Seventeen Summers in Developing: Aesop Rock and TOBACCO’s Malibu Ken

Chris Daly dives into the weird world of the stalwart MC and psychedelic producer's first collaborative full-length.
By    February 11, 2019

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Chris Daly is the world weekly news Batchild.

True rap nerds rejoice!  Do the Post Malones of the world have you questioning why you listen to hip-hop at all right now?  Do 8th wave Young Thug clones make you nostalgic for when the wild style was the only rule?  Malibu Ken, the twisted new joint from Aesop Rock and Tobacco, is here to remind you what lyrical mastery and mayhem mean.  The man with the largest vocabulary in hip-hop and Black Moth Super Rainbow’s frontman are the keyboard cleaner and paper bag you didn’t know you needed, but here they are in front of us, just waiting to be enjoyed, and it would be rude not to at least give this thing a huff or two.

For those interested in an advanced class in doctorate level rapping, look no further.  From breath control to cadence, AR sounds more invigorated and engaged than he has in a minute.  Having toured together back in ’07, the new partnership seems to have lit a fire underneath both participants.  Pulling on the odd strengths of both, the album is both bizarre and Byzantine.  It would be all too easy to write off the whole affair as impenetrable, stream-of-consciousness raps over melted beats that will only appeal to folks who still will fight you over whether breakdancing is a meaningful branch of hip-hop or not.

I would know.  You should see my original draft of this review.

Fortunately for you, dear readers, Passion of the Weiss only employs editors who insist upon much higher standards (and are willing to work for bootleg Boosie mixtapes, but that’s another story).  Bottom line, the entire album is the equivalent of a shrink’s NYT bestselling memoir about her most confused patient but utilizing my psych minor and typing this next to an open can of paint, I am reasonably confident I have deciphered most of this LSD wet nightmare.  Opener “Corn Maze” acts as both salvo and manifesto, inviting the listener to get lost amongst the stalks as Rock begins to describe who and what our lead character is, namely, a paranoid freak who prefers “neighbors with wide orbits/electric fence and pets that tend to pretty much ignore us.”

“Tuesday” is the audio equivalent of ingesting too many hallucinogens and getting stuck staring in a mirror for way, way too long while still paying homage to “lesser known fetish porn.” (Shout out to Edward Penishands and E.T. porn. Tobacco fans get it). “Sword Box” is one of the more straightforward tracks here, if such a thing is possible, equating magicians with conmen with M.C.s, all “basically the same profession” who take advantage of marks “feeling weak and needing something to believe.”

“Acid King” is the dastardly duo at their most unhinged, Aesop dropping a disturbing drama describing satanism and drug dealing gone wrong in small town America.  Just once, I’d like to hear about satanism and drug dealing helping turn a town around in the right direction, but I digress. “Suicide Big Gulp” is the braggadocious rap every hip-hop album demands, only told from AE’s unique perspective—his are not stereotypical boastful brags about boats and hos, but instead visions of himself as one of the beasts from Rampage “smack(ing) a plane out of the sky,” while Tobacco is “a face in the fire on the fucking mountain.” You know, Sunday school sermon-type stuff.

“Churro” continues the inversion theme, starting out about a webcam trained on eagles that have returned to Pennsylvania after a decades-long absence, and while it’s initially uplifting for viewers, a cat snack turns the song on its head.

As for the other handful of tracks, Google the lyrics yourself or drop AE and Tobacco a line.  Elephino what the hell the rest of that shit means, and I’ve only got so many brain cells left for heavy lifting of this sort.  The main connective tissue throughout is Tobacco’s razor bladed beats, which I’ve always assumed he creates by raiding 1970s high school filmstrip soundtracks and holding them above a Bunsen burner while he inhales the fumes for further inspiration, but that might just be my headphones.

To keep it 100, Malibu Ken is not going to be for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who finds and consumes mushrooms that grow in your car, you’ve got a soundtrack for life.

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