Album: Aesop Rock

Bazooka Tooth, Def Jux

The Definitive Jux label has, over the past couple of years, taken on the mantle once worn by the Wu-Tang Clan, of attempting to emancipate a moribund hip-hop scene through intrigue, mystery and audacious wordplay. Furiously uncompromising as regards both rhymes and beats, Bazooka Tooth follows in similar vein to such extraordinary Def Jux offerings as Cannibal Ox's Cold Vein and label boss El-P's Fantastic Damage, with Aesop Rock spitting out complex, serpentine streams of imagery and observations over dark, twitchy backing tracks clouded by noise and twisted found-sound fragments. It's perhaps not quite as musically challenging as Fantastic Damage, but Aesop's snapshots of Lower East Side life still offer a more authentically "urban" sound than the pathetic bling-bling fantasies of mainstream hip hop, with beats that evoke the uncertainty, harshness and random collisions of real street-life, and raps like "Babies with Guns" bringing the genre's tedious criminal apologia up short: "Have a midlife crisis when you're 10 years young/ Nowadays even the babies have guns/ Diaper snipers having clocktower fun". Like the Wu-Tang in their pomp, tracks like "No Jumper Cables" and "The Greatest Pac-Man Victory In History" are verbally baffling, virtually impermeable to any save the most speculative of analysis, but littered with devastating lines that resonate with 21st-century truth. As El-P acknowledges on the duet "We're Famous", "this hardcore poetic is formed without burglary". The result is another cutting-edge hip hop offering from Def Jux, one of the few contemporary rap labels that retain the ability to surprise and, occasionally, astonish.