Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass
Jan 7, 2019
89
None Shall Pass stands out as Aesop's most direct and aggressive album. While earlier Aesop projects were slightly more abstract, and his more recent work has often involved more intimate lyrical adventures, NSP relentlessly portrays scenes from the underbelly of American capitalism while persistently taking aim at the authority figures who profit off the broken dreams of others.

Production duties are primarily split between Aes and frequent collaborator, Blockhead. When Aesop handled his own production on Bazooka Tooth it came off as a bit clunky and distant compared to Blockhead's soulful yet immediate production from Labor Days, but on NSP the gap between an Aes song and a Blockhead song has narrowed significantly. Both bring heavy, layered beats that are further supplemented by some catchy scratching by DJ Big Wiz. The banging production on the album really complements the aggressive mood Aes takes on the project.

Opening track, Keep Off the Lawn, has a nice build to open the album. A series of ghosts gather on the narrator's long and an argument breaks out between the ghosts and the narrator with one side claiming that they are "Too Alive". The line has a nice ring to it and invites the booming bass of the album to burst out for the first time.

The next too tracks, the title track and Catacomb Kids are two of Aesop's catchiest songs ever. NSP is a typical anti-establishment song while Catacomb Kids tells the story of Aesop's ragtag gang of highschool misfits going around on adventures. I love the line "They shut the school down early, there were bombs inside the lockers, we had no concept of a problem, we responded like a snowday"

Even though the sonic and lyrical mood stays consistent across most of the album, most of the tracks on here manage to stand out. Storytelling twists highlight songs like Fumes(about a doomed relationship between drug addicts) and The Harbor is Yours (a similarly doomed Pirate-Mermaid romance of The Harbor is Yours). There are also sick guest verses by Cage and Breeze Brewin on the fast-paced Getaway Car, a song about quitting your job to pursue your dreams, or Rob Sonic on Dark Heart News , a song Rob-produced track where Aes and Rob trade off great bars with one another. Fav Rob lyric: "If I had a dollar for everynight I couldn't sleep, I could buy a million locks and finally read a book in peace"

The album closes with the absolutely fantastic one two punch of Coffee and Pigs. Coffee moves all over the place artfully describing the journey of a wide eyed innocent through the horrors of capitalism: "More in a cave with a torch on the wall than a window arrangement of porcelain dolls, on a brand new day, saw what he saw, property owners who crawl through mall with a bad toupee and a face like he author the law". Aes always brings a great flow but the way he blends his words on this song still stands out to me for whatever reason. And then Pigs brings a slighlty more acoustic feel as Aesop dives in to every swine pun he can think of to describe his disdain for the members of society's upper crust.

One or two songs, like No City or 39 Thieves, don't do well to distinguish themselves from the pack and El-P's production and guest verse on Gun For the Whole Family doesn't blend in perfectly with the album, but even these songs have interestingly lyrics, solid flows, and good production.

Overall, this is a signature moment in Aesop's discography, one where he took no prisoners and fully developed as a producer. Some might prefer his more intimate grounded story telling and spacey production on The Impossible Kid or the soulful production and higher pitched delivery of Labor Days, but for new fans, this is a great introduction to one of hip-hop's most enigmatic MCs.
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