Monday, March 4, 2013

A is for Aceyalone - "The Book of Human Language"

Aceyalone - The Book of Human Language

I was first introduced to this album a long time ago by either Newsweek or Time magazine.  All I remember was that they did a list of the 25 greatest hip hop albums of all time.  Now I know that magazines like these tend to have a skewed idea of what hip hop is but I found that I respected their list, mainly because it listed Erik B and Rakim's "Paid In Full" number one.  Also on the list was a random album by a guy I never had heard of named Aceyalone.  The album is "The Book of Human Language."  In the years that I've had it on my i-tunes, I have never listened to it.  Mostly because I'm too busy looking for more new stuff.  I'm a historian, which means I should be better at appreciating the art of the past more and not ignoring it while I dig for the greatness of the future.

Acey starts the album with a low key intro that helps get you calm.  It relaxes you just enough, similar to the manner that you would relax yourself before you sit down to read a book.  It's a perfect start.  It ends with the disclaimer that "this song right here did not make my album, but it's my mfing theme song."  The end beat becomes the beat for...

"Guidelines" is how you start an album.  Effortless is the best way to describe the lyrical flow.  The beat is complete and fluid.  From the start you can feel the growth of the artist and appreciate the time put into the refinement of his skills.  "My attempts to redefine your hip hop guidelines."  As I listen to this, I hope that the album can live up the guidelines.  The use of simile is unbelievable.  I truly applaud this opening track.  Following this track is "Contents," which in essence is a quick interlude in which Acey runs down and names all the tracks for the album.

"Even the matador doesn't pull the bull by the horn."  The opening verse for "The Balance," is very much a yin-yang story.  For every positive, he gives the balanced negative.   What I love about this track is the smoothness of everything.  I love the congo/bongo drums used for the background beat.  I grew up listening to go-go music from the DC area, so I love the drums.  Plus, the intricate piano usage at the end to help finish the song is nicely done.  Right away you can tell that this album was given a true and honest use of time and effort.

Two things about "The Energy."  First, I love how the track finishes with the title of the following track and jumps right into it.  Secondly, this track is everything I love about hip hop.  It starts with a beat that reminds me of a Jeru the Damaja track.  Then the lyrics begin, and more importantly, they don't end until the track finishes.  That is true lyricism.  Throw in the fact that the beat stops and begins at different times while Aceyalone keeps on pushing.  This shows his energy and it is full and flowing.

(all I could find was this live version.)
"The Hurt" is given a tough task and that is following "The Energy."  I don't really feel that it has matched the majority of the album so far, mostly because it continues his usage of slam poetry mcing.  The opening of "The Hold" is pretty nice.  I like the use of snare drums in beats and a solid bass string.  "The Hold" is a lesson of what happens when we hold on too tight as well as the benefit of letting go of the things we hold onto.  "No matter what my opinion is, it's all strenuous."  This track is one of those lessons about life that everyone wants to give us, but we can never learn unless we go through it.  I really like the beat for this track.  "The Wall & Window" title reminds me of a totally different song by someone else.  "The walls have ears, the windows have eyes, and a dead man tells no lies."  A creepy way to start a track only to be followed by an ominous beat is how this track begins.  Acey gives us the story of everything that walls and windows have done, literally.  Giving reference to the Berlin Wall and how eyes are the "windows" into the soul.  The amazing thing about Aceyalone on this track, and throughout, is his ability to take the literal meaning of the title and give you every single possible reference to said words.

"The Jabberwocky" meets us just about halfway.  It is a deep voiced story about the Jabberwocky.  It sounds similar to Jeru the Damaja's character "Ignorance" from the track "You Can't Stop the Prophet."  The album so far could have done without this little interlude.

The voice actually provides the intro to a strongly beat drum for "The Grandfather Clock."  The lyrics remind us that man can do all he can to control the world, but the time and tide waits for no man.  "Tick tock, my grandfather clock goes..."  The beat reminds me of a metronome beating on time to let you know that you are off beat.  I like the somewhat Poeish darkness of this track.

"The Reason" helps lighten the mood from the previous tracks.  With an old school organ and horns sound playing in the background, this might be the one time I'm happy to hear a spoken word track.  Nicely done, my friend, nicely done.  "I was born!!" helps us welcome in "The March."  It is a track about marching against others and deciding who you would march for.  "The Vision" gives us another poetry slam verse about life and what Aceyalone sees.  The clarinet, I think, is a nice addition to the beat as well.

While I listen to this, I realize certain things.  First, this album is a true lesson on how to use the human language.  It reminds me of a book about the history of the English language.  Aceyalone provides a graduate school lesson on it and there are very few that will ever understand everything that he says.  Secondly, whoever listed this album as a top 25 all time deserves to have drinks bought for them for the rest of their lives.  This album is unbelievable.  I still have 5 tracks to listen to but feel that I can not do it justice to explain anything left.

This album should be owned by anyone who says they love hip hop.  If you have never owned Raekwon's seminal masterpiece "Only Built For Cuban Linx," or The Purple Tape, then don't talk to me about hip hop.  Now, I can add a secondary argument.  If you have never heard "The Book of Human Language," then never talk to me about how dope an emcee is.

It is a shame that this album doesn't get the true respect it deserves.  Maybe that might be why it is a masterpiece. To never be understood in your time, but to be a lasting influence on the lives of others for many generations is a goal very few can accomplish.  If you are an aspiring emcee and you want to understand how depth and creativity and genius all can live together in one individual in one album, then "The Book of Human Language" is the first "book" you should read.

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