Somewhