Aesop Rock is famed for his dense lyrical tirades and here on None Shall Pass his penchant for cramming words into spaces that shouldn’t fit continues merrily. Like label mates El-P and Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock is undoubtedly one of those who continues to keep hip-hop an art form. Not for him the posturing and bling, nope these are bold statements on the world today and on the human condition.
Not that you can always tell. Aesop Rock’s idiosyncratic approach to metaphor and structure would keep all but the hardiest interpreter busy for months searching for meaning. As a result None Shall Pass as a title sounds a little like a challenge. It’s as if Aesop Rock has an agenda here but it’s hidden beneath his impenetrable lyrical style, and there’s no way you’ll ever get to the heart of the record. By no means is this a simple beats and rhymes work. This is a serious undertaking, one that requires a lot of input from the listener.
Themes are slightly easier to pick up on than specific subject matter. Concepts of maturity and decay often find themselves at the fore. Maybe in his third decade Mr Rock is getting a little sensitive about his age. He needn’t worry however; None Shall Pass proves that he makes records that put many of hip-hop’s younger wannabes in the shade.
Continuing the theme of decay, much of the album is steeped in gothic sounds, bleak imagery (check out the disturbing demise of the protagonist in Fumes for just such an example) and hefty beats. Keep Off The Lawn kicks like a mule in this respect, the production tighter than a violin string. It is also the only song that features anything like a pop hook (albeit sounding like it has been pinched from a 1970s hair band).
Elsewhere the bass drum beats are so heavy they threaten to pound you into submission while the snare rolls like gunshots and Aesop is spitting lyrics at you so quickly they’re so hard to comprehend. Confusing is perhaps not the right word, disorienting might be, although claustrophobic is pretty near the mark. Many of these songs are so dense you barely have time to breathe as they squeeze your head and chest. It’s feels like it has been recorded under immense pressure and simply needs to explode as it bursts from your headphones threatening to crush your skull.
Almost certainly his best effort since 2001’s Labour Days, None Shall Pass finds Aesop Rock at the top of his game with a consistent piece of work rather than simply a passable album.