Jogging and fucking. Those are the recommended uses for rapper Aesop Rock’s new opus, “All Day.” Commissioned for Nike+’s Original Run series, an apparently über-hip subdivision of the footwear and sportswear giant (previous releases in the series, which is available on iTunes, include exclusive works by the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem), “All Day” is 44 minutes and 48 seconds of ever-shifting musical landscapes, designed for listening during constantly-changing terrain.
The song’s length is just about right for a cardio-pumping training session — as joggers undoubtedly know, it takes roughly forty minutes of sweaty pavement-pounding to achieve your optimal heart rate — but, unlike most hip-hop songs, “All Day” is also suitable for an aerobic bedroom workout as well.
Though there are lyrics, they come and go quickly, like traffic lights or road signs. Clever couplets like Bass in your face and an ace in the sleeve repeat like a mantra, but Aesop’s voice is just another instrument in the mix, along with turntable scratching and live guitar. The focus remains on the beat, which stays interesting throughout, a remarkable achievement considering that most hip-hop songs played on the radio average about three or four minutes — even the extended twelve-inch version of “Rapper’s Delight” topped out at fifteen minutes. Sure, there have been long-ass hip-hop megamixes totaling twenty or forty minutes, but while those stitched together numerous songs into a reasonably thematic whole, “All Day” isn’t just another cut ‘n’ paste sample-a-thon or breakbeat collage, but an original composition that works as, well, a composition. With its release, Aesop Rock adds yet another feather to his cap; no longer is he just an alt.rap icon — he’s now an honest-to-God avant-garde composer, whose work can be compared to Jean-Michel Jarre, Philip Glass, and DJ Spooky.
Just don’t tell him that. In a phone interview, Aesop (who currently lives in San Francisco) confesses that although the project is different from any he’s ever done before, he doesn’t exactly think of himself as a composer yet. “Oh, God. I don’t know. I hope so, but I don’t know,” he says in true slacker fashion.
When Aesop first was asked to do the project, he “spent a day or two thinking I was in over my head.” Nike gave him only minimal direction: “The only guidance I got from them was, like, a seven-minute warm-up, and then a thirty-minute body, and a seven-minute cool-down section. I was like, ‘Alright, how fast do you want it?’ They were like, ‘We want you to do whatever you do.'” Compounding his dilemma, he was given only a short time to complete the work, which happened to coincide with his deadline for turning in his latest solo album to Def Jux.
That was a lot of pressure, but it challenged him to go outside his comfort zone and think differently about his creative process. The song contains samples, “but it’s not what the music is based around, whereas usually I would sample something and start there,” he says. After mulling things over, Aesop decided, “I need a chilled-out bassline to start this thing and started there.” Every day, he’d tinker around with synthesizer and bass riffs, while his wife added guitar parts. His main goal was to keep the music lively. “Anything that’s approximately the same tempo for 45 minutes can seem pretty, ah, boring,” he says. Having a framework was refreshing, “because I don’t usually have rules.”
Ultimately, Aesop made seven different sections, or movements (in classical composing terms), which meshed melodically. “I made sure they were in keys that would all go together well,” he says. “All Day” chugs along at a brisk 112 beats per minute for most of its length, surging to a sprintlike 120 at its peak before slowing for its cooldown finale. As with Vangelis’ theme from Chariots of Fire or Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky, “All Day” helps with the mental part of the training process — as important to an athlete’s conditioning as getting in top-notch physical shape. “It needed to be something that would inspire you to do this and serve a function,” Aesop says.
Ironically, Aesop Rock himself isn’t a jogger. “I don’t run. At all,” he says with a laugh, and he remains mum on whether he’s tested the song during romantic interludes, although he notes his wife — who clocks three miles daily — did give him feedback. Making “All Day” forced him to think like a composer, yet it’s safe to say he’s not quite ready to trade in his hoodie for tails and a tux and start hobnobbing with Michael Tilson Thomas anytime soon. Still, the song stands as a testament to what can happen when hip-hop artists think outside the box and get creative. In that sense, “All Day” is all good.