Aesop Rock, Labor Days

Aesop Rock, Labor Days

The beautiful thing about much music is the way it always reacts to check itself and react to itself. Too many keyboards and too much pretense in your music? Just wait, and punk will come along to save the day. Hip-hop works under the same guidelines, and while one could never say that the more intelligent and “underground” hip-hop only comes around when it’s needed most (since it’s always there, albeit out of popular view), it does seem to come into vogue right around the time when its counterparts in popular hip-hop seem at their most brainless and materialistic. It seems like only yesterday when Puff Daddy, Master P, and other such purveyors of the “cash and bitches” school of hip-hop were reigning kings, but in recent years the return to visibility of such hard-working, “intelligent” rappers as El-P, Mos Def, Dilated Peoples, Blackalicious, and of course, Aesop Rock, has ensured that hip-hop doesn’t spin off into irrelevance, driven into an early grave by its own refusal to acknowledge a more down-to-earth reality. Again, this is a cycle which repeats itself over the years, with different styles stepping up to reinvigorate hip-hop, taking the reins from whatever previous style has started slippin’, much like the harder gangsta rap of groups like NWA replaced MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice before eventually slipping into irrelevant self-parody itself.

Labor Days, Aesop Rock’s second full-length album, falls into this category of “intelligent” hip-hop, the sort of thing critics like to call “a breath of fresh air.” Indeed, it’s a pretty impressive affair all ’round; string samples, hard-hitting street beats, and a clear, somewhat monotonous but always quick and authoritative vocal delivery sit comfortably in the mix with some very offbeat lyrical subject matter. Like the other rappers name-checked above, Aesop Rock steers clear of hip-hop clich├ęs, battle-rapping, or shallow bragging, preferring to tell stories, describe city life, exhort the masses to greater self-consciousness, and reference mythological figures and history. Despite the fact that his tongue-twisting delivery moves at such a speed that it occasionally becomes a bit overwhelming and hard to process, his beats, samples, and general attitude throughout reflect more a veteran rapper comfortable at the top of his game, with something to say and a somewhat blue collar outlook, than an intellectual elitist interested only in playing games with language. While his flights of lyrical fancy may occasionally fly higher than the average listener cares to follow, the beats are always danceable, and keep the whole affair well grounded in the street, and his voice is one of those baritone wonders, crisp, charismatic, and precise without sounding practiced, and always demanding attention. Definitely check this album out; its a prime example of hip-hop that’s just as good at making you think as it is at making you shake your ass, just as good at a party as it is for those long night drives when youre enjoying the solitude.

(Definitive Jux Recordings -- ese@defjux.net; http://www.defjux.net/; )
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, October 1st, 2002. Filed under Reviews.

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