A solid collaboration between Aesop Rock, a prose-oriented rapper, and Tobacco, the frontman of psych outfit BMSR, is something probably no one wanted, but is surprisingly the first great project of the year. Aesop Rock has always been an extremely talented wordsmith, but behind his prose and flow has always been unimpressive beats and dull songs. However, with Tobacco backing him up, he sounds absolutely electric. Tobacco’s minimalist yet punchy beats, many of which sound straight out of an 8-bit video game, compliment Aesop’s disoriented prose about isolation, anxiety, and malaise.
For a producer who has never produced a rapper before, he has immediately jumped into the game as one of the best currently active. From the very start, with the fantastic opener ‘Corn Maze’, Aesop raps of how he’s “got some walls up” over an angry, glitzy hook, setting the tone for the moody yet surprisingly summer-like album that follows. Whether rapping about a killer from his hometown, a house (and life) in disarray, or the persona he feels obligated to maintain, Aesop is extremely dark and candid, yet never sounds heavy-handed over Tobacco’s beats. Much like the title and cover display, the duo perfectly create a blend of bright, plastic atmospheres covering the harsh interior of being a person with struggles: Malibu Ken.
The idea is unique, and both collaborators’ strengths and differences match their weaknesses perfectly. That said, it is not a perfect album. Aesop’s flow does not change often, while Tobacco’s minimalist sounds can get a bit repetitive at moments as well. Even the Malibu Ken persona wears a bit thin sometimes, their collaboration becoming less compelling, but this thought is overall a rarity. Malibu Ken is one of the most real releases of recent music, while also being incredibly bright and fun. Tobacco stands as a producer to look out for in the future if he continues down this path, and Aesop Rock has finally earned respect on a consistent and remarkable project.
Image: Volker Neumann via Wikimedia Commons