Whatever CD your roommate currently thinks qualifies as “some real MC shit.”
For years, Aesop Rock has been the poster boy for the frustrating gulf between the chart-topping rapper that perpetuates lazy stereotypes and the subterranean MC that consistently defies them. But when that rapper suddenly starts recording Nike-commissioned iTunes jogging mixes and getting plugs on MTV, would the underground – often too quick in revoking the credibility card – respond with a cold shoulder? Not based on the response of the sold-out crowd Friday night at the Fox.
Performing a 90-minute set that leaned heavily on material from his excellent new album None Shall Pass, Aesop stalked the stage with his expert blend of slam poet lyricism and street-level urgency. For an MC known for dense and twisting rhymes, it was particularly impressive to see how clean and precise his delivery remained in a live setting and, despite playing for a third consecutive night in the metro-area, he seemed to pick up energy as the set went on.
After performing his first six or seven songs straight through, Aesop finally took a break to banter with the audience, asking the fans where to get the best late-night food (Smelly Belly won out over Chiba Hut), singing happy birthday to a girl in the front row and inquiring whether the show was making the crowd's day longer or shorter (the response, Aesop noted, was “Shlonger”). But for the most part, Aesop kept to the music and credit, as always, goes out to the Fox’s sound team who, unlike other venues that simply turn up the bass for hip-hop concerts, actually puts forth an effort on the boards.
Rock was joined onstage by Def Jux labelmate Rob Sonic – who did a nice job not overextending himself in his role as hype-man – and DJ Big Wiz, whose excellent turntablist skills were showcased during a solo routine late in the performance. It was refreshing to see a relatively clutter-free stage during a hip-hop show (where loading up with coattail-riding friends has become distressingly commonplace), and Aesop avoided another maddening live hip-hop cliché: He performed his songs all the way through as opposed to the two verse/ one chorus medley often employed by lazier rappers.
All of these elements kept the heavily blunted crowd fully mesmerized throughout the show. Aesop is one of the more cultishly adored MCs working today and much of the primarily college-aged audience seemed to know the complex lyrics as well as he did, which is no small feat.
Near the end of the show, when Aesop remarked that it’s “literally shows like this that make it all worth it,” there was no beat required for those in the crowd to nod their head in agreement.
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Personal Bias: Funky psychedelic band Black Moth Super Rainbow opened the show, projecting clips from low-budget horror flicks and Sweating to the Oldies. Though it worked almost perfectly with their sound, I can't decide which was creepier.
Random Detail: An a cappella verse toward the end of the set had the crowd beside itself.
By the Way: At one point, as the crowd chanted “Chug,” Aesop downed an entire bottle. No question he’d fit in on the hill.
-- Mark Schiff Photo Credit: Theresa Combest