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None Shall Pass

4.7 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco MC Aesop Rock has long been the acknowledged king of hipster-hop, bringing to the game a cerebral, often ironic lyrical sensibility and a taste for adventurous production. Long Island-born AR (born Ian Bavitz) has a lifetime of personal issues and sociopolitical preoccupations banging around in his brain, and he continues to air them on None Shall Pass, his fifth full-length release. Aesop's knack for getting polysyllabic while maintaining an organic flow is in full effect here: how many other rappers can make ''Helvetica'' and ''euthanasia'' fall trippingly off the tongue? Backing it all up with tracks that mix '70s funk, IDM-style electronica, left-field psychedelia, and classic West Coast beats, Aesop Rock (with guest shots from pals El-P and the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle) proves that there are still fresh approaches available to rappers with a searching spirit.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 3, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Block Block Chop
  • ASIN: B004ZF7GCG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,290 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

By btnh1999 on August 28, 2007
Format: Audio CD
I think that the majority of Aesop fans got worried around the release of Bazooka Tooth that one of the best rappers in the underground scene was losing his touch. Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives did little to assuage that worry.

For me, at least, this latest album was going to be all or nothing. If it sucked, then it meant I would have to come to terms with the fact that there might not be another Labor Days, and that Aesop might have run out of ideas. If it was good, though, then his mediocre last two albums would be forgiven as nothing but a phase, a testing of a style that didn't necessarily work. Aesop would be back.

Fortunately, the latter was true. But don't take that to mean that this is another Labor Days or another Float. This album has a different sound, a different style, and a different direction than anything Aesop has done before. In my personal opinion, it doesn't quite reach the lyrical greatness of his pre-Bazooka work, but it succeeds where Bazooka Tooth failed in that it is actually fun to listen to. The production is absolutely stellar (with the exception of one sub-par track from Rob Sonic), with head-nodders and melodic masterpieces throughout. The guest spots are well-integrated, well-planned, and few enough to avoid the disjointed feel that plagues so many rap albums.

Aesop's lyrics are as cryptic as ever, a quality that has never really allowed him to be popular in the mainstream, but has made him an icon in the underground. His songs require patience and active decoding. Anyone familiar with Aesop's work knows that the true concepts and messages of his songs lie buried in a thick mesh of obscure cultural references, little-known slang, inside jokes, and complex metaphors.
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Aesop's most distinguishable characteristic, his relentless verbosity, shows no signs of slowing-- for the mainstream, the uninitiated, or even fans who couldn't keep up with Bazooka Tooth. If anything, his lyrics are harder to follow now, and even with the 80-page lyric booklet from his last EP or the transcription of "Citronella" on his myspace, having the words spelled out for you doesn't mean it's going to be easy. When you've got a delivery this dense, all that's left for the confused or the impatient is the tracks, and the Definitive Jux roster has often (if not always) served particular tastes on that front. Luckily, Aesop Rock's latest album, None Shall Pass, is a diverse collection of beats-- from his classical-sampling comfort zone courtesy of the invaluable Blockhead, to looser more traditional hip-hop, to more than a few things we haven't heard him try before. None Shall Pass even throws in some laid-back rock riffs, some futuristic funk, a generous dash of psychedelia, and, of course, Aes' favorite ingredient: paranoia.

That isn't to say Aesop Rock has become impenetrable; that would imply he's no fun. He's got enthusiasm, enunciation, and even hooks this time: The "how alive/too alive" call-and-response from opener "Keep off the Lawn" is custom built for audience participation, and "Catacomb Kids" begs listeners to follow the bouncing ball even if you can't make out every young, suburban misadventure he wedges into the lyrics. The title track quickly steals the show here, however, a stunning shake-up in both beat and delivery in Aesop Rock's oeuvre.
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Format: Audio CD
So, to me, it seems that early on in their careers rappers/emcees need to decide if they're going to be class A or class B:

class A releases a couple amazing albums but then becomes artistically spent and sticks around as a hollow shell of their former selves selling albums on reputation and glimpses of their former glory: Nas, Eminem, 50 come to mind.

Then there's class B whom you have to wait ages for new material, but when it finally comes out they continue to amaze: Breeze Brewin, Dr. Dre, El-P.

Then there's Aesop Rock, who's in a class of his own. He doesn't let more than a couple years go between an EP or LP, and seemed to drop amazing versus on everyone else's album in between, and yet with every new release the quality is easily as good as the previous one, if not better. It blows my mind when a rapper is as prolific and inexhaustible as AR is. Aesop doesn't try to draw fake buckets from his empty artist's well, rather I picture his well overflowing nonstop and it's all he can do to attempt to frantically catch even half of it.

Although Blockhead is back I don't really see this as a step backward toward Labor Days and Float like others seem to. Everything is so refined and AR seems so comfortable and at home (almost in an "I'm dope and know it" sort of way) just as he was in Fast Cars and Bazooka.

One nice innovation that worked out splendidly was the live instrumentation including the guitar riffs his wife lays down. As soon as I heard it scorch into the opening track I was like "oh, no you didn't just tastefully share a track w/ block and Aes did you! yes you did!" It works perfectly and it's yet another new take/direction for AR musically.

All in all, the realist in me keeps waiting for Aesop to stop either dropping so frequently or become a hollow shell of his former self, but the fan wanting both quality and quantity has yet to be disappointed. Here's to having our cake and eating it too!
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