Three of my favorite hip-hop artists of all time are Aesop Rock, Eyedea and P.O.S. This is a trinity, to me. I’d put them against anyone. They may be the best in the game. Contenders for G.O.A.T. status, truly. I’ll defend them to the epistolary death, see? Their work means a great deal to me. Their work resonates on a deep level in the twisting, searing story of my life.
I remember sitting on a friend’s patio late at night in scorching Phoenix. I put “Daylight” on the speaker and explained briefly why I thought it was dope beyond belief. It’s a masterpiece of introspection and artistic self-awareness. It’s also got a beat that positively kills and makes for the exact kind of twilit head-bobbing that is necessary in the dark heat of the Arizona exurbs. Over the years, I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times in countless settings. Weirdness, madness, effervescence.
I was maybe 20 years old, almost permanently high and working as a line cook in Cleveland between 10-week stints as a lefty journalism student in Athens, when I stumbled headfirst into Aesop Rock’s stuff. That was 10 years ago, a protracted moment in time that brought me into the folds of all sorts of music. The arcade melody of “None Shall Pass” still reminds me of a hazier, almost undefined stage of life.
The point here is that somebody switched the music over to Kanye West. I can still feel the utter shock in my throat, just thinking about the jolting left turn into something as despicably empty as Kanye West’s music under a starry Southwest sky. This sort of thing was indicative of broader tends that gradually altered a relationship that was already fraying, and I said so in less colorful terms. Too many times. I couldn’t imagine slighting the musical tastes of a dear friend, for better or worse, and I couldn’t imagine slighting the very being of a friend like that. We’re all unfolding on our own terms.
There was a time, too, when I listened to “Smile” by Eyedea & Abilities. The song is on their last album, released just one year before Eyedea’s death. He was 28. A creative genius, and I try not to toss that word around lightly. A true original.
“Smile” is a bright cynicism obscured almost entirely by blackout curtains and pot smoke. It’s a beautiful song.
I relate deeply to the despairing, the bereft, the crestfallen, the countercultural denizens of streets. I grew up a happy child, surrounded by loved ones and the encouragement of a vivid imagination. But — maybe because of time spent on my own in the front yard, circling the big oak tree and spinning stories in my head, feeling out the grooves of strange narratives — I find it easier to connect with the authentic , however down and out they might be. I disdain displays of wealth and poor taste, the two often running hand in hand.
A few years back, I got to see Abilities DJing on tour with Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. If you were there at the Grog Shop, you know how unreal it was. I can still feel the absolute dizzy joy in my head, just thinking about that show.
Time taught me how to see every second as Heaven / Even though they’re perfectly disguised as Hell
We can only build if we tear the walls down, after all, and that means not only the walls separating “you” from “I” but also the walls between the past and the present moment. Agony connects us to the living. “The fundamental delusion of humanity,” said Yasutani Roshi, “is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”
These are all “hits,” one could say, of guys like Aes and Eyedea. They didn’t have “hits,” though, and thank god.
On P.O.S.’s excellent second album, he cut “De La Souls” and countered his debut’s acid with some gentle sassafras. (“Recording with no shoes on,” Stef says low in the mix as the song opens. “It’s wonderful.”)
I got home from work today, mentally brimming. My fiancee is out of town. My dog was exhausted, sleeping. When I turned 30, my parents gave me a slick bluetooth speaker (a step into modern home technology taken only after I felt that it would improve my lot in life). There’s a small adobe house on the deep windowsill in our living room, and, underneath, I can tuck a small cone of vanilla or patchouli incense from Daystar Boutique. This is how things begin when I get home.
“De La Souls,” loud as shit, on the speaker.
Outside, Terminal Tower is red, white, blue. Down below, the streets of downtown bleed and flow, in, out.
What I like about this song is the groove-anthemic chorus vocals from Greg Attonito. (“No one will ever be like me!”) The whole thing is the sort of message that I’d paste on a billboard, red paint, hung low and broad across I-90, meant for every passing driver and hitchhiker to take into his or her soul. I’d splash sonic insouciance across the asphalt of a city trying to move too fast for its sense of self. But who am I to say? What of it?
And lookin’ back it seems I’ve always been a step behind
Little off-track and feelin’ no one shared the frame of mind
Listenin’ to records in my room to escape
Found some things I could relate with, I wore out the tape
“When I lose, every time I win, ’cause
No one will ever be
Messin’ up stuff or doin’ things wrong
Quite like me”
“To thine own self be true,” and all that racket.