Hail Mary Mallon - Are You Gonna Eat That?
Record Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: May 3rd / June 7th, 2011 (Digital / Physical)
In the early 1900s, a woman by the name of Mary Mallon was identified as the first healthy carrier of the typhoid virus in the United States. As she moved from place to place, those around her would mysteriously fall ill with the disease and, although she sought to help them after they were afflicted, her presence only made things worse. When she was first approached by typhoid researchers, she stubbornly refused to submit herself to their tests, as the very idea of a healthy carrier was preposterous in that day and age. She was placed in forced quarantine at various points in her life, but refused to give up her job as a cook the few times she was released from custody. For the last 23 years of her life, the woman known as Typhoid Mary was held in isolated quarantine. Her body, still dangerous even in death, was cremated and her ashes were buried in the Bronx.
So what does this have to do with hip-hop? I have no freaking clue.
But Aesop Rock is no stranger to odd stories, and he's definitely put his own unique spin to this already over-the-top tale. The former Def Jux alum is known mainly for his laid back delivery of abstract lyrics that paint landscapes of dense subject matter. While his words may be hard to follow at times, the moment you realize they're more than just nonsensical ramblings is a thing of a beauty. As Hail Mary Mallon, he's teamed up with long-time collaborator Rob Sonic, who's intense lyricism provides the perfect kick that Aesop sometimes lacks. Backed up by scratches courtesy of DJ Big Wiz, the group's debut has finally seen the light of day after first being teased back in 2009.
While the subject matter is rather dark in nature, the ride through Are You Gonna Eat That? isn't always a heavy one. Most of the production carries both an eerie vibe and a unique liveliness that makes each trip through the album as contagious as the first. Album opener “Church Pants” uses delay effects and spoken word samples with great success, and first introduces the fascinating duality that comes with combining two artists of this calibre. The effects disappear and crescendo with the beginning of each verse, creating an interesting upbeat atmosphere that stands at odds with the intense lyricism.
The album's first single “Smock” makes an appearance near the midpoint, pairing with the next track “The Poconos” as two of Are You Gonna Eat That?'s heaviest hitters. The former is a heavy track that barrels onto its conclusion behind ambient production and the typical lucid lyricism both musician's are known for. The latter continues the pattern, adding a bit more cymbal and synth to create a bouncing anthem rife with sacrilegious symbolism. Like Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic themselves, these two tracks are similar enough that their combination doesn't feel forced, but differ enough to offer something new as the track switches.
After an odd interlude to talk about the titular “Breakdance Beach,” the album's brightest highlight breaks onto the scene. “Table Talk” features a repetitive, almost paranoid beat peppered with the usual voice samples the album uses sporadically. While the emotion and bounce of the song are a bit different than what Aesop has produced in the past, it seems he feels most at home lyrically on this track. His evolution since the release of his last full-length in 2007 becomes apparent during his verses as he spits some of the best lines of his career with reckless abandon.
Are You Gonna Eat That? ends strong. “Knievel” opens with a clip of the daredevil himself talking about one of his crazier stunts, the beat interrupting him with the help of DJ Big Wiz's signature erratic record scratches. The track itself is a very atmospheric piece that draws influence from more industrial music pieces. The samples are oppressive and tend to overshadow the lyrics from time to time, probably because the verses themselves aren't much to write home about. Still, “Knievel” crashes with an enjoyable bulkiness that makes it hard to write off. But the definite stand out track in the album's second half is “Mailbox Baseball.” It benefits the most from DJ Big Wiz's influence, as his scratches form the basis for most of the production. It's also on this track that Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic find the sweet spot in terms of their shared vocals, riffing off each other skillfully while also forming their own identities on the track. Are You Gonna Eat That? ends just as it began, with an intense permanence that's hard to ignore.
While the artists involved are far from being rookies to the hip-hop game, Hail Mary Mallon created something special within the confines of their debut album. Are You Gonna Eat That? carries numerous references to a bygone era, but the lessons we can apply to our modern society are innumerable. Lyrically, Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic have never been stronger, and they play off each other with a unique composure that's rare nowadays. The production from track to track varies enough to keep things interesting, but it unfortunately begins to bleed together after multiple listens. Still, Are You Gonna Eat That? is an amazing return to the scene for both artists, and their continuing presence only means positive things for the underground hip-hop scene.