Deeply personal stories and a smart production make this one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade.
Well known for his verbosity and abstract imagery, on The Impossible Kid Aesop Rock’s ability to portray humorous, profound and intimate narratives comes to the fore – his complex vocabulary is there to create vivid and engrossing stories, not just for word wizardry’s sake. A collection of self-produced, mostly autobiographical songs, The Impossible Kid details Aesop’s struggles with depression and isolation (‘Shrunk’) as well as the grief of losing a close friend through ‘Get Out Of The Car’ and the difficulties of trying to make it as an artist on ‘Rings’ and ‘Dorks’.
For years, the signature diction and cadence of Aesop Rock’s lyrical output has conjured surreal images, made obscure references and required the use of a thesaurus to decipher, and the mic maestro honed all of this even further on The Impossible Kid. Every track has a profound meaning or a deeper personal aspect that’s not immediately obvious. Even a song that seems on the surface to be a light-hearted, short tribute to his cat, ‘Kirby’, links to how Aes handles his depression and anxiety; the final line has him being told by his shrink after 15 years of counselling and drug prescriptions, “I don’t know, maybe get a kitten?”. This may sound a bit laborious for the listener, relying on a bit of homework, but The Impossible Kid is a hugely fulfilling album no matter how much work you want to put back into it. A superficial playthrough still rewards with its catchy lyrical bars and instrumental hooks, especially with the likes of the singalong chorus to ‘Rings’, the guitar riff on ‘Dorks’ and the bass-heavy synth of ‘Shrunk’.
Through Aesop’s lyrical prowess there are also witty and poignant glimpses into his childhood and his relationships with his two brothers on ‘Blood Sandwich’, and ‘Lotta Years’ details his observations on getting older amidst the hip youngsters of a fast-moving and ever-changing San Francisco neighbourhood. Importantly, these fables play out over modern-sounding but nostalgia-inducing tunes featuring cleverly constructed beats and a synth-heavy production that Aesop himself pulled together.
Other hip-hop albums released this past decade may have been more groundbreaking and more game-changing for the genre (To Pimp A Butterfly) or more commercially successful with a broader message and appeal (Run The Jewels 2), but The Impossible Kid’s mix of deeply personal stories and a smart production marks it as one of the best, making for an amusing and compelling listen that continually rewards a deep dive.
Words: John Higham