Review Summary: It’s starting to feel like a nice night
Malibu Ken is quite the unnerving image to look at. From the disgusting smile in the cover, to the face rotting in real time in the video for “Acid King”, it’s an abrasive aesthetic that lends itself to the actual music on display here. The beats are initially off-putting, the rhymes dark and dense, and the vibe tense. Aesop’s wordplay has always been intricate and abstract, his flow versatile, but combined with the experimental production of TOBACCO from Black Moth Super Rainbow fame? The result is a hip hop project that’s truly unconventional and unique.
Truth be told, I’ve never really followed Aesop Rock. I knew his discography was filled with well-received projects but I hadn’t had a reason to check any of his work out. Malibu Ken showed me how stupid I was to not. Aesop’s storytelling is a force to be reckoned with on this album. Whether it’s detailing the murder of one Gary Lauwers by Ricky Kasso in 1984 or his antisocial tendencies in day to day life in “Corn Maze”, Aesop is consistent in delivering some verbose complex wordplay with a airtight flow. The way he chooses the words he quickly glosses over in a matter of seconds is surprisingly catchy. Lines like “The magic is black, backyard happy and fertile for Kasso, the Acid King of the Black Circle”
only take a couple seconds to pass but they immediately stick. Aesop’s strength here is filling the record with lines like those, never becoming annoying or tiring. Everything here is lyrically scatterbrained in the best way possible, jumping from idea to idea while painting vivid pictures like “Every day I wake up in a gallon of sweat. Puke blood, hit the shower, turn to Malibu Ken.”
In terms of skilled MC’s dropping new material, Aesop Rock starts the year off extremely right.
“The kid TOBACCO is a face in the fire on the ***ing mountain”
With all that said, however, a skilled MC alone does not a good record make. That’s where TOBACCO comes in. Black Moth Super Rainbow is a name I’m more familiar with, along with their brand of psychedelic trip-hop indie music. TOBACCO takes that background and crafts a sounds that’s equal parts cerebral and infectious. Analog synths dominate completely here, starting off as unwelcoming but opens up as each song progresses into something really melodic and lush. It’s an amazing backdrop to Aesop’s abstract and fast-changing lyricism, following every twisted flow closely. Malibu Ken
wouldn’t be as interesting if it weren’t for Aesop and TOBACCO working off each other effortlessly.
With that being said, this record is prone to sounding a little homogeneous. The structures change little song to song, save for some highlights. Aesop’s voice can also be an acquired taste for some as his rapping is more on the nasally side and his style is easy to get turned away at. However, Malibu Ken
is without a doubt an interesting experience and one of the first great hip hop releases to come out this year.