Down From a Huntable Surplus to One: Aesop Rock’s “Zero Dark Thirty”


On July 10, 2012, Aesop Rock released his sixth studio album, Skelethon, through Rhymesayers Entertainment. Paired with introspective lyrics and self-production, Skelethon showcases not only the maturity of Aes as an artist, but an awareness of the responsibility that co-insides with it. Even at the surface level of the album, the name and the artwork, this is made clear. Derived from the words “skeleton” and “thon”, the title suggests a progression; over time, one peels back the layers of his or her own self, exposing a foundation, true self. The artwork, a cartoon depiction of a crouching skeletal feline, directs the title. In such a form, one can attack, dispense his or her powers effectively. Dispensed effectively, the powers will live on far longer than the dispenser. Aesop Rock pulls back the layers of the past to create the mature, honest record that is Skelethon, one which is sure to stand the test of time. “Zero Dark Thirty,” the first single off of the album, is testament.

The title of the track “Zero Dark Thirty,” is a reference to military time; running on a twenty-four time system, the military refers to any time after midnight as zero dark thirty. Knowing this, one can infer that perhaps the song deals with some sort of darkness or other things pertaining to it. In hearing the song, inference concertizes as fact, for it opens with an ominous loop of a man stating, “They did not know how long they had been there.” Shortly after, interesting breakbeat drums kick in, a staple in traditional hip-hop, followed by heavy, dark synth. At the thirty-second mark, Aesop Rock enters with an intricate, cryptic flow.

In the first verse of the song, Aes introduces not only himself as an MC, but his argument as well:

Unsigned hype
Front line aeronauts flurry
Zero dark thirty
Zero friends minotaur-fugly stepchild
Evoke lunch jumped over plunging necklines
Up, beside tongue-tied hungry enzymes
Devolved into mothmen munching textiles

He demands the attention of the “unsigned hype,” the younger generation of up and coming artists. While they are on the ground, the beginning of their careers, he is in the air, an “aeronaut” at “zero dark thirty,” a dark time for hip-hop as a genre. The word “flurry” describes the number of “aeronauts,” very few. The line, “Zero friends minotaur-fugly stepchild,” individuates Aes an MC; he is unique. The lines, “Evoke lunch jumped over plunging necklines / Up, beside tongue-tied hungry enzymes / Devolved into mothmen munching textiles,” describe how his music, represented through the image of vomiting, spitting, is classified in the same genre as those who have the potential to be creative and impactful. Instead of being so, these people act as parasites, destroying the very fabric of the genre.

Aes continues by calling himself a “punisher” and calling for a hunt against these “mothmen.” He claims:

Smoke out moles like a force of nature
Pray fortune return to his favor
Maybe in the form of a nest egg
Maybe in the form of a tesla death ray
Or a solid gold scene with something better to celebrate
Than powder on a face like a flatfoot on jelly day
M-m-moral compass all batshit
Spinning in the shadows of immoral magnets
Are we supporting the artist or enabling the addict
I mean, I guess it matters to me
I wish it mattered to you
How a thousand virtues
Kick the same bucket like Chinatown turtles

Aesop Rock refers to the younger generation of artists as “moles” in the second half of the verse, animals that also destroy foundation. Not to mention, they have very small eyes, they cannot see the bigger picture. By hunting these creatures, he hopes that he will receive some kind of compensation, whether it be money, a raygun to make his hunt easier, or a moral hip-hop scene. The current scene celebrates drugs “powder on a face,” an indication of a loss of virtue that once existed in hip-hop, “kicking the same bucket like Chinatown turtles.”

After the first verse, the hook is introduced:

Roving packs of elusive young become
Choke-lore writers over boosted drums

In the terrifying face of a future tongue
Down down from a huntable surplus to one

The younger generation of hip-hop “artists” is strong, growing in numbers each and every day. The immorality of these youngsters is further affirmed by the term “choke-lore.” In the midst of all of this, Aesop Rock finds himself as the last member of a dying scene. In my research, I stumbled across a not-so credible website that said during the chorus, he samples Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.” Although I am unsure of this, it could possibly lend itself to the meaning of the song.

Following the hook, the second verse commences. This verse encapsulates the extent of his feelings on the issue at hand. Through his work ethic, one which is in full force on this self-produced album, he will get his point across and create great art. Afterall, he is a “Boys room cherry bomb.” Although the whole verse is interesting, the following lines, the middle of the verse, are particularly interesting:

Here’s where a tale of caution
Pounds coffin nails
To bootlegs of Hawkwind, saw tooth
Nevermind straw to gold
Spin hearts on sleeves into heads on poles
Arm in the maw
Fish out pith like a business card from a jar at the mall
A-alike androids dreaming of carbon applause
Get stuffed with cartoon cigars

While Aes has expressed his feelings towards the young, immoral face of hip-hop, he suggests that those who heed it, heed it and prosper. If one heeds it, they may be inspired to imitate others, means of successfully expressing immorality. In the end, this will blow up in the face of the person who does this. By exposing this problem, Aesop Rock has his “arm in the maw,” and pulls heart out of it effortlessly; he maintains moral composure in a dark, immoral scene and thrives because of it. The hook repeats once more and the song ends.

Despite being written by my favorite MC of all time, “Zero Dark Thirty” is very special to me for other reasons. I feel as though it describes the manifestation of a much larger problem into a mere genre of music. The genre of hip-hop is a faction of modern American society, therefore it is a reflection of societal ideology. Unfortunately, this ideology is an immoral one. Immorality is praised and rewarded, while morality often falls to the wayside. As one who as a great passion for creative thought and work, I feel as though what I have created will and will create in the future will go left unnoticed because it was created with morality in mind, or even worse, be recognized and wrongfully grouped with the immoral. These fears are not held with my own well-being in mind, but the well-being of humankind. Creativity is the fuel of humanity and if it is continuously mishandled or even stunted the way that it is today, humankind will cease to progress, or perhaps even exist. Like Aesop Rock, all one can do is create moral, meaningful art in the face of adversity, effecting enough people to hopefully shape society.

P.S. If you’ve never heard of Aesop Rock until now, check him out. He is a genius in the highest sense of the word and his music will change your life.


One comment

  1. Before reading your description, the video of the song made me want to turn it off. I found the lyrics hard to understand and quite frankly the beat and rhythm too intrusive, even obnoxious. However your description provided insight into the story that was being told within the song. I enjoyed his comparison of young artists and moles and I would dare to say that this metaphor can be used to describe all young people, not just artists. I believe that today’s, youth are too self- consumed, only worried about what benefits them, and “cannot see the bigger pictures” as you have claimed the newer artists cannot. I agree that we needs to “hunt” these moles, however I was a little perturbed that Aesop Rock only wanted to hunt for some type of reward. I feel I possibly could have connected to the song better if the reward being received was a better society or hip-hop genre rather than money. In fact, I believe his wish for a reward for his duties to unveil some hypocrisy in his argument; he obviously is annoyed that newer artists cannot see the bigger pictures of their work, but isn’t his also blinding himself of the bigger picture of a moral hip-hop genre in asking for a reward?

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