Aeon Grey is an artist who just recently hit my radar. A multi-talented rapper/producer and veteran of the Des Moines, Iowa hip hop collective Maxilla Blue, Grey’s creative use of live instrumentation (especially guitar) is the hallmark of the sound of his new album Lead Breakfast. Reportedly seven years in the making, Lead Breakfast has a polished feel relative to typical underground hip hop albums. Aeon may not be the most talented rapper in the world, but he more than makes up for any lack of versatility or skill with an incredible attention to detail. This allows him to layer his verses with a lot of clever wordplay and concepts that reward repeat listening. The production is the first thing that grabs your attention, but Aeon’s visual couplets reveal him as a talented and thoughtful writer. Aeon’s full commitment to the project is evident, as every song stands on its own, but they work even better together and form a world that truly encapsulates the listener. Lead Breakfast is the sound of a confident artist throwing his cards on the table and not holding anything back.
Even though it has been over half a decade in the making, Lead Breakfast sounds like it was made in and for the present. Several of the prominent themes found on Cult Favorite’s album of the year contender For Madmen Only pop up here as well. Aeon rhymes about avoiding complacency over the blaring trumpet of the opener “Bleedout.” T-he hard hitting “Orphan Donor” finds Grey explaining why he has no desire to follow anyone who promises the notion of forever in exchange for belief. Rappers have been mixing philosophical wisdom into their rhymes for years, but MC’s like Aeon Grey and Elucid incorporate philosophy into their work on both a micro and macro level, demonstrating how a person’s environment affects their perspective and how an awareness of one’s environment can lead to wisdom. Aeon has a lot of questions he asks of himself and of the world and he encourages listeners to do the same.
While Lead Breakfast is packed with rhymes designed to make you think, its driving production makes sure it hits you on a guttural level as well. Several songs have instrumental breakdowns and irregular song structures giving the LP a psychedelic feel. “Madness” and “High Calibre” immediately stood out because of their endlessly enjoyable beats. “Madness” employs a crunchy guitar riff and looping feedback before ending with a guitar solo complete with spacey effects. Aeon pleas for people to “just act human” in this world where “We devour car payment debt in our aging skin/ and starve age from kids like they’re the ones that need to adjust”. Grey’s menacing beat for “High Calibre” is matched by his equally menacing delivery. His tightly packed, wordplay-rich flow on the song is his best vocal performance on the album and puts him in the same pocket as other information overload MC’s like El-P and billy woods. It’s the type of song where it’s impossible to catch all the great lines on the first few spins, but even after the first verse of the first listen it’s easy to pick up on the level of skill on display.
Aeon Grey shows throughout Lead Breakfast that he’s more than capable of holding down an album by himself, but he’s also at home rocking alongside other MC’s. Only two tracks feature guests, but they serve as two of the best songs on the album. “About Time” reunites Aeon with his partner from Maxilla Blue, Asphate Woodhavet. The song is the closest the album comes to a traditional hip hop banger, and the duo use the up-tempo production as a display of their creative rhyme schemes and wordplay. The album’s closer “Wizard’s Curtain” serves as a posse cut of sorts featuring two of his label mates from Uncommon Records, Short Fuze and Taiyamo Denku. The song’s sick bass line and stabbing piano chords make it my favorite production on an album filled with great beats. All three MC’s bring their A-game and give the label a signature song that closes Lead Breakfast leaving the listener wanting more.
If you’re tired of rappers who “live life nearsighted on the wave of a trend” and are looking for some truly progressive hip hop, Aeon Grey’s Lead Breakfast is an album you need to hear. Go pick it up over at Uncommon Records’ Bandcamp for 7.99 and find out why.
Written by John Bugbee