If Def Jux’s current line-up can be compared to the Wu-Tang Clan of ten years ago, than Aesop Rock is its Ghostface Killah. The two draw similar comparisons thanks to the fact that they both run in crews that feature a large amount of talent and unique personalities, backed by a producer that takes a typically unorthodox arrangement of sounds and makes it enjoyable (RZA/El-P). And just as Ghost spits “vocabulary groceries”, Aesop delivers his own brand of complex “word murderin’”, both spitting rhymes poetic as they are confusing, each starting arguments of whether it’s brilliance or babble.
The conundrum of whether or not Aesop Rock was pretentious smart rap garbage or brilliantly poetic art has lingered in the back of this critic’s head for a while now, and the new conclusion drawn is this - it’s neither, it’s simply dope. But to come to this conclusion, one might have to stop searching for deeper meaning, and instead just shut up and listen. It became evident after several times through the album that on certain tracks Aesop was simply flexing his own slang editorial, matching words and phrases not in a linguistic sense, but in a rhythmic or musical sense. Just as the standard El-P production is a mess of jumbled sounds that somehow ends up working, Aesop’s voice is another instrument in the overall composition.
While the off-kilter intro of Bazooka Tooth is purely a challenge for fans and critics to latch onto, Aesop welcomes the audience to his own private boxcar session on “NY Electric”, where he gets loose on this proud hometown anthem, just for his people: “See New York as ancient Rome / (Basic) basically stoned / (Faces) my friend jumped off the Empire State Building while I hung with 10the grade headcases / Some of them will blossom famous / some of them will blossom baseheads / but they all rep rhythms in the die-cast metal Voltron cadence - what!?!”. And this type of hometown pride is felt throughout the album, such as on “No Jumper Cables”, a futuristic b-boy anthem that examines the dilution of hip-hop culture, blending the post-apocalyptic Def Jux sound with hard-hitting drum patterns of the 80′s (Jam Master Jay would be proud). Again on “Limelighters” with Camp Lo, which is purely an exercise in N.Y.C. slanguage as Aesop opens with “Pain cave uno / smoking a broken Blue Note…”, and Geechie Suede continues later with “once they line up, we’ll divide ‘em / Suede / get the roscoe / then design ‘em / A / sop Rock box / drop the hot rod / getaway car / and head up the rock highway.” Meanwhile, Aesop cold gets stupid on both “Cook It Up”, where he and the Party Fun Action Committee compete to see who can be the worst dream date, as well as “Freeze”, which the most animated track on the album, almost spitting silliness like sicka-sicka Slim Shady, without the simplified commercial appeal.
But that’s not to say that Bazooka Tooth is devoid of any meaning whatsoever, Aesop tackles topics in his own unique way when he wants to, much of it is laced with his own cartoon-like sarcastic undertones. Case in point is “Babies With Guns”, which obviously examines how the media (radio, television, film, print) influences the use of guns by kids in schools and in the streets, but takes no responsibility for it. Aesop spits his own brand of dark, humorous, and unfortunate social commentary: “Nowadays even the babies got guns / diaper snipers having clock-tower fun / misplace the bottle might catch a bad one / have a mid-life crisis when your ten-years young!”. Another great moment on the album is “11:35″, where Aesop and Mr. Lif take a break from the complexities of the rest of the album, each trading stories of what happened at that particular day and time, at 100 beats per minute.
But the most outspoken moment on this record was not by Aesop Rock, but instead a four minute rant by El-P on “We’re Famous”. In a verse that’s bound to spark controversy, rekindle old beefs and create all new ones, El basically tells the rest of the indy hip-hop world to stop crying about how hip-hop has died, and instead to look how it has progressed. In this snobby, yet valid rant, El’s spits “I laugh at the critics claiming every year hip-hop’s over / Fuck you, hip-hop just started / It’s funny how the most nostalgic cats are the ones who were never part of it / but true veterans will give dap to the ones who started it / and humbly move the fuck on and come with that new retarded shit”.
And it’s this verse that almost defines the Definitive Jux credo, and more so gives their reason for rhyme. It’s evident that Aesop, El, and the crew are intent on taking hip-hop to that proverbial “next level” without looking back. And a closer listen to the production will reveal that its not just pots and pans and forks in blenders, as the sound is rooted in classic hip-hop through its drum patterns and vocal samples, combined with “that new retarded shit” that El spoke of, spawned from his own Blade Runner obsessed dark future. Most of the album is produced entirely by Aesop himself (who sounds as if he studied directly under El-P), weaving this LP almost into one piece of ever changing music, creating a sense that this is an album you are listening to, rather than simply a collection of singles.
So the argument still stands – art or crap? Aesop Rock is another acquired taste from the Def Jux diner, and it’s a lot easier to pass it off as garbage if you’ve only needle dropped it or listened to it one time in passing. Much like Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein or El-P’s Fantastic Damage, it is so different that you probably won’t like it the first time, but each consecutive listen it becomes a more of a tightly knit project, that pushed the boundaries of what “hip-hop can and should be”, to quote El again. It’s different – and that’s where it’s appeal has and always will lie - just like Ultramagnetic MC’s in the 80′s, and the Wu-Tang Clan in the 90′s, it’s ahead of it’s time, and people will flock to it in the endless search for something different. Love it or hate it, this is the next manifestation of the sound of that old New York rap. Bazooka Tooth bitch!!
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