Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, & DJ Big Whiz (aka Hail Mary Mallon) @ Altar Bar, 5/16

Published On May 18, 2011 | By Bonus Chopper | Music

When El-P decided it was time to put the trailblazing and seminal NYC-based Definitive Jux label on hiatus in February of 2010, it seemed, and felt, like the end of an era. For almost the entirety of the last decade, Def Jux’s active roster read like a lineup of the most esteemed underground rappers in the game, featuring the likes of Cage, Mr. Lif, Cannibal Ox, Del The Funky Homosapien, Rob Sonic and, last but not least, Aesop Rock.

Arguably, Aesop Rock embodied the label’s aesthetic even better than founder El-P, making his name by being the most verbose, esoteric MC out there, spitting head-spinning, strangely coherent rhymes over dense, left-field production (almost always provided by underground stalwart Blockhead). Now, a year removed from his former label’s “closure,” Rock finds himself readying a June 2011 release on Minneapolis hip-hop powerhouse Rhymesayers with fellow Def Jux refugee Rob Sonic and producer DJ Big Whiz under the moniker Hail Mary Mallon.

With the support of former Moldy Peaches front woman Kimya Dawson, the trio’s current tour (which curiously billed Aesop Rock as the headliner) stopped by the Strip District’s Altar Bar last night for a searing set of new material, old classics, and some truly intriguing collaborations.

At first glance, Kimya Dawson seems like an extremely unlikely pick to open for any hip-hop tour (let alone one with Def Jux alums), but the more she performed her quietly pointedly, brilliantly juvenile “anti-folk” (made most famous by her Juno OST), it was pretty obvious she fits right in with the left of center, uncompromising sound that Rock and Sonic have been trafficking in for years. Regardless, the jump in energy from Dawson’s low-key, emotionally bare song writing to the hardcore beats and rapid fire rhymes of Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic’s dynamic duo routine was large and welcome.

By the time Rock, Sonic, and DJ Big Whiz began sawing into the thick of their new Hail Mary Mallon album Are You Gonna Eat That? (including the first single “Smock” as well as previously unheard cuts “Meter Feeder,” “Breakdance Beach,” and “Church Pants”) with a fierce and intimidating technical proficiency, Dawson’s opening act seemed like hours ago. Rock and Sonic’s chemistry onstage was subtle but effective, and the complimentary differences between their flows (Rock is more cryptic, involved and dense,  while Sonic lets in some air between verses and constantly seems to be making cracks) provided a great dynamic for a performance or, more importantly, an album.

After the center of the show focused on new, unreleased material, the duo took on the classics from Rock’s back catalog, most notably: a brilliant, shout along version of “Daylight,” a remixed “No Regrets” (both from Labor Days), “Coffee/Pigs” and the farcical “Catacomb Kids” (both from None Shall Pass). Kimya Dawson came back on stage to perform a couple more songs with Rock (from a supposedly forthcoming collab album between the two) that showed her dexterous lyricism translate nicely into sturdy and celever rap verses. The set closed with a frantic rendering of the title track from None Shall Pass, which brought the audience to a fever pitch and put an exclamation point on a mesmerizing performance.

Even in the wake of Def Jux’s indefinite hiatus, it’s extremely heartening to see two of the label’s most prized MC’s producing and performing music that advances the aesthetic blueprint they helped create nearly a decade ago. And if it was any indication from this show, Hail Mary Mallon will hopefully become the project most die-hard Jukies have been waiting for: quick-witted, uncompromising, and perfectly intune with the frequencies of the underground.

Hail Mary Mallon – “Smock”

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