An Ode to Labor Days

I started listening to hip hop in about 1992 when my mate got a copy of Straight Outta Compton on tape. I was 11 or 12 and I think it was probably the swearing that got me interested. I was young so at that point anytime anyone swore, it was a cause for amusement. But it wasn’t long before I got hooked on the raw nature of the music, especially during that era. It’s been a long journey of discovery ever since and there have been certain albums along the way that have been milestones for me in terms of opening my mind up to what was possible in rap. Illmatic was one, the Blackalicious A2G EP was another, but I think one that stands above all the rest is Labor Days.
Aesop Rock has to be one of the most Marmite rappers around. He has a solid body of work, with six solo albums under his belt but I still know a large portion of rap fans who can’t listen to him. I get it. It’s not the most accessible hip hop around and I think it took me a long time to fully appreciate his genius, but even when I first heard him I knew that he was something different, something separate but also still very much a part of the culture and so I persisted and eventually in typical me style, I got obsessed.
I pretty much like everything he has ever made, but Labor Days – which is his second studio album – remains my favourite. Lyrically its insane. I don’t know if you ever saw that study on lyricism that some clever people did, but they basically took all the words that various rappers used in their first three albums and charted them all to see who had the largest vocabulary. GZA came second, but Aesop Rock came first by a pretty big margin. He even beat Shakespeare for fucks sake. Sometimes its too much even for me, but on Labor Days everything works perfectly.
Take the song No Regrets which is about a girl who is a loner and just draws on the pavement all day. The song follows her through her life until she is an old woman on her death bed, which is when she finally speaks a very enlightening few lines to the nurse who has been looking after her. Its a moving song, something he is very good at, but its also a topic that few MCs would ever manage to work into a rap song, if they were even persuaded to in the first place. Then there is Battery, with the beautiful lines…
“Now where I live there’s a homeless man, he sits upon a crate
He makes a rusty trumpet sound like the music that angels make
Now if you ever come and visit me, I suggest you watch the show
Tell him Aesop Rock sent ya just to hear his horn blow”
Or even 9-5er’s Anthem which uses fucking Dolly Parton lyrics of all things to great effect, to show disdain for the typical working hours we are enslaved to. I could find something special about every single song on there, because each one is its own little nugget of unique brilliance.
The production is my favourite of all his albums too cos it was when he was still working with Blockhead a lot, who produces nine of the 14 tracks on there. They had a great partnership and although I like Aesop Rock’s own beats nowadays, something about that sound back then was magical.
Labor Days is essentially a concept album about the idea of work but I think that sort of gets lost at points, which doesn’t matter to me one bit, because it is an album I will continue to return to forever in all its left field, avant garde glory.

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