Few emcees have dominated the underground like Aesop Rock. Beginning his career in the late 1990s, the New York rapper found a home in hip-hop after a few independent releases made waves and landed him a deal with El-P’s (of Run The Jewels) Definitive Jux. The label, which is currently on hiatus, helped grow Aesop’s career to where listeners of all backgrounds can be amazed by the rapper’s dense, cryptic rhymes.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the rapper now has a deal with Rhymesayers Entertainment, who boasts artists like Brother Ali, Atmosphere, MF Doom and more. After his Definitive Jux days, Rock stayed in touch with several of his rhyming cohorts, and one of those artists would get in the studio with the lyrical wordsmith to form a group by the name of Hail Mary Mallon.
The group is named after Typhoid Mary, the first American patient to be asymptomatically diagnosed with typhoid fever. While the purpose for that name may be lost, the fact that emcees Rob Sonic and Aesop Rock teamed up only made sense. Both rappers work off of each other’s rhymes like hip-hop’s greatest duos, and their grimy, loud production gives way for exciting, speaker-blowing hip-hop.
On Feb. 27, Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic landed in Philadelphia to perform at Union Transfer, with opening acts Grimace Federation and Stones Throw artist Homeboy Sandman. The crowd was slow to gather, but by the time Grimace Federation’s set was in full swing, the audience had escaped the bitter cold outside to bask in the cascading electronic warmth of the duo on stage.
One member played the guitar and handled the computer elements, while another slammed on a drum set holding the audience’s scarcely averting attention. Lush production melded with heavy hip-hop influenced drum breaks and at each song transition, the crowd cheered and applauded this new sound.
After their set, the floor and deck at Union Transfer was packed. Anxious onlookers awaited Aesop Rock’s arrival. But before they could be gifted with one of hip-hop’s great underground legends, fellow underground rapper Homeboy Sandman took to the stage. For those that don’t know Homeboy Sandman, he’s an acquired taste, with a harsher style and a more punchy delivery. Unfortunately, it seemed that the rapper’s familiarity was far from commonplace in this surprisingly young crowd. After a set of Sandman’s screams and brash vocals, by the end of his set, concertgoers were eager to see the rapper exit stage right.
The audience’s tolerance would be rewarded, however, as it was mere minutes before the stars of the show took center stage. After a brief intermission, both Aesop Rock and partner-in-crime Rob Sonic casually walked on stage and quickly got into their set. The two handed off bars to each other as they worked their way through songs off of their latest album, “Bestiary,” as well as their first LP, “Are You Going To Eat That?”
At times Rob Sonic took the helm and performed solo tracks; other times Aesop played classic and obvious fan-favorites such as “None Shall Pass” and “Citronella.” Many tracks from Rock’s most recent albums “Skelethon” and “None Shall Pass” received stage time and the fans loved every second of it. You could pick out the avid fans in the crowd jumping and shouting bars seemingly haphazardly, although understandably because anyone who listens to a verse by Aesop Rock can see how difficult it is to memorize, let alone recite.
DJ Abilities was on the ones and twos and received a lot of attention from Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. At many points throughout the show, Abilities was awarded a few moments to cut and scratch records while the crowd applauded. At one point, Rock and Sonic sat off on the side for roughly 10 minutes while DJ Abilities spun a sort of wondrous audio collage.
By now, audience members had to be adjusted to the bone-shaking vibrations blaring from the speakers thanks to the bass-heavy production on songs like “Jonathan,” “Kiln” and many others off of the “Bestiary” album. Once Hail Mary Mallon took the stage, there was rarely a dull moment.
As the show ended, fans roared and brought the two emcees out for an encore that properly closed the night out. Fans retreated to the concession stand where t-shirts, CDs, vinyls and even a limited edition cassette by Homeboy Sandman awaited.
What’s more is that the few stragglers (including myself) who hung out after the show met an amazing opportunity. Aesop, Rob and Homeboy Sandman all came out to greet and take pictures with fans. Rather casually, the artists walked up to fans and thanked them for coming out while consequently causing lines to form for autographs. Just by the spirit of being that personal with fans shows how down-to-earth these talented artists are, and it put a really nice touch on the end of the show.
Hail Mary Mallon’s album is one of a kind and definitely a vibrant and fresh release in today’s hip-hop market. The tour only added to their appeal and gave Philadelphia fans a taste of the underground legend and much more. So now you know that the next time Aesop Rock comes to the city of brotherly love, head out, enjoy the show, and stick around — you might just get to meet one of hip-hop’s greats.