Aesop Rock

By on March 12, 2015





“It all starts with the beat,” Homeboy Sandman said to a packed house in downtown Orlando. In reality, it took hundreds of unrelated events to bring Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, Homeboy, and their respective DJ’s to the City Beautiful.


The first event was over fifteen years ago: a random meeting between fellow Brooklyn rappers Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. They really hit it off, and eventually agreed to work together. The group was named Hail Mary Mallon, after “Typhoid Mary” Mallon, a woman that started an outbreak of the disease in the early 20th century.


Aesop and Rob started with 2011’s Are You Gonna Eat That?  before dropping Beastiary in late 2014. The duo then scooped up fellow New Yorker Homeboy Sandman and went on an album tour. This lyrical convoy was brought into town by Orlando native and past Aesop collaborator Swamburger of Solillaquists of Sound fame. Swam, always a big supporter of local music, was shaking hands and giving bro-hugs outside.


Now, back to tonight at The Social.


This intimate venue rarely disappoints when booking bigger acts, and Thursday night was no exception. The crowd lined up early, and I found myself standing behind hundreds of people after I finished my show fuel tacos at Gringos Locos. These people loved music – nearly everyone was eager to talk rap, rock, whatever. As the doors opened, Orlandoans poured in to the venue and claimed the choice spots by the stage.




Homeboy Sandman


Homeboy Sandman sauntered onto the stage, preceded by DJ Sosa. His demeanor was casual, talking to the crowd as if they were friends in his living room during a cypher session.


After addressing the crowd, he spat the first line of “Miracle” –

“It all starts with the beat”


“Sorry, guys.” Sandman said as he guzzled down half a water bottle. “This is one of those – you gotta go 100% songs. And I might as well just stop before I start if I don’t think I got it.” The crowd laughed and clapped, showing the overall mellowness of the small venue.




Like most of his rhymes “Miracle” is complex, and once Sandman was fully hydrated, he began to dazzle fans with his lyricism. People whooped and cheered when Sandman dropped a particularly sick rhyme. On stage he stood relaxed, reasoning through each verse with his hands like a Ted Talk.


The next track, and possibly the most popular in Sandman’s arsenal, was “The Carpenter.”  Fans bumped their hands up and down to the fast, erratic beat as Homeboy spat out the complex melody. Homeboy’s next impactful track was “America the Beautiful,” a song that looks at how lucky we are to live in this country. Even though we rag on our government and culture, Homeboy stresses that we’re still better off than the majority of the world. “We are the 99% locally. We are the 1% globally.” Mind blown. Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” broke out in the crowd.


With a catchy chorus, and funny lyrics, “Problems” seems to capture the thoughts swirling around Homeboy’s head on a given day. “’I’m surrounded by hipsters. What does that say about me?  Maybe I’m not being honest with myself. Hipsters love independent movies. S**t, I love independent movies. Actually, I just like independent movies. So I think I’m cool there.” The audience nodded their heads and chuckled, relating to Sandman’s struggles or simply just feeling Sosa’s beat.


Moving down the set, Homeboy got to another popular track “Not Really.”  It deals with the pluses and minuses of achieving moderate success in the rap game. “I meet a lot more women, have about the same amount of sex.” Again, Homeboy talks about his life with a refreshing honesty that’s hard to find today.


With both Homeboy and Mallon, beats are often as important as the lyrics laid on top of them. Homebody Sandman has worked with numerous producers to find the perfect sound, so that his verses sound incredibly fluid when he spits them live.


Next up was “Whatchu Want From Me?” – Homeboy directed the audience in chants of “whatchu want” in the chorus, as this piano-based track had more of a dance-y vibe than the others. Multi-flavored fruity vape smoke hung heavy in the air as fans of all colors grooved back in fourth in the tight quarters.


Homeboy Sandman makes a point to set himself apart from the rest of the music industry – right now he’s pushing cassette tapes. He took a break from his set to say that he was selling cassettes with some exclusive content, songs that would never be released to the outside world. The reason being that cassettes are harder to rip, and they create an old school style community of music listeners.


