October 7, 2003

Def Jux rappers grab mic
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

What if Salvador Dali gave up painting and fell in love with two turntables and a microphone? Why weren't there any Dada rappers? Aesop Rock, with his stream of unconscious flow and abstract, almost incomprehensible lyrics, answered questions that have been nagging mankind for years on Wednesday at the Paradise Rock Club for the release party for his new album Bazooka Tooth.

The concert was a gathering of independent record label Def Jux musicians and a homecoming for some of Boston's most talented emcees. Locals Mr. Lif and Akrobatik, who opened along with DJ Fakts One, have dominated the local hip-hop scene for almost a decade. Their set was the most inspired of the night, even upstaging headliners Aesop Rock and El-P.

Akrobatik commanded quite a presence onstage with his linebacker physique and heavy bass voice, while Mr. Lif is famous for his intellectually stimulating, politically conscious content and faux-nerdy delivery.

Fakts One cut the beat during "Home of the Brave" and let Lif spit his most famous verse a cappella: "This further demonizes Afghanis/ So Americans cheer while we kill their innocent families/ And what better place to start a war/ To build a pipeline to get the oil that they had wanted before."

The crowd roared with support for the post-9/11 tirade against the Bush Administration, which says a lot about the performers' demographic: liberal, educated, and politically aware with a priority on lyricism and non-commercial production. It became unmistakably clear that this was not a typical Jammin' 94.5 rap concert when the loudest crowd response came after one of El-P's raps about domestic repression of free speech and dissent. He yelled, "Who's read their Orwell?" and the crowd went wild with affirmation.

Officially, the night belonged to Aesop Rock, the poetically erratic rapper known for his complicated, abstract lyrical content. It's not that he fails to enunciate his words or rhymes too fast; he is actually speaking gibberish at times and yet it sounds brilliant. Aesop's high-energy delivery borders on psychosis and, on stage, his eyes scream with schizophrenic energy that complements his spastic rhyme style (like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, Aesop looks as though he should be locked up somewhere).

Of course, the very nature of underground hip-hop is responsible for the crowd's enthusiasm: unlike at mainstream performances, a show like this draws a small group of very dedicated, knowledgeable fans who eat, drink, and breathe hip-hop. The energy level mounted all night and exploded in climax during Aesop's last song "Daylight." Aesop is a very talented rapper, yet by no means one of the best. Yet, he has produced one of the most captivating songs in hip-hop history. Melodically tantalizing and lyrically bewitching, the song floats, flutters, and disappears.

Aesop's purely abstract lyrical aesthicism can be frustrating and a bit draining, yet during his performance he led the delighted crowd in dizzying circles, leaving it bewitched and bewildered by the eccentric emcee. The crowd screamed along with every nonsensical bit of Aesop's jabberwocky as he finished, "Stomach full of halo kibbles/ Wingsspan cast black of porn visuals hear the duck hunt ticker tape/ Vision and pick apart the pixels."