“The magic is black.”
In many ways, Aesop Rock’s opening gambit on ‘Acid King’ illustrates his approach. Known for dense lyricism and abstract imagery, Aesop’s style is a verbose nail bomb – yes, the explosion is dangerous, but it’s the little pieces that you need to watch out for.
An alumnus of legendary – and now defunct – independent label, Def Jux, the Long Island emcee is an exemplar of growing old gracefully in this rap game, with a spate of releases across the past few years cementing his status as an underground juggernaut.
And Aes Rizzle is back with a new project, Malibu Ken, alongside producer, Tobacco (of Black Moth Super Rainbow fame). The duo announced their collaboration earlier this month with the surprise release of their new single ‘Acid King’, foreshadowing the eponymous Malibu Ken album (due to be released January 18th, 2019).
Of course, these two are no strangers to each other. Aesop previously touring with Black Moth Super Rainbow in 2008, as well as pairing up with Tobacco on the track ‘Dirt’ from the producers’s debut album, Fucked Up Friends. Originally from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Tobacco cuts experimental electronic sounds with atypical patterns. Like his New York contemporary, Tobacco is addictively weird – and weirdly addictive.
‘Acid King’ was introduced to listeners by way of a grotesquely animated music video (drawn by illustrator, Gunsho) depicting what is, presumably, a send-up of a Malibu Ken doll rapping until complete decomposition. A fitting motif for the uncomfortable subject matter of ‘Acid King’.
The track comes in with a deceptively basic, staccato instrumental; a simple electronic melody, something you might hear from the soundtrack of an 80s arcade game – except it’s extremely unsettling. Aesop comes in over enveloping instrumentation and immediately bombards the listener with dark imagery of 1984; references to Orwell, David Bowie, ketamine, pentagrams, heavy metal, and Satanism, are rained down upon the listener.
This barrage momentarily ceases as Aes declares: “Pay attention/ Here’s where the whole thing sours/ And goes from intriguing to wowzers.” – lift off.
Aes then launches into an incredibly detailed recount of the Ricky Kasso story; a true tale of gory murder occurring in Northport, Suffolk County, New York (Aesop’s neighbourhood) in ’84. The narrative describes Ricky Kasso – a disturbed, drug-dealing teenage delinquent with a penchant for metal music, Satan worshipping and psychedelic substances [the Acid King] – and his encounter with fellow 17-year-old, Gary Lauwers.
After pickpocketing 10 bags of angel dust from Kasso at a party, Lauwers finds himself alone in the woods with – and on the wrong side of – Ricky and his associates. After a few hits of LSD, Ricky Kasso would go on to brutally attack Lauwers, murdering him in cold blood while screaming: “say you love Satan, say you love Satan!” Kasso would later say he was told by the Devil himself (assuming the form of a Crow) to commit the act.
The outcome? His accomplices arrested, a short time after being detained by local PD, Ricky Kasso committed suicide by hanging while in custody. The entire affair drew national attention and widespread condemnation of heavy metal culture (Kasso being an avid Black Sabbath fan among others), bringing much hysteria and the usual calls for censorship.
With a violence reminiscent of the grisly deed, Aesop segues into a jarringly elegant retelling of the entire affair, all delivered over the increasingly unnerving soundscape.
Aes breathlessly cascades one raw detail after another: “Along came a spider with two of his friends/ It was into the woods, a delusional mess/ Four kids dipped in a black hole bath/ June 16th; Kasso snaps.”
Sonically, ‘Acid King’ is appropriately nightmarish as the vocals are layered with a demonic echo. Pinging off the absurd instrumental, it feels like Aesop and Tobacco are telling this story directly to you. Only, they are illuminated by a campfire and are viscerally describing deranged cruelty with nihilistic stoicism: “Just cave to the facelift/ 32 stab wounds/ Gouged out eyes/ Burns on his skin, not a cloud in the sky.”
This isn’t the first time Aesop Rock has referenced the Kasso incident, spitting a cursory line on ‘Catacomb Kids’ (from 2007’s None Shall Pass): “But they’d look at us like swindlers with them Ricky Kasso jitters.”
His revisit on ‘Acid King’, however, departs with a thoughtful pondering: “Some say Kasso was part of a cult/ But I’m sure there was more than we’re told/ More than adults or authority could rightly decode/ Or maybe I’m wrong and he’s finally home, KASSO.” A nod to the ignorance of the time regarding mental illness and Kasso’s possibly undiagnosed psychological conditions?
Further still, the outro gives more food for thought: “It’s starting to feel like a nice night/ Hold close to the highs and the white light/ Hold close to the good you were drawn to/ These woods were grown to disarm you.” It’s a veiled warning – are any of us really sure who we are underneath it all? Perhaps we’re all slowly decaying like Malibu Ken.
‘Acid King’ is a blistering scorch mark of a single, evidencing the heat and intensity of Aesop Rock’s storytelling and the depravity of Tobacco’s production. If this is an indicator of what’s to feature on Malibu Ken, prepare for heat and intensity, just don’t expect much light.
Ricky Kasso jitters indeed.
Malibu Ken is due to be released January 18th, 2019, on Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Pre-order the project HERE