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Aesop Rock possesses unconventional talent

Kenyatta Storin | Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Aside from those who closely follow underground hip-hop, most people have probably never heard of Aesop Rock before. A part of the young, upstart hip-hop label, Def Jux, Aesop Rock is one of a newer breed of MC that wants nothing to do with the hip-hop mainstream. As a result, there is nothing conventional about the rapper’s latest album, Bazooka Tooth, but if one is willing to give it a chance to sink in there is much to be appreciated.

A casual listening of Aesop Rock’s confusing, lyrical barrage will probably leave one feeling bewildered and unsure of whether Bazooka Tooth is sheer genius or just plain weird. He is a superb rapper, able to drop fifty-cent words and pop culture references left and right in the most imaginative combinations with rhymes like “They burrow deep under the carnivore’s flesh, without a trace / Carnival games, like try to shoot the star out of his space.” However, it is sometimes frustrating to decipher his rhymes due to his creative wordplay, odd nasal voice and tendency to spurt a flat delivery with few changes in tone, speed, emphasis or emotion. It takes maybe five or six good listens before his words really begin to make any sense, and even then some of it may remain nonsensical.

However, once Aesop Rock’s lyrics are grasped, his exceptional talent begins to show through. In the excellent “11:35,” Aesop Rock teams up with fellow Def Jux rapper Mr. Lif, and the two trade tragic tales of a flawed American system with lines like “Now, J.J. punch drunk, acts like a dumb [expletive] / Bum touched girls looking young enough to thumb suck.” He takes a more typical underground rap topic with Def Jux head El-P on “We’re Famous,” where the two take shots at lesser rappers and those that are critical of Def Jux’s style of hip-hop. He also exhibits a sense of bitterness on many of his tracks, lashing out at the media on “Easy” by opening with “Cameras or guns / One of y’all’s gonna shoot me to death,” and denouncing the existence of a higher being on “Kill the Messenger:” “I will not bow to a God that I can’t look in the face.”

Much like the lyrics, Bazooka Tooth’s production is also eclectic and off the wall, and it may take a number of listens to get used to it. Unlike his underground success, Labor Days, where Blockhead and El-P did most of the production, Aesop Rock produces most of Bazooka Tooth himself. He clearly takes several pages out of El-P’s book, creating disjointed, often bizarre electronic sound collages that are very reminiscent of El-P’s production style. This works with mixed results, for while some of these creative beats are highlights like on “The Greatest Pac-Man Victory in History” and “Easy,” sometimes they are too unusual to be thoroughly enjoyed. Ironically, the small number of songs Blockhead and El-P produce actually provide the best beats, and “11:35” in particular stands out.

Overall, Bazooka Tooth is like any good piece of poetry. At a glance it may not seem like much, but if studied long enough, it has much to offer. Despite this, not everyone has that kind of patience, and those looking for an easy listen will not find anything remotely like that from Aesop Rock. But for those that are willing to take the time to open up to something a little different, Bazooka Tooth provides a change of pace from the norm, and is a strong piece of work by one of underground hip-hop’s most talented MCs.

Contact Kenyatta Storin at kstorin@nd.edu