When most people move to a new city, they send the Post Office a forwarding notice and try to cobble together a decent housewarming party with the two people they know from college. By contrast, New York white-boy rapper Aesop Rock relocated to San Francisco this month, promptly packed a five-hundred-plus-capacity venue with pro skaters and artists, then gave the proceeds to kids who want to read good and do other things good as well.
"I love promoting this shit. Creative writing. Drawing. All that shit," he tells the sweaty, tired crowd halfway through his July 6 benefit at the Independent. Each fan paid $17 to see Aesop help out 826 Valencia, a nonprofit reading lab in San Francisco's Mission District created by best-selling author Dave Eggers and his cohorts. Dozens of local kids study at the 1,500-square-foot pirate store/classroom every day. Aesop says he wanted to help, because his own public school wasn't into "drawing and writing and shit."
The thirty-year-old former waiter moved West this summer to be with his girlfriend six years into a career marked by five acclaimed LPs and one heavy hit, "Daylight." It's been five years since dawn broke on Labor Days, yet people still know its biggest chorus word for word, unlike most songs in his tongue-twisting repertoire. "I'm going to be sixty years old, singing 'Daylight,'" Aesop moaned at a past appearance.
And he's still griping about it: "I'm a fucking 'Daylight' jukebox," raps the bearded boy in Yankees cap, orange T-shirt, saggy jeans, gray plaid boxer shorts, and black leather Nikes with orange trim. The crowd again shouted for his big hit. "Don't worry, you'll get it," he promises with a laugh before detouring through more recent material from 2005's Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives. In the meantime, he exposes the West Coast kids to his two Bronx peers: Rob Sonic, a huge white dude with okay raps and a distended stomach; and DJ Big Whiz, who is significantly smaller, but has some of the best scratching skills around.
Yet aside from Whiz' scratching and some fresh freestyling about "ghostriding the whip" and "hyphy," the rest of the show is far less spectacular. Commands to "jump the fuck up" get a 10 percent approval rating. The No. 4 song of the night, "Maybe" by Rob Sonic, is dead on arrival. And although Aesop does perform his hits, he runs through them without even the punch of the studio versions. "Lucy," his second-biggest hit, can be a poignant lesson in living your dreams, but he methodically pounds it out and moves on.
Knowing the people are here for "Daylight," Aesop saves it until the last possible minute: after the skate video with artist Jeremy Fish, sponsored by Element Skateboards with a tangential art show at Upper Playground. By this point it's apparent that when Ace Rock moves to our town, he is already five hundred times cooler than we'll ever be, yet we are not offended. Hit song, please?
12:15 a.m. Friday, July 7: Female members of the crowd are now collapsing from heat exhaustion and vodka cranberries. Finally, Whiz cues up the meandering bass riff, slow and muted snare hits, and horn flourishes that accent "Daylight." Aesop launches into his percussive and literate stream-of-consciousness raps, emerging deep-voiced for a clean coda: You won't be laughing when your covered wagons crash/You won't be laughing when the buses drag your brother's flags into rags/You won't be laughing when your front lawn is spangled with epitaphs/You won't be laughing!
The whole crowd shouts along with the final verse's Life's not a bitch/life is a beautiful woman/You only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy/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.
Sweet-talk the princess indeed, Rock. You got the girl, the gig, and the friends. The only thing missing is a new hit to end the "Daylight" curse. Let's hope the change of address and summer fog will help.
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