Homeboy finished the set with “Tablecloth,” another upbeat track from 2010’s The Good Sun. DJ Sosa’s beats laid the groundwork as a quick, choppy flow had The Social bouncing up and down. With a peace sign and a wave, the duo left the stage ­– starting the countdown to the main course.


The Overall Takeaway: Homeboy Sandman is a unique type of guy, and one that keeps the audience guessing. He looks like he’s truly having fun on stage, so the music is really easy to get into. Less like a story, and more like a quilt of funny or clever anecdotes – Homeboy’s sound is perfect for someone as ADD as myself. His live show is better than his studio work, so if you like his music, check him out.


Less like anticipation, and more like intermission, the crowd mulled about in The Social. They discussed college classes, ordered drinks, and had shared the expected “So…what’d ya think of that guy?” The venue basically has two settings on a night like this: full and extra-full. The “Back Bar Open” sign lit up to suggest that they expected to be extra-full tonight.


As time passed, excitement started growing. Now the stage had a DJ booth in the middle, with dark art banners of animal hybrids hung on either side.




Aesop Rock/Hail Mary Mallon


From stage left, out walked Aesop followed by Rob and DJ Abilities. They waved, dapped up fans in the front row, and jumped into the fast-paced “Jonathan.”  With muted bass kicks and hard snares, the beat had a perfect flow for freestyle or playing live. The two MC’s traded verses like boxers trade blows, each word deliberate and understandable.


Next up was “Krill,” another fast paced, free flowing track. This cymbal-heavy track features some elements of old school hip-hop, making you want to rock your hands up and down. The scratching by DJ Abilities, as well as the chants of “Go! Go! Go!” transported The Social back in time to the early days of b-boys and MCs in NYC that Rob and Aesop listened to as kids. Each word landed intently on a beat, as the two friends’ cadence played off one another.


“When I say kill, y’all say television.” “Kill!” (Television!) Aesop led the chant to start off “Citronella,” a song that’s only played live. The deep, distorted, bass riffs built in sounded like a beast hunting its prey, while the cheery horns in the background made the track really pop.




The first part of the set was all Beastiary, but Aesop mixed in one of his own next. “1, 2, 3, that’s the speed of the seed. A, B, C, that’s the speed of the need,” the crowd chanted as he told the story of an artist that died doing what she loved, “No Regrets”. As the girl in the song is about to die, she tells the nurse “Look, I’ve never had a dream in my life. Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven’t pursued. I knew what I wanted and did it ‘til it was done. So I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one!” The message in the song echoes a huge theme of Aesop Rock: music is art, not a means to make money.


To counter, Rob Sonic followed with one of his own, “Alice in Thunderdome.” The solo space allowed Rob to adequately convince the Aesop fans in the audience that he is a worthy compliment to Aes’ style. Drug themes and psychedelic beats populated the track, and fit with the introspective theme of the night.




“Whales” may be the most balanced Hail Mary Mallon track. The short, catchy track focuses on money and a bunch of superficial things that it can buy.  It’s another funny, ridiculous track – this one backed with strong bass kicks and scratching. It’s easy to bump and nod your head to, while still appreciating the lyricism.


Aesop then walked up to a crowd of fans to the left and said, “Y’all are extra hype for this show. Love that, man. Hey, I’ll let you pick. Should we go daylight or nightlight first?” “Nightlight!”


With that, Aesop jumped into the second phase of his hit “Daylight/Nightlight.” The more aggressive flow painted a picture of nighttime streets, sprawling and dark. Spooky melodies and tales of carnage set the tone for the foreboding track.


“Night turns day.”


“Yes yes y’all, and ya don’t stop

And keep on, ‘til the break of dawn.”




Fans erupted in cheers as the familiar tune hit their ears. “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day and put the pieces back together my waaay” (My way) the audience echoed. This track is the intersection of dope and deep, where Aesop likes to set up shop. With lyrics like “Life’s not a b**ch life is a beautiful woman

Your only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that p***y. Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests. Or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess,” Aesop builds his rhymes on a beat that sounds like one of the peaceful tracks from a Zelda game.


