Aesop Rock Makes Himself at Home at Paradise

While Aesop Rock is a born and bred New Yorker, known for making his dent in the 90s NYC underground scene, his set at the Paradise last week had the feeling of a homecoming show.

“I used to walk by this place and get mad about how many people were standing out here,” he told the audience, referencing his time spent at Boston University where he briefly resided in
Claflin Hall. “Now I guess it’s my f***in’ fault!”

Following a stellar opening set from the under-exposed Homeboy Sandman, Aesop took the stage with fellow underground emcee Rob Sonic and spinner DJ Zone for a spellbinding hour and a half. Flanked by some taxidermied animals and a gleaming fake camp fire, the crew’s career-spanning set was equal parts off-kilter, energetic and professional.

The pure performance chops Aesop displayed were the backbone of the set. With the quick, incredibly verbose wordplay he’s known for, it was impressive to see the 40-year-old rapper ably reproducing his on-album flows, spitting with enough energy to keep above the powerful basslines while also providing enough clarity for the audience to actually hear the lyrics, a rarity at hip-hop shows. His crowd work was also on point, exploring the space of the stage and hyping to each corner of the audience without ever seeming a showboat.

Aesop’s collaborators elevated the set to something special. DJ Zone ably held down the ones and twos and shone during his brief turntablist solos. The tracksuit-adorned Rob Sonic took on an interesting role, playing hype man for most of the performance but also getting to leap on his numerous Aesop features. The two played off each other well, with Rob’s deeper, rumbling flow acting as a nice counterpoint to Aesop’s pleasantly abrasive vocals. While this felt like an Aesop Rock show first and foremost, the smooth interplay between the two emcees had parts of the set taking on the energy of a duo performance, à la Run The Jewels.

It’s rare to see new material garner a similar reception to the older hits for an artist twenty years into their career, but the crowd was receptive throughout. Though Blockhead-produced classics like “Daylight” and “None Shall Pass” drew raucous singalongs, the floor lit up for nearly every cut off of his recent self-produced album The Impossible Kid. While its aggressive, El-P-esque instrumentals and deep, confessional lyrics have made this Aesop’s best record in years, it’s rare to see a crowd embrace new material as warmly as the familiar. However, the Paradise audience gave him the attention and recognition of a hometown hero throughout. When he told the crowd they were the best he’d played to all tour, it felt genuine.

Despite the quality of the show throughout, the highlight was perhaps the encore, which had Aesop come out with Homeboy to perform their collaborative EP YUCK. This was a dazzling little set, showcasing the pair’s similar vocal and lyrical styles and onstage flourishes. With Homeboy’s considerably later break in the hip-hop world, it felt almost like a passing of the torch. However, the vitality of his new material and the energy of his live show are proof that Aesop still has plenty of creative gas in the tank.