Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
By Nick Woodside Wednesday, 5 Sep 2007

I’m not as into hip hop as I used to be.

I sort of peaked as a hip hop follower in the mid-90’s, back when I would buy 12″ singles of indie rappers that would probably never sniff a full length in their careers. There was a lot of really good stuff out there back then. I had countless tapes I dubbed off Fakts One’s WBRS show that I would wear the shit out of. That said, the indie hip hop genre got kind of stale to me after a while. Everyone was ripping the same abstract opponent over beats that all tried to sound different in the exact same way (if that makes any sense). Now it takes kind of a lot for a hip hop album to hold my attention, so much so that I really don’t feel capable enough to review one. That sucks because Aesop Rock’s new album “None Shall Pass” probably deserves more than “Music of the Week” raves.

First off, yeah he’s lyrically dense. That’s the standard starting point for any review but it’s kind of a cop out. It suggests that he’s cramming his verses with as many words as possible because he’s got nothing better to say. There’s plenty of narrative woven through the density of his words, you just have to work for it. Listen enough and these bit of story will float to the surface for you to piece them together. Regardless of subject, he’s got one of the better voices and flows around. Still, the best flow in the world isn’t going to make a bit of difference if the beats suck, which, since I’m raving about it, they obviously don’t. This album’s production is split almost evenly between Aesop and Blockhead (aside from one track each from El-P and Rob Sonic) and there’s really not a bad song in the bunch. Aesop got some shit for producing most of “Bazooka Tooth” himself but he’s definitely gotten better in that regard. I don’t think anyone can complain about his work on “Catacomb Kids” or “Citronella” this time around. As good as his beats are though, Blockhead’s work absolutely shines. From the upright bass of “Bring Back Pluto” to the mellow vibe of “No City” all of his tracks are spot on. I’ve already read plenty about the first single “None Shall Pass” so I’m not going to rehash any of that. It should be noted, however, that it sounds like nothing else on the album.

I think anyone who brings up this album is legally obligated to talk about his collaboration with the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. Honestly, the ridiculous beat and the hooky chorus of “Coffee” are much more worthy of discussion. That’s not a negative, it just doesn’t add all that much to the song. I’m much more likely to have “We don’t need no walkie talkies” running through my head than Darnielle’s minute of singing. Still it’s one of the standout tracks of the album, especially if you count the “hidden song” follows as part of it. After a few minutes of silence, Blockhead closes out the album with an understated guitar track that’s so slick even a kazoo solo can’t fuck it up (seriously). Meanwhile Aesop spins his most straight forward narrative on the album using pigs as a metaphor for everything that’s wrong in the world. It’s a perfect way to close out the record.

Wow this ended up being being much more of a full article than I was expecting. I guess I am capable of reviewing a hip hop album without sounding like (too much of) a jackass. Then again, maybe if more hip hop albums grabbed my attention I’d have more practice. It’s not my fault, that’s for sure. Anyway, let’s slap a rating on this thing and be done with it. Great!

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