizable and distinct voices in the game.
Check back tomorrow for the next artist! To see the full list of the Top 100 Artists of the Decade, click here.
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- Phillip Taylor-Parker