For those who suffer the pitfalls of the short attention span, it is too easy to overlook items of grave importance: missed grocery list stuff, electric bill due dates, school exam schedules. Sometimes it isn’t a diagnosed case of a shifty attention span that yields bouts of forgetfulness. Sometimes it’s just absent-mindedness, no attention to detail. These are the obstacles that play a role in missing out on said important items. Occasionally, said item is an album, alone in its genre, challenging ideals and pre-destination. As of recent, the album is Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth, which can easily be overlooked in the slew of current independent releases but shouldn’t, as it is a truly unique work.
Aesop Rock is the praised academic emcee cutting records on hip-hop independent Definitive Jux. Bazooka Tooth, his follow-up to 2001’s Labor Days, is his second full length for the label. While Labor Days concerns itself with the mundane tribulations of employment, Bazooka Tooth is another song cycle, bound together loosely by concepts of popular culture and urban living.
Bazooka Tooth‘s sophisticated verse is as challenging as any scholarly work, as Aesop confidently spits fragmented rhymes that could conceivably marry TV Guide with characters from Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” The album is littered with relevant allusions to a society that’s so media saturated it has to be real. Even cosmetically, Bazooka Tooth has pushed the hip-hop concept album to uncharted waters with sonically psychedelic segues and between-track narration. These new waters are tested with chunky sluggish beats, Aesop’s signature rant, and scratching as rabid as the vocal. Guest spots from Can Ox’s Vast Aire, Mr. Lif, Camp Lo, El-P, and a brief shout-out from Murs — a seal of unneeded credibility for Bazooka Tooth, for Aesop’s mighty presence is more than obvious.
“NY Electric” follows the album’s intriguingly fragmented intro, and over an Indian-spiced backdrop, Aesop reminds the listener where he comes from. Never broadcasting the tired “my crew” hip-hop cliche, “NY Electric” is Ace Rock’s innermost reflections on his stomping grounds: “See New York as Ancient Rome,” and days of yesteryear: “My friend jumped off the Empire State building / While I hung with 10th grade headcases / Some of them’ll blossom famous / Some of them’ll blossom baseheads / But they all rip ribbons in the die-cast metal Voltron cadence.”
Bazooka Tooth manages to run a crash course off the beaten path both in production, which can be credited almost to entirely to Aesop, as well as content. The crash course makes a stop in character song craft; “Cook it Up” finds Bazooka Tooth himself (“the grossest fang in showbiz”) layin’ down his obnoxious game. He’s hopeful here that he won’t be alone in the morning: “Miss, may I process your Pentium?” His ill-conceived plans go un-hatched, due to sarcastically masculine overtones: “I won’t be getting dressed up to impress your family, dear / And if I can’t wear jeans and sneakers then I won’t be landing there.” El-P’s guest spot on Bazooka Tooth‘s “We’re Famous” adds only to the must-hear worthiness of the record. In the Company Flow tradition, El-P’s cutthroat indictment of hip-hop’s detractors and the genre’s dumbed-down offerings leave little room for rebuttal. Subtle humor filters in on “The Greatest Pac-Man Victory Ever,” as Aesop tells the tale of an acid-crazed friend who spends a summer defeating Pac-Man.
Aesop confidently dresses up scenery that may have been painted before, but smears the canvas with a coat so opaque that it is peeled off only to reveal several new layers. As he did in the groundbreaking “Daylight” composition, Ace Rock stares steadily into a void once again, armed only with Bazooka Tooth this time around. With any luck, absent-mindedness and inattention to detail won’t stand in the way of record sales.