About ten years ago, my tastes in rap music took a severe left turn. I became enamored with the “Undie” movement. It was around that time that I discovered Aesop Rock. After reading a favorable review of his album Labor Days in an issue of Entertainment Weekly, I went out and bought a copy. It ultimately proved too eccentric for my tastes. Though I eventually moved on to other things, I never totally turned my back on underground/independent Hip-Hop. That open mindedness has allowed Aesop’s new video, “ZZZ Top,” to show up on my radar.
Perhaps my tastes have grown more eccentric over the past ten years, because Aesop sounds much more accessible now than he did back in 2001. This is due, in large part, to the production. The erratic drum pattern is looped into an extended solo, giving it the classic feel of breakbeat. Overall, the track emanates a gritty 70’s rock ambience which is enhanced by electric guitars. The lyrics are impenetrably abstract, though Aesop’s rapid fire flow makes his word collages go down relatively easy.
If the opening titles don’t reveal the video as a clear homage to 70’s exploitation cinema and martial arts flicks, the plot most certainly does. It has Aesop playing bodyguard and chauffeur to an unassuming woman (Patti Li) whom he drops off at a night job in an empty warehouse. Once inside, she’s accosted by a group of goons who begin to violently interrogate her. Meanwhile, Aesop realizes that his client has left her belongings in the car and urgently doubles back to return them. Shortly thereafter, the little lady is reveled to be much more than she seems.
Homages of this type need competent people both in front of and behind the camera to be truly successful. To this end, director Pete Lee has aligned himself with martial arts instructor Patti Li and fight choreographer Vlad Rimburg. The three prove to be an unstoppable trio, crafting a mini tribute to a small handful of martial arts classics. The warehouse setting instantly calls to mind The Raid: Redemption. The throwing knives play like a parody of Bruce Lee’s wooden darts in Way of the Dragon. They also facilitate to the single best moment in the entire video.
“ZZZ Top” isn’t suited for all tastes, but it will surely please the fringe audience it’s aimed at. It belongs to the same tradition as the Spike Jonze clip for “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. It also shares space with other similarly themed (though largely forgotten) videos, such as the ones for Jeru’s “Ya Playing Yourself,” and RZA’s “Tragedy.” Undie rap might not be the most listenable form of Hip-Hop around, but it’s always good for pleasant surprises such as “ZZZ Top.”