Keepin’ Us Itchin’: On Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman’s ‘Lice 3’

Ryan Meaney takes a look at 'Lice 3,' the latest record from Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman.
By    August 25, 2017

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Ryan Meaney shampoos every day.

There’s nothing quite as beautiful as two established artists combining forces to destroy the system. David Byrne and Brian Eno, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, El-P and Killer Mike; all brought to the table what made them legends in their own worlds to create timeless new art. While not on such a major scale, underground hip-hop sovereigns Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman have quietly been constructing a formidable collaborative series of their own. The Lice trilogy finds Aes and Rock matching wits and multisyllabic tongue twisters to bring to the forefront what makes MCing such a freeing art form. The duo continues in their quest for domination in the form of Triple Fat Lice, a jam-packed 17-minute rap clinic.

By now the legend of Aesop Rock has become something of an underground hip-hop folktale, whispered about amongst rap traditionalists and dudes who hang out outside of Rhymesayers on Hennepin Ave. There is no comparison to the bearded, sunken-eyed monster; rap’s shrewd drunk uncle who is apt to hit you with a sixteen on fatalism and the Ballroom Blitz.

He packs more into one verse than your fave packs in their entire discography, such as on “Comfy” when he spits, “I sneak into the club, I ain’t leavin without a pelt/For the people feelin’ needlessly beleaguered at the helm/Tryna ease up out the nucleus and bleed into the hills.” Rock raps with such off kilter ferocity it’s a wonder he manages to sound so incredibly in control. It is one of the most distinct voices in hip-hop, a kaleidoscopic fun house of worn out bewilderment.

Don’t think for one second your brain gets a break when Homeboy Sandman steps to the mic. The Queens street scholar slinks through beats with the deft nuance of a hooded assassin; the former classroom teacher treats his listeners as pupils. Whereas Aesop Rock delivers lines you can’t help but ingest, Sand will school you on Exodus, the anatomy of the human mouth, and House of Pain before you’ve even realized it.

His monotone rumble forces the listener to lean in on his verses, putting you on your ass when the full weight of his bars hit you.  Sandman describes his own style perfectly on “Panacea” when he raps, “When you’re strugglin’ through a class you can’t pass/And the teachers on a concept that you hardly can’t grasp/And there’s finals in a hour so you feelin’ so tense.” The controlled confidence brings a shift in style to that of his counterpart, creating a cosmic shift when welded together.

The pass-the-mic style of Triple Fat Lice keeps the pacing fun and varied, like a hotboxed backseat freestyle. Opening track “Pins and Needles” is perhaps the best example of this, as both Aes and Sand continually try and one up each other while building to a beautiful result. It’s like watching two Olympic fencers duel on the rooftop of Nu-Clear Cleaners on Linden Boulevard. Each MC keeps the other in check while adding his own varied flavor to the stew.  

The production glides and ascends underneath the bars, where tumbling piano rolls give way to classic New York rhythms. Noted indie producer Quelle Chris lends his talents to “Yoohoo,” where a warped vocal sample floats over a tense piano line. The production’s intensity only works to provoke Rock and Sandman, sending the EP into the stratosphere.

Triple Fat Lice is a testament to the boundless joy and energy great hip-hop can bring. Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman, two legends in their own right, force one another to up their game while still creating a cohesive sound. It is the EP equivalent of watching an early 2000s street cypher; you can almost sense the dark graininess and hard asphalt as Aes and Sand take us on their lyrical journey. It is a loose, freewheeling march through what makes people fall in love with hip-hop in the first place, and hopefully this is not the last we hear from the Pediculus duo.