I first heard Aesop Rock when he and M.F. Doom both rhymed over a Prefuse 73 track on the Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives album. I was intrigued by both rappers and was determined to track down an album by either.
Reviews were read and samples were heard and I decided that an Aesop Rock album could make me very happy.
I had to go into the city to visit a hip hop specialist store to find the album. The lady who served me was this white lady with bleached blonde hair who insisted on speaking to me utilising every hip hop cliché she could get her culture grubbing hands on. I was reliably informed that this album was both "off the hook" and "bumpin'."
I almost didn't buy it.
Aesop Rock has a really weird flow, staccato and with a deep tone. It takes a while to get used to his vocals, but, fortunately, I tend to like MCs that, for some reason or another, sound odd.
The most astounding thing about this album is his lyrics. I have no idea what the hell he is talking about. It seems to be a mix of strange mythology, strange imagery and even stranger metaphors.
When you do penetrate what he is saying, it can be quite remarkable: the song that stands out as an excellent example — which also happens to be the one that is cited by most other reviewers (most likely because it is the easiest song to understand) — is No Regrets.
No Regrets is a song about an introverted girl called Lucy who for most of her life eschews contact with other people because she is more interested in creating art. The song charts her life to the day she dies and presents not a lonely person who wasted her life but one who accepts the sacrifices that she had to make to live her dreams. Heart warming, eh?
Most of the samples are taken from classical music, but are creative and inventive enough to never sound generic or cliched.
See: most hip hoppers who sample classical music go for easily recognisable hooks, a mistake that Aesop Rock and his two other producers, Omega One and Blockhead, are smart enough to avoid.
In fact, the sampling and the beats are some of the most creative that I've ever heard, being subtle enough to never sound forced. The production is really dense and disorienting, coming across as more psychedelic than not.
Labor Days isn't a pop album in the same sort of way that a Tribe Called Quest Album or a Jurassic 5 would be; it isn't easily digested, that is, it isn't a 'party' album.
Aesop Rock is to hip hop what Tool was to rock music. Hopefully, however, Aesop Rock will, unlike Tool, manage to produce more than one decent album.
Incidentally, much love and much respect to Aesop Rock for producing a hip hop album devoid of intros and skits. Also, I'm pretty sure he mentions Chewbacca in a rhyme.
Reviewed on Monday, 1 September 2003