Shortly after “Daylight/Nightlight,” Aesop followed with another hit “Zero Dark Thirty.” The trashcan-like hollow drums sounded off as Aes started the first verse. The space-themed beeping kicked in as Aesop and the crowd arrived at the chorus “Roving packs of elusive young become choke-lore writers over boosted drums.” As the next verse hit, the beat became more complex, as did Aesop’s lyrics. “Down from a hunt-able surplus to one!” He yelled at the end of the next chorus, the whole crowd bouncing now.




Not to be outdone, next up was Dj Abilities. He put together about ten minutes of straight up mixing, scratching the beginnings of several songs from the golden age of hip-hop. We all got to break out our nasal-iest white dudes voices when Abilities dropped “Nowwww here’s a little story I got to tell, about three bad brothers you know so well.” The well-versed crowd got nearly all the way through the first verse of “Paul Revere” before abilities changed gears totally, flipping to the tempo to some classic ODB. It’s hard to find someone as skilled on the tables as Abilities, who’s been around since 1997.


After the quick track “Crows,” Aesop brought the energy at The Social to a new high.


Applause erupted as the unique beat started pumping through the stage-level speakers. It sounded like a distorted steel drum mixed with a xylophone, and then the sample kicked in “I’m trying ­– to help.” The track was his biggest hit, “None Shall Pass.” The crowd went absolutely nuts as Aesop dropped into the first verse. This track, with its profound lyricism and slick delivery was the gateway through which many (including myself) found Aesop years ago.


“And I will remember your name and face

On the day you are judged by The Funhouse cast

And I will rejoice in your fall from grace

With a cane to the sky like, “None shall pass.”


The chorus sounded just as smooth in person as it did in studio, with twice the energy. Swamburger danced around just offstage, dreads swinging in every direction. Hands waved ­– back and forth, up and down. This, it seemed, is exactly why Aesop got into music: to express his unique thoughts and make people happy.




Rob and Aesop finished the standard set with a couple Beastiary tracks: “Dollywood,”and “Kiln.” “Dollywood” has a unique up-and-down cadence shared by both MCs. The bass riffs and jazz melodies compliment the verses. “Kiln” is another example of old school bass kicks and scratching combined with the fluid delivery of both MCs. Both are great songs, but I’ll keep the descriptions short for the sake of readability.


When the three MC’s walked off, cries of “Encore!” filled the hall. What would they follow all of that with?  First up was “Homemade Mummy,” another Hail Mary Mallon track that the duo seemed to have fun delivering. Drenched in sweat, Aesop and Rob continued to dance to the complex beats.




Finally, Hail Mary Mallon ended with another Beastiary bonus track, “Big Bang.” Their stamina was crazy – ending with possibly the fastest song in their repertoire, they made sure to send the people out on a high note. The two rapped – together, apart, alternating, never getting tongue-tied. With a sincere-sounding thank you and a peace sign, the trio disappeared into the night, leaving the people of Orlando with an experience they’d never forget.


The Overall Takeaway: Wow. That was anywhere from 24-28 songs (depending on what your definition of “song” is), and they delivered all of them with poise and energy. The trio mixed together all of Beastiary with some live-only tacks, as well as some classics from both Aesop and Rob’s past to make one hell of a show. It is truly impossible to fully comprehend all that’s going on when seeing this much music that is so complex at once. The beats, lyrics, stories, and jokes were all individual exhibits in Hail Mary Mallon’s museum of what modern hip-hop should be. To Aesop and Rob, the words “hip-hop” and “art” are one and the same. They’ve worked tirelessly to make their sound evolve over the years. These shows are cheap, and the tour is limited. I would strongly encourage any fan or rap, or music in general to check them out.

 (photo WILL OGBURN)


 (photo WILL OGBURN)


 (photo WILL OGBURN)


 (photo WILL OGBURN)


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