Artist: Aesop Rock
Album: None Shall Pass
Comments: In the realm of hip-hop, few artists are as verbally dense and original in their delivery than the mighty Aesop Rock. The NYC MC, long known in the independent hip-hop world for his complex wordplay and delivery that is equal parts confusing and rewarding, returns with None Shall Pass, his first album since 2003's Bazooka Tooth.
Those looking for a run-of-the-mill hip-hop album to throw on as background music should look elsewhere, as Rock's music require a more refined ear to appreciate. Rather than rely on commonplace boasts and obvious self-referencing, Rock uses complex literary and pop culture references in a non-linear delivery to convey his message. In other words, his lyrics are so dense and layered that it takes a few listens for everything to sink in.
That isn't to say there are no immediate successes on the album. Lead single and title track "None Shall Pass" finds Rock juxtaposing a relaxed tone with an accelerated delivery. He sinks into the production, making his syrupy lines harmonize with the woodwind and bass of the beat. "Catacomb Kids" is another song that strikes right away, dancing the line between somber reflection and boastful acclimation, guided by a fuzzy beat featuring some nifty guitar distortion. It's also one of the few songs on the album that features a proper hook.
The production on this album is top-notch. Each beat serves as a sonic setting for Rock's riddles and musings on everything from other rappers being wack to the planet formerly known as Pluto. Rappers returning is old hat as far as topics go, but Rock's octopus flow gives the subject new legs, proving that interesting style can make anything worth a listen.
Where None Shall Pass falters is in the demands it puts on the listener. Because there is so much going on, it can be hard to take everything in on one listen. Some of the best tracks on the album ("Fumes" and "Citronella") are slow-burning growers that people may not have patience for.
Still, hip-hop fans who are willing to stick around will be treated to one of the year's finest efforts. Dense without ever seeming crowded, and deep without ever seeming pretentious, Aesop Rock's None Shall Pass is another success from underground hip-hop's best.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: None Shall Pass, Catacomb Kids, Fumes
Worth the Money: Yes, but I'd recommend Labor Days if this is your first experience.