Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass

Aesop Rock
None Shall Pass

When 2007 is in the books no one will remember the feud between 50 Cent and Kanye West and what’s left of anything labeled “crunk” will have fizzled out. The true victors will be Dizzee Rascal, Pharoahe Monch, and Aesop Rock. Aes continues to release album after impressive album of claustrophobic beats and his spitfire flow of verses.

There’s a reason the man only releases an album every few years; because it takes that long for what he says to sink in. First you have to catch everything as the flow is coming at you like bombs over Baghdad. Then you have to think about what he’s really saying. His metaphors and allegories are a whole different method of storytelling, the likes of which hip hop has rarely seen and each release contains a list a few phenomenal turns of a phrase. (I won’t ruin anything for you but when you take a listen to None Shall Pass keep your ears open for the Charlie Brown reference.) This is perhaps why he, or much of the Def Jux crew, hasn’t caught on to a larger audience. In this day where everything has to be as it happens, Aesop rock’s delivery delivers. But it needs to be dumbed down and explained just as quickly and to spin a good yarn, well, Aes doesn’t have the urge to do that.

None Shall Pass is perhaps the first of his albums to really show the influences of the underground. Samples of educational film dialogue are used, reminiscent of Boards of Canada and DJ Big Wiz supplies some well placed scratching much like DJ Shadow. The title track, the best on the album, has a minimal beat, aligned closer to Kraftwerk than Can Ox and underneath a sneaky guitar line twists around the corners of the song. There are also moments that recall the jazzy and laid back feel of A Tribe Called Quest and the “kill your television” chant is pure KRS-1.

But you can never stray too far away from your family. Although the production on the album is handled mostly by Aes or Blockhead, “Catacomb Kids” sounds like a b-side for anything off of El-P’s excellent I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. And what makes the Def Jukies so great is that when they guest on each other’s albums, they don’t come up short. El-P’s verses on “Gun For The Whole Family” are some of his best, retaining his trademark wit and venom but not sounding like some leftovers from his own albums.

There’s apparently been some concern about Aesop moving from New York to California and how this would affect his sound. Sure he’s still going to be the guy sporting the Yankees hat and that congestion of the city will influence him for years to come. But something about the fresh air and sunny skies of San Francisco must have done him some good. By toning down the frantic bass and drum patterns his lyrics are given a better chance to be heard and thus they become more effective. Let the bloggers cry about the change all they want but None Shall Pass is the most focused and dare I say accessible album of Aesop’s career.