Aesop Rock, originally named Ian Matthias Bavitz, released his latest album, entitled “None Shall Pass,” Aug. 28. The album is a sparkling addition to the New York City rapper’s already impressive resume, and on Monday, fans will be able to catch Aesop’s return to the District for his show at 9:30 Club.
Aesop Rock has been doing his part to advance the evolution of underground, or “conscious” hip-hop since his first, unofficially released album, “Music for Earthworms” (1997). His first well-distributed record was “Float,” from Mush Records in 2000. After the success of “Float,” Aesop joined up with vaunted Definitive Jux records, where he has released a series of progressive projects, all acclaimed by fans and critics alike, including the themed “Labor Days” (2001), bemoaning the modern condition of the working class.
The new album, “None Shall Pass,” is perhaps the most thoroughly powerful music Aesop has conceived thus far. The album slides easily from track to track, creating a patchwork soundscape, a flowing, amorphous composition, sampling eclectic sounds associated with all different genres of music.
In 2006, Nike commissioned Aesop to create an extended track to go along with their iTunes partnership. The result was “All Day.”
“I wanted to create something that evolved enough that the sound was constantly fresh and attractive, as if the runner were moving through a set of differing cities or landscapes,” he told The Hatchet in an interview.
“There had to be a new element every 30 seconds or so – a new riff, a new layer, a new drum pattern – as other elements faded into the distance. Basically, I had to keep the scenery shifting while maintaining the ‘push.’ Setting this as my goal allowed me to dabble in some sounds that I had never tried before,” he added.
Aesop has been experimenting with sounds for a long time. He grew up taking piano lessons on a harpsichord, until sixth grade when he started playing the bass.
“After that, my older brother had gotten this little drum machine, and a 4-track. So I started making songs doing weird kind of drum-machine and bass songs, and started writing raps to that stuff,” Aesop explained.
The spacey synth in the title track, “None Shall Pass” is reminiscent of the new-age electro-funk movement – a consistent, briskly paced bass and drum bottom combined with intense and repetitive measures on the keyboard to create a trance-like number that will have heads nodding, even as Aesop’s words slip past comprehension.
Aesop’s lyrics are incredibly cryptic. His poetry is obviously based around sound-play, and is clearly carefully constructed and meaningful, but deciphering any coherent message is difficult. The listener is left with the undeniable sense that he is saying something, but exactly what, is difficult to nail down. This is because his language is so fragmented and abstract in structure. He tells stories, creates characters, and comments on the world in an original and aurally pleasing manner that, naturally, requires three or more spins to begin to grasp.
The intelligent conceptions presented in his music provide refreshing evidence that not all rappers are mindless money mongers.
Most of his life, Aesop thought he was going to be an artist. He took drawing and painting classes after high school and worked a job during the day, and worked on his music at night. His career has been largely by the fly.
“I hired a manager at some point, in the late 90’s, and he had never managed before, and I wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to be doing, so we learned that process together.the music has just been this kind of crash-test process,” he said.
Whatever the process, this latest effort is filled with thundering funk.
“Citronella” is a heavy jungle of sound with a thick bass and horn undergrowth. Aesop’s smooth, quick-lick wit flows on top of the equally intricate and well-decorated beats.
The first half of “Coffee,” the last song on the album, could almost pass as prog-rock. The track is cut in half by a one minute, thirty second silence. The back half is more bare-bones, constituted by little more than Aesop’s ever-so-smooth style over the beat, a simple guitar lick, and some city ambience noises.
Production credits on the album are split between Aesop, his long-time collaborator El-P, plus significant contributions from Blockhead, ‘Cage’ Dalko and ‘Breezly Brewin’ Smith. Rob Sonic is credited with engineering and vocal efforts.
Aesop is indeed a new-age story-teller, creating crazy fables laced into big beats. The production is tight top to bottom, making “None Shall Pass” one of those rare albums that can be spun beginning to end and never need to be changed. You might only need to turn it up…
Aesop Rock will be performing at 9:30 Club (815 V St., NW) on Monday, Sept. 10. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.930.com.