Aesop Rock

Bazooka Tooth

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Few labels in the rap underground boast the profile of Definitive Jux, and few rappers on Def Jux match the talents of Aesop Rock. So his second record for the label came with great expectations, engendered by the success of 2001's Labor Days, which catapulted him into the first rank of hip-hop voices. As far as the expectations go, Bazooka Tooth delivers on most of its promise. The beats are dense and the bass-lines dark, like street-level rap is supposed to be, with a jumble of murky samples and angled effects coming from every direction. And Ace Rock's lurching, nasally flow and obscurist rhymes may not carry every lyric across, but do allow listeners to marvel at the few legible lines. With most of the productions coming from Aesop himself (along with Def Jux mainstay Nasa), Bazooka Tooth lacks the catchy, sample-driven flavor of Labor Days, but does set a standard for basement-level beats, with some of the best hashed-and-screwed productions heard on Def Jux since the Cannibal Ox masterpiece The Cold Vein. Bronx bombers Camp Lo stop by for an old-school horrorcore jam named "Limelighters," Def Jux head El-P guests on a no-biters track called "We're Famous," and Mr. Lif appears on the highlight, the tag-team rhyme manifesto "11:35." The album does, however, reveal a few problems endemic to independent rap in general as well as the Def Jux label and Aesop Rock specifically: to get and keep the respect of the underground, an artist is forced to push his sound farther, but it soon reveals a trap -- no production can be too difficult, no variation in flow too off-kilter, no topics or rhymes too bizarre in order to keep heads nodding. Bazooka Tooth simply pushes too far.

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