Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth (2003)

4.0 ★/8.0 - 8.9

"Hey Aes, how's it going?"



Remember when Aesop would at least say hi before pummeling you with poetry? The Def Jux-signature style confrontation has usually worked because the artists would lull you into their nightmarish constructs first, and what's more, they would always know when to relent. But Bazooka Tooth doesn't even take the slightest moment to do that, throwing you head-first into pandemonium and never stopping. Triumphing as one of the densest albums ever recorded (possibly second only to Fantastic Damage), it finds the much respected, nasal-voiced underground poet taking his already excessively-complex lyrical style into previously unheard-of levels of incomprehensibility, while shifting his flow and personality as well. Once a weary, world traveler, delivering words of wisdom in a relaxed, detached manner, Aes now sounds positively pissed, aggressively sputtering coked out, yet highly literate, battle raps. Furthermore, unlike Labor Days, where beats were mostly made by somber classicist, Blockhead, Bazooka Tooth features Aes himself primarily handling production duties and crafting beats that are far more tuneless, glitchy and in your face. Just as it sounds, the net result of all these shifts in style is an album that comes off as highly influenced by the rest of the Def Jux label, particularly in emulation of its star pupil, El-P. The influential producer even uses the centerpiece space for his own feud with Esoteric, featuring the scathing diss-rap and album highlight, "We're Famous".

But through its quest to pay homage to the "def jux sound", Bazooka Tooth overlooks having something original to say for itself. What's more is that it reveals a problem as common in underground rap as the lack of talent is in mainstream hip hop; failure to realize that making something inaccessible and obscure doesn't necessarily translate into good music. Tracks like "The Greatest Pac-Man Victory in History" and "Mars Attacks" prove this with pounding webs of jarring percussion and half-assed concepts that both fail to engage. Similarly, most of Bazooka Tooth is exhausting and the amount of effort required to appreciate it fully isn't always worth it.

Sure though, the reasons to hear Bazooka Tooth far outweigh its flaws. Mainly, the material speaks for itself; the hilarious horn-laden "Cook It Up", the militaristic drums of "No Jumper Cables", the fat atmosphere of "Super Fluke", the slinky electronics of "Easy", the drooping horror of "Babies With Guns", the jerking subtleties of "Kill The Messenger" and the list goes on and on. On a simple track-for-track basis, the album is as consistent as one should expect from Aesop Rock and his wordplay is still miles ahead of every other rapper alive. Chances are you won't return to Bazooka Tooth as much as you will Labor Days or Float, and depending on how you listen to music, that might be saying something. But for those fascinated by the impenetrable and with plenty of headphone time to spare, it won’t make a difference. This is quality underground rap and there’s no denying it.

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