Stability isn’t one of the luxuries that Aesop Rock has had the pleasure of enjoying over his 15-year career. The New York emcee self-released his debut album, Music for Earthworms, in 1997, and, after a brief stint on Mush Records, brought his raspy voice, laid-back flow, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics to the Def Jux label. Def Jux provided what seemed to be a stable home over the past decade, but the label folded two years after Aesop lost his best friend to lung cancer.
The result of all those hardships is Skelethon, an album that uses the tragedies of the rapper’s life as thematic fuel for his lyrically heavy themes of isolation, unhappiness, and death. It’s not for the faint of heart. Skelethon is Aesop’s first self-produced album, and the ominous beats perfectly complement his personal and occasionally depressing stories. The album’s opening track, “Leisureforce,” a narrative about living the life of a recluse, sets the tone; lead single “Zero Dark Thirty” is even darker—a discussion of how life can take many unexpected turns for the worse.
At times, guitars and various electronic beats provide a short relief from the deep bass and shady synthesizers that tilt this album into moodier territory. The subject matter is similarly grim, but Aesop’s open, straightforward tone makes Skelethon a very powerful and frequently emotional experience overall.
Playlist picks: “Leisureforce,” “Zero Dark Thirty”
Aesop Rock plays the Mod Club (722 College St.) on July 30.