Aceyalone’s Book of Human Language is the Best hip-hop album ever. This is not an opinion.
I remember when I first heard the album. My boy Neil used to send me tapes of stuff he got from Amoeba, Rasputin’s and Leopold’s during his excursions on BART back when he lived in Oakland. He sent me a Maxell cassette with the Slim Shady EP on one side and BOHL on the other.
At first, I was bumping the Eminem side because it was catchy. I played “Just the 2 of Us” and “Murder Murder” to the point that I cannot listen to them anymore. I tolerated BOHL on the other side, passing the time waiting on Eminem’s sick humor.
This goes to show you how imperfect I am. As a person who is almost snobbish in my lyrical passion, I slept HARD! I wanted an “All Balls Don’t Bounce” Part 2, and BOHL was not that. It was way more important and I was just too embarassingly stuck on stupid to see it.
I even recall talking to Neil on the phone and telling him about Acey’s sophomore slump. This was a decade ago. I could say I had a lot going on in my life at the time — but that is just an excuse. Music gets me through my day. It makes me smile when I should justifiably frown.
I slept HARD!
I cannot tell you when Acey’s concept clicked with me. I have no idea what I was doing. I recall “The Grandfather Clock” hitting me first:
If you knew what made me tick/ It would probably make you sick/ Lay my days of my life in front of you/ And I will let you take your pick… Pull back the curtains/ But make sure that you are certain/ That it will be worth the energy/ That you end up exertin.
I have felt that way for a long time. It was almost like I was speaking — but in a manner way more creative than anything I could muster. Thus, I had to listen to this album more attentively. “The Balance” hit me next. I was playing around with Capoeira at the time. The beat sounded like it incorporated the berimbau, and everyone knows that Capoeira is all about balance. A line in that song hit me like a ton of bricks: “Cause giving IS receiving and seeing IS believing.”
This was the time in my life where my Pantheism was evolving into atheism. I was pretty vocal about shunning beliefs and replacing them with facts. That line gave my thought process pause. I had to think about my stances a bit more — in a Neo/Morpheus kinda way. But it didn’t stop there!
“The orthodox IS the unorthodox/ They just got you by the name/ The insane and the sane are the same.” It’s almost like Lao Tzu wrote it.
Slowly, the motives of the songs started creeping in. Acey explained that every song was a chapter. The title of the album is exactly what it is. He goes over a cross section of things that make up the human experience.
So far on my radar, time and balance were tackled. As I thirsted for more, I slowly forgot about the Slim Shady EP.
On “The Hurt,” Mumbles (the producer of every beat on the album) used a triple-time signature or a 6/8 time signature (I am not a musician). Acey handles it nicely though. The beginning of the second verse again sounds like something I would have said:
The more I look around the more it hurts/ I quietly go berzerk when I work/ Hoping to find a part of my mind/ That’s mostly confined and blind (YES)/ Pure and refined/ untampered with time.”
Every song has its rightful place in the concept. Even when he cites Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” it fits in. There really is no stand-out track per se; you need to hear the whole thing to feel what he is doing. Some of his one-liners could be the basis of entire dissertations, though.
For example, in “The Faces,” he says: “To live and die is the plot but your face is the hook.” What comes to your mind when you read that? The guys who actually sung the Milli Vanilli songs? Or Jennifer Holliday? What about Sarah Jane from “Imitation of Life?” Or the prostitutes on your local hoe stroll? Obama? Hillary? Kucinich looking for his precious? Jamie Hector or Michael K. Williams on casting calls? Minstrel shows? The list is infinite and the line is everlasting.
The last song on the album is called “Human Language.” With this song, Acey deviates from the overall theme and gets personal. He is going over his positive attributes, while at the same time it feels as though he is going over mine (after all, we do have the same birthday). It is almost like he is bragging about how dope his mentality is.
That song was my anthem for a few years. Someone needs to put the line “Subliminals controlling all of y’all/ but they won’t take mines away!” on a T-shirt. That song (along with the entire album) was listened to ad nauseum. Yet, I am not tired of it. I know every word and every place to pause to insure breath control.
GROWING INTO IT
Hip hop has never made an album like this, and it seems as though it will never make another one. Acey got 2.5 mics in The Source and not many people bought the album. People complained that they didn’t want to think as they were entertained. I could not say much because I felt the same way on my initial listen. Experience is the best teacher. I am a better listener now.