As kids, many people dream of becoming pro-athletes. And, even if these major league dreams don’t fully develop into tangibility, crumpled balls of paper are still hurled across the desks at mundane office jobs, in a fashion that is intended to embody expedited efficiency. And, if that makeshift basketball should swish into the wastebasket, something deep within these souls seems to oscillate in unison with the stars above. While no spectators are present to take-in these unofficial “three-pointers”, these self-appointed unsung heroes provide their own approval, emulating a crowd’s roar by widening their mouths and letting vast volumes of air fire out.
Like those whose dreams of stardom upon the court, ice or gridiron, never came to fruition, Slug and Aesop Rock probably fantasized about being rappers when they were kids. Sure, these two have albums that are housed within the “rap” section of record stores and sold right next to records yielded by Lil Wayne and 50 Cent. And yes, Slug and Aesop Rock are immensely talented when it comes to rhythmically placing words that rhyme next to each other in a cohesive manner. But to call them rappers? That’s questionable. When these two were growing up in Minneapolis and New York, respectively, I envision that Slug and Aesop Rock dreamed (and perhaps still dream) of rebellious 15 year-olds nervously sneaking copies of God Loves Ugly and Labor Days into their houses and into bedrooms where these records would be hidden beneath beds, dwelling among issues of Penthouse and skateboards adorned with skulls and heavy-metal fonts. While the pair have indeed dropped immensely deep and lyrically savvy albums, Slug has been monogamously wrapped up with the one that got away and even if Aesop Rock was referencing the most vile of sordid debauchery, he’s hidden it deeply beneath layers and layers of lyrical cypher–hardly stuff that would need to be hidden from moms. Slug and Aesop Rock rappers? At least not in the modern-day sense of the word.
However, while individually neither of these two embody a “rapper” in the way that Ice-T is a rapper, when unified, Felt–which was founded by Slug and partner-in-rhyme, Murs–might just be the project that thrusts these dudes up to “Rapper Status.” The Felt series was initially sparked by Murs and Slugs’ mutual desire to pollinate Christina Ricci. “The competition between me and Murs goes way back,” says Slug “when Murs and myself were coming up, Murs’ strengths lied where my weaknesses were and my strengths were where Murs was weak and we’d always rub that in each other’s faces; so, when it came down to the Christina Ricci-thing, Murs felt as if he had a better chance at [seducing] her, because he was a direct, assertive and aggressive kind of guy, whereas with me, I was like ‘nah chicks don’t go for that; Christina is going to go for me because I’m sensitive and I’ll rub her feet.’”
Since Ricci’s affection has been pursued on the original Felt, the Felt series–now three installments deep–have become some of the most heavily lauded sexual-conquests, rap music has ever yielded. Post-Ricci, Murs and Slug have aspired to acquire the affections of Lisa Bonet (Felt 2) and now, Rosie Perez on Felt 3. “I’ve never really wanted to literally create music that was inspired by Lisa Bonet, or Christina Ricci or Rosie Perez,” says Slug. “But, I’m pretty sure we were channeling Spike Lee through most of this record.” It also turns out that the Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican actress was the perfect muse for Aesop Rock–primarily known for his rapid fire lyrics– to daringly architect the entire sound for Felt 3. “I think I was the right pick for Felt 3 because I love her,” says Aesop Rock concisely and solemnly. “Maybe also because I’m from New York and Rosie’s from New York and once I saw her in a movie theater and thought she was hot.” Lusting aside, Aesop Rock also insists that his lyrical resume worked to benefit of his production of the album “I think it helps to have someone who raps make beats for you,” says Rock. “I can’t put a finger on it, but there’s something noticeably different about beats made by people that write raps as well as make beats.” Aesop Rock’s sonic landscape also suggests he’s just as determined to launch himself into Rapperhood as Slug: the double-entendre-powered “The Clap” is a quick club-friendly ode to STDs and “Bass For Your Truck” lays out bubbling guitars for Murs to whistle-blow on a predatory female and for Slug to roar perhaps the most extroverted chorus of his career. Aesop Rock also firmly asserts that his recent alliance with Murs and Slug spells that the competition to woo Perez is now a three-person duel.
In terms of escaping the pigeonholing limitations of hip-hop socio-economics, “extroverted” becomes an operative word for the Felt collective, “Im not sure I’m supposed to say this, so I’m not going to say it, I’m just going to fucking say it,” Slug winds up. “Felt is kind of the most insecure shit me and Murs have ever done. The confidence you hear me project is totally based in insecurity and it’s totally a part of the defense mechanism. I’ve always stayed focused on shielding that stuff from Atmosphere records because for some reason or another, I take myself too serious. Whereas with Felt, it’s where I get to let loose.” Compared to his melodic and, sometimes, melancholy tone on Atmosphere albums, songs like “Paul Reubens” and “She Sonnet” from Felt 3 hear Slug strap on his lyrical boxing gloves, perhaps sneaking a few quarters in-between his knuckles while he’s at it. Slug’s more ferocious delivery is tinged with a self-indulgent growl and projects a potentially-inherent confidence that’s never truly burst through when the Minneapolis-born MC has been outside of Felt. “When you hear me on Felt records projecting confidence, mojo, swagger or whatever you wanna fucking call it, it’s really coming from my lack of [confidence],” says Slug. “Felt is my chance to be a normal fucking MC and do the shit that other rappers always do: project bullshit to make you think that they’re cooler than they actually are.” “With Felt, I feel like we’re all insecure and we rap about insecure shit,” chimes in Aesop Rock. “But we’re getting really good at telling you about how insecure we are.”
Despite their foray into “Normal fucking MC”-inhabited territory, the Aesop Rock and Slug insist that the common man shan’t be forgotten; just the night before Felt 3‘s release, the trio threw on Santa Claus outfits to gather toys for Toys-for-Tots. “The vibe, at times, on this album has the bigger-than-life and indestructible feel” says Aesop Rock. “But all three of us started making music in our bedrooms and here we were in 2009, recording this album in an extra bedroom in my apartment and I like that, [Felt 3] makes the indestructible easier to identify with.”