None Shall Pass
By Hobey Echlin
While his Definitive Jux labelmate El-P is P.K. Dick-obsessed and fellow Caucasian rap-adours Buck 65 and Sage Francis delve into bloggish beatnik narratives, Aesop Rock seems like the last white indie rapper who just wants to kick a beat and bust a rhyme. The hook is that Rock is a fourth-dimensional writer who crafts better than he delivers his flows, which either amaze or annoy the hell out of you. Death metal has its barf-bag vocals; Rock's are more like a groggy dry-heave, like he's rapping while trying to hold in a bong hit. Which, given his wordplay — as an MC, Rock is somewhere between Thomas Pynchon, Divine Styler, and Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes — is something to behold, even if it is hard to pick up what he's laying down. He rhymes Cutty Sark, narc, and about ten other -arcs in one line on "Citronella," and the opening verse of "Catacomb Kids" is so dense — something about "chickens that looked like R. Crumb drawings" — it's a cornucopia of onomatopoeia that Venn-diagrams into logorrhea. But like MC Truman Capote once said of newbie Jack Kerouac: "That's not writing; that's typing." Rock's flow sounds as if he's trying to get all the words he's scribbled in the margin of his journal out in an open-mic poetry reading before his time is up. Beatwise, though, things are dope. The title track is a bouncy little house beat that's abstract and melodic enough to support Rock's double-time rhymes instead of fighting them; on "Five Fingers," he is as much Slick Rick as he is Eminem. But it's on tracks like "Dark Heart News," on which guest MCs and a jauntier beat lighten things up, that Rock stops trying to fit ten pounds of shit into a five-pound bag and lets the hip finally hop.