Aesop Rock doesn't try to contend with rap music's commercial villains. Instead, on Labor Days
, his first release for the Def Jux label, Aesop ignores the mainstream and displays an unshakable confidence rarely seen in independent hip-hop. Although a staccato, Dadaist delivery is his trademark, subsequent listens reveal his storytelling gifts and rhyme structures to be thick with purpose. There's also a sensitivity only hinted at on Float
, his first mass release. On "Daylight," he informs, "Life is not a bitch / Life's a beautiful woman," while "No Regrets" tells the life story of a woman who only communicated through her drawings until her death in a nursing home. Thanks to production by Omega One, Blockhead, and Aesop himself, Labor Days
is built upon strings, loping bass lines, nodding beats, and expert programming. Surely, this is a fine example of hip-hop's formidable underground. --Arno Kazarian
There's a serious bifurcation underway in indie hip-hop, and if we aren't careful, some journalist is going to slap genre tags on it and we'll have two distinct movements on our hands. On one side there's the "skills, skills, skills" camp that raps mostly about rap itself (Lootpack, Cali Agents), and on the other, there are those who rap about nothing at all, or at least about subjects that haven't been deemed worthy of inclusion in rap before (Anticon, Slug).
As a prime example of the latter, New York's Lower East Sider Aesop Rock uses the word "rhyme" a total of three times over the 61 minutes of Labor Days, "wack" once, and "MC" and "mic" never. He says "hip-hop" twice, and - suggesting that he might have a bone to pick with his battle-mongering counterparts across the fence - they appear in the following oblique diss: "Next time you want to be a hero/try saving something other than hip-hop/and maybe hip-hop will save you from the pit stop."
Often his rangeless voice and diction are as accessible as a meeting of the World Trade Organization ("Walking like a jabberwalkie scalping a one-way pair of tickets to shadowboxing"), with whole stanzas dropping from his lips in monolithic slabs at a cadence faster than most listeners can process. Labor Days is an overwhelming experience, and sometimes one wonders if the frustration is worth it. But after five or so years of transparent battle rhymes and industry shop-talk masquerading as content, a little confusion might be what saves less-than-commercial hip-hop from stagnation.
Darren Keast -- From URB Magazine