Aesop Rock is back again, entering the fold with his third full-length LP for Definitive Jux, None Shall Pass. Employing his usual style of cryptic poetry laced with biting sarcasm, Aes’s latest is the perfect follow-up to Bazooka Tooth, but this time an old friend has come back into the mix.
While Bazooka Tooth had mostly positive responses, one common gripe was the lack of production from longtime partner Blockhead, as Aes got behind the boards himself for most of his last full-length. Aes certainly could hold his own, but as truth be told, Blockhead is someone who makes his living as a producer first. After listeners were spoiled to death on Float and Labor Days with wall-to-wall production from Block, something felt like it was missing on Bazooka Tooth.
Block is back on beats with None Shall Pass, producing the title track as well as half of the album. Aes opens the LP however with one of his own beats, on “Keep Off The Lawn”, employing live guitars over a choppy turntablist rhythm, ripe for his vocabulary rich introduction. The title track, “None Shall Pass” follows, as Block delivers one of his best b-boy beats yet, combining uptempo drums with murky keyboards and atmospheric guitars. Here, it quickly becomes evident why the two artists have such a valuable chemistry.
While many times it’s hard to figure out the point Aesop is trying to get across, thanks to his ridiculous abuse of the thesaurus, but with multiple listens the subject matter of each song begins to fall into place. He takes a look back at his childhood on “Catacomb Kids”, another self-produced head-nodder, again proving he is no slouch in the production department. “The Harbor Is Yours” is finds Aes over a sleazy Blockhead beat, as he weaves a tale involving pirates and skullduggery, while “Fumes” employs another moody Block beat, as Aes tells the story of a short-lived relationship of a bible-thumper and a suicide girl. While the extended metaphors of these songs (if even included) are remain hidden, it’s pretty safe to say that Aesop is the only rapper that can make songs about scurvy dogs or the nine planets beefing with each other (“Bring Back Pluto”) and still sound ill.
Aes also brings in a number of guests to share vocal duties with. The posse cut “Getaway Car” borrows a Camp Lo line for it’s hook, as Cage and Breeze Brewin join in Aes’s keystone caper over another undeniable head-nodder from Block. El-P joins in for “Gun For The Whole Family”, which finds the two emcees attempting to outdo one another over a sinister beat that would have fit perfectly on I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. The elusive Rob Sonic joins in for “Dark Heart News”, while Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle finishes off “Coffee”, after Aes kills Block’s ska rhythm with his double time flow.
It’s safe to say that Aesop Rock is an acquired taste. Those not open to the unique sounds and styles that Aes offers will just sit there perplexed asking “what the fuck is this dude talking about?” But with hip-hop being so cookie-cutter these days, what Aesop offers is different, good, and hardly disposable, as multiple listens reveal new insight into his confusing, but oft-witty lyrics. Thus far, fans look back at Labor Days as his best LP, but it’s possible that None Shall Pass on this one in future “best of…” lists. - Pizzo
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