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Lexicon Over Lexus

In 2014, a data scientist named Matt Daniels created a diagram that visually ranked 85 prolific rappers, old and new, on a horizontal graph on their use of unique words in their song lyrics. For his data, he examined the first 35,000 words in each artist’s discography, and then used Moby Dick and seven Shakespeare [...]
Danny Hamen

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In 2014, a data scientist named Matt Daniels created a diagram that visually ranked 85 prolific rappers, old and new, on a horizontal graph on their use of unique words in their song lyrics. For his data, he examined the first 35,000 words in each artist’s discography, and then used Moby Dick and seven Shakespeare plays as a benchmark.

Not surprisingly, DMX came in dead last, verifying that his lyrics are better described as a series of garish shouts than expressive poesy.

The man who ranked first beat Shakespeare by 2,200 unique words, and, even more impressively—the GZA, by 966.

The Definitive Jux veteran, Ian Bavitz, is better known as Aesop Rock, and he’s got the illest lexicon in town.

Aesop’s blend of romantic intellectualism, brooding visceral beats, and distinguishably croaky vocal flow has more or less unchanged since his admired 2001 release, Labor Days. And that is okay. Aesop’s unique sound, lyrical verbosity, and complex song structure is what propelled him into the alt-rap limelight, alongside the likes of Busdriver and Atmosphere.

In the past decade, Aesop has been busy. He has released five solo albums, four EPs, and string of side projects, including a genre-transcendent collaboration with lo-fi acoustic starlet Kimya Dawson.

Today he is touring behind his sixth full-length album, The Impossible Kid, his first solo record in four years. The lead single, “Rings,” speaks directly to Aesop’s background in fine art and his anxiety about getting out.

“Yeah, I pretty much drew like crazy growing up, and ended up getting a BFA in painting from Boston University,” he said. “I always try to keep sketchbooks around, but I haven’t really put the work in to really advance myself in quite some time. I think the musical process over the years has transitioned into what my drawing process used to be like. I am by nature the kind of person that enjoys creating in a room alone. That’s what attracted me to drawing and painting. Music was always more social, out on stage or in a room with a bunch of rappers.”

Collective experiences certainly creates unique moments and ideas, but sometimes too many hands in the pot can sour the idea soup. That’s why Aesop says that music has become more of a personal endeavor, paralleling his approach to visual art art used to be.

“I don’t feel good unless I managed to have my hand in every sound that touches the record. I want to feel like I really made the thing. I don’t want it feel like I curated a bunch of people to work on it. I want to be a craftsman, so the successes and failures are all mine to own.”

A big part of Aesop’s influence came about growing up around New York in the early ’90s. Not surprisingly, he mentions post-punk influences like Fugazi and Hüsker Dü as major contributors to his musical influences, but it’s I think it’s fair to say that his proximity to an already blossomed hip-hop city is what rendered him incapable of doing anything else.

“I was in high school from ’90-’94, which basically framed what people commonly call the ‘golden era of hip-hop.’ Combine that with discovering the Stretch and Bobbito show and I couldn’t have been happier. Learning that there was all these insane lyricists out there that you may not have even heard of, but who just had bars at the ready every Thursday night was mind-blowing to me.”

It has been four years since Aesop’s last solo record, Skelathon. Despite the hiatus, he says his creative process has stayed true to the early days: Have a thought, save it for later.

“I keep notes always, so I just have this page in my phone with a lot of lines and phrases I’ve gathered over the weeks and months, and sometimes years. Sometimes I find homes for them immediately, other times they just sit there for awhile. Beats I treat more like a job—I try to wake up, get coffee, sit down and make beats. Whereas my rhymes, they come together slower and almost everything I bother writing gets used. When I have a loop or sketch of a beat I like, I sit and piece together my notes and think of ways to connect it all.”

Aesop Rock is to DMX as Uncle Tupelo is to Tobey Keith. They both share the basic underpinnings of their respective genres, except one serves to question and expand the aesthetic while the other accommodates the demand. And that is also OK—without that dichotomy and collective influence, there would be no counterculture and no new ideas.

“The mainstream has always had phases I enjoy, and others I think are terrible—I guess that’s just music. I think being influenced by stuff is never really intentional. You hear something, you like it … it doesn’t matter where it came from. All these rap subgenres are similar—it’s all phases. If one thing is dying, another is being born, but there’s always something to find. Shit doesn’t really die as much as it just morphs into the next thing. I think there will always be little pockets for more oddball music regardless of what sound is actually in style.”

 

See Aesop Rock perform in Columbus at A&R Music Bar June 8. Oh, and bring a dictionary.

 

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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