There's something grimy brewing in New York hip-hop right now. The
Apple's been rotting for the last few years. Not since Rawkus' heyday
(for Rawkus is now surely dead, after being gobbled up by Geffen as
well as appearing on the lame Soundbombing III) has New York
been alive with ferocity and unwavering intellect. That Rawkus
revolution, dating back nearly a decade ago, was kick-started by
futuristic mashers Company Flow. Co-Flow's leader, El-P, is
responsible yet again for a revitalized metropolitan, thanks to his
label Definitive Jux.
Well, Def Jux, still a baby in the world of indie labels, is hitting
its stride this year. After a whirlwind 18 months that saw the
emergence of the next mixmaster messiah RJD2 on last year's
Deadringer, the official debuts of longtime underground champs
Mr. Lif and Murs, and the critically acclaimed (albeit over-hyped)
release of El-P's own Fantastic Damage, the label's truest
heavyweight, Aesop Rock, drops his best work to date.
Aesop Rock, a white MC like El-P, isn't really white at all. He's not
black either. It doesn't really matter what he is. Because unlike
Eminem, or even Vanilla Ice for that matter, he transcends the
perversity of race in hip-hop. In fact, I'd been listening to Ace
Rock for two years and two albums and I didn't find out he was white
till I saw the cover of his second album, Float, where his
mole face is silhouetted across a stark red backdrop.
His fourth album, Bazooka Tooth, doesn't find him breaking new
ground. But his rapid-fire verbosity hasn't let up one bit. His
booming baritone bangs like all those times before. Nearly all of
his songs require at least five solid listens to grasp the concept or
at least the language. What is new here is that he has produced the
album almost entirely by himself.
Blockhead and El-P largely produced Aesop's last album, Labor
Days, his Def Jux debut. Their influence is obvious in Ace's own
production. It's all industrial crunch and saxophone loops.
Bazooka Tooth's best song, "No Jumper Cables," is reminiscent
of El-P's best work, with its twisted Atari samples and crashing
pulse. The beat keeps your head throbbing, but not in a dancing way
in a terrorizing way.
Aesop Rock opens "Easy" with a drolly sharp line: "If cameras are
guns, one of y'all is gonna shoot me to death." That song once again
utilizes the quirky sample-based bleeps coupled with dense bass. The
bouncy single "Freeze," is mostly just a braggarts' bonanza. Ace
seethes "you should have shot yourself in the foot when it was in
your mouth" with the same intensity he layers every misshapen verse
he sees fit to spit, though after 10 listens it's still unclear who
he's so damned angry with.
Only on "We're Famous" is it entirely clear who he's pissed at. On
the track Aesop Rock and El-P team up to denounce haters who have
slept on the cracked sculptures that the Jukkies have been carving
out for the last few years. El-P raps "I laugh at critics claiming,
'Hip-hop's over'/ Fuck you, hip-hop just started."
There's no question Aesop Rock makes essentially no sense half the
time. The other half, he's painting abstract art all over fractured
soundscapes. The music is smart and progressive; it's also
pretentious and challenging. If you're sick of crunk, bling, and Lil'
Jon, give Aesop Rock a chance to tell you one of his fables.