Labour Days, by Aesop Rock
Suggested by Matt Smith
In the salad days after compulsory education ends but before real life begins, a friend and I formed the Big Words Club. Our purpose? To elevate our discourse exponentially by substituting twenty-quid-words where penny-words would do.
There was no overarching plan for this. It just made us laugh, which is the most noble end goal there is. We’d squeeze each tortured phrase and note for the most ludicrous definition-warping verbosity imaginable, trying to make the other crease in mirth and return the favour in kind. Sometimes we’d be so cripplingly obtuse, it felt like we’d been waterboarded with a liquid thesaurus. Simple sentences such as “would you like anything from the shop?” would mutate into multi-clause alliterative masterpieces that defied all form and function. I’d share an example, but I’ve already spent sixty-five-thousand words on album reviews and I fear unleashing this beast might take me up to a round hundred k.
Aesop Rock would be a prime candidate for membership of the BWC. An independent rapper with over twenty years on the mic, he is widely credited as having the most impressive vocabulary in the game. When peer tested against eighty-five of the best in the game, he came out on top. He also pound-for-pound out-worded Shakespeare and Herman Melville. I can only assume he beat Snoop Dogg.
Labour Days is a supreme showcase for Aesop Rock’s prodigious talents, and he wastes no time in sending out barrage after barrage of acerbic, measured, cerebral bars. His delivery is tight and speedy, almost sprinting ahead of the songs in order to cram as much depth and meaning into the proceedings as is humanly possible. It’s a tour de force, an astoundingly layered and considered performance.
At least, I think it is.
My issue is that Aesop Rock is so deft, so packed, so dense, and so fast that following the thought and tracking the meaning is a Herculean task. And I’m speaking in my capacity as a Founding Father of the Big Words Club, so you know that this is potent stuff.
Another limiting factor in regards comprehension springs from the musical direction that underpins the words. It’s a smooth, almost laid back sound, with a velvet bass and dreamy drums that somehow feels at odds with the speed and strength of the rap. It’s almost as if the rap is adrift from the backing, flailing wildly, trying to find footing on the ocean floor before sinking below the water. In no way is the music unpleasant… in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The music lulls, relaxes, maybe even stupefies, which dulls the senses and makes the concentration required to access Aesop’s outpourings all the trickier.
Labour Days gets a 6/10. It’s a vibrant rapping performance that in no way sounds almost twenty years old, but it’s also hugely impenetrable at first blush. As with so many of the cerebral rap albums that have been Randomised before it, it will bear succulent fruit should you make the effort to harvest it.