review of Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

2018

track written, produced, performed by aesop rock

5 out of 5 hot dogs consumed, but 1 came back up

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I’m writing this on the summer solstice, day of neareternal sun.  No wonder summer comes accessorized with carefree smiles and dr pepper commercials.  Shorts and sunhats spring up from the freshly effervescent soil and it’s light at 9pm. What a world.  With such sustained, uncompromising light, it’s also the day of least shadow. Overlooked, but still there at shapes' horizons.  Hot dogs, a spokenword rap autobiography, lives on that flimsy penumbra. No joy without a twinge of sour sadness.

Aes, as he’s affectionately known, is known for writing convoluted, lyrically dense mobiles where he hangs obscure literary references alongside 80s tv throwbacks and godknowswhat curios wrenched from a baroque subconsciousness.  Although long an underground king, he came to some mainstream flicker of attention with his single ‘daylight’ and when matt daniels of thepudding(.com) used some statistical analysis to show that aes had by far the most unique words in his corpus (out of the 85 artists daniels checked), and so probably also the largest vocabulary.  In a music form based on spitting words, that’s gotta count for something. Rap is poetry and I’m a poetry ignoramus (pignoramus?), but it’s still fun to dissect.

Listening to hot dogs, we buckle up and go for a drive inside aesop’s history.  Our wordsmith tour guide points out the views on the way, somewhat lazily. This song never hurries, just mozies from line to line, anchored by some wry humor and a ny accent.  Two nearanalog bass notes bookend the bar like two nails pinning a live wire in place (aesop’s beats feel a little offkilter, he often eschews clean 808 kicks in favor of something twangier).  At our feet, the melody follows a simple stopandgo, centered between bumpers. The stop comes every line, cutting the bar in midupswing. It feels awkward at first, like our car can’t seem to slot into gear.  But these judders are intentional, and our ear soon settles down.

Aes follows that break (long paired with blockhead for beats, now he produces his own) with a shaky, descending whistle.  It could be a flute or a piccolo or a window left cracked or a bomb falling on the next town over. We don’t know exactly, but we know it’s not good.

Rosetta at the ready, the tour starts in his childhood.

raised on dirty hotdog water and popcorn butter
epmd tellin me every pop star a sucker
don’t let him smell the potstickers, he’ll stick around for supper
he’ll stick around for cheesecake, then three days, then the summer

There’s something almost antirap in this linoleumed beginning; aes doesn’t come from a hood, but he can’t do anything about it.  It is what it is. Antibonafides.

From here on out, it’s the tone that sculpts the song.  Aes climbs the sheet for a few bars then abruptly deflates the build with a depressed oneliner.  From bottom left to right:

                                   where there is none--
               I’m not here to make sense
       where rodents eat their young
where spiders eat their mothers
                                                                    --that’s dumb

These steep drops land us in a sonically barren place, unsatisfied.  Rap is exciting when we bump up through the gears, gaining speed until all the scenery is blurred (e.g. rigamortis by kendrick lamar).  But aes keeps building to collapse. Just as we start to feel the wind in our hair he hits the brakes. Some rappers have a voice that’s ‘smooth’ (notorious b.i.g.) or ‘mellow’ (mf doom), and it’s tempting to push these adjectives, but there’s an undeniable tension as he trudges upslope only to roll back down.  And as the song undulates along, the slope gets longer and worse.

                        like dating mola ram--
              I think I’m probably a lot
       any gallantry been going, gone
my attitude is ghastly
                                                    --I should work on that

[mola ram being the dude in temple of doom who pulls hearts from chests]

                   I will not be checking messages--
               then we’re off to see the exorcist
            hug his mother briefly,
         ratinfested lego bricks
      periwinkle pegasus through
   is not the product of a loving god
something this depraved
 
                                                          --why, should I be?

This laddertochute caps the first verse (there’s only two, and no chorus), and gives a bald look at something shameful.  Aes occasionally cracks the lid on the sludge in his psyche, but hot dogs’ matteroffact delivery won’t let us squirm away.  And yet, this tour can feel sardonic, even playful. We can’t put our finger on it, but it’s there. A little wordplay, a little mockery.

Special is as special does, you aren’t special just because
Yes, your mother said you was, that’s pretty much what mothers does

We get the sense that if we asked our guide if he’s happy in his job he’d pause and reply, ‘it’s complicated.’  We climb the final slope, hoping all the while for a denouement that’s surely not coming, and slide resignedly down the other side.

                  futon I could do without--
               I’ve got this awful
            but, since you’re here,
         asking them to move a couch
      have some people over without            
   I should turn the music down
I should maybe shake some hands,      
                                   
                                  --should take like two seconds

Running underground may not come with much loot, but it does allow a certain freedom: nuance.  Aesop rock’s brush doesn’t do broad strokes. His inability to embrace the moment without second thoughts is a small cloud on a sunny day.  In the sixteen years since the conventional hook of ‘daylight’ got him a handshake with fame, he’s turned his back, put his hands back in his pockets, and embraced whatever his basementmind sends up, be it good or bad.  Authenticity is hard to disagree with.

 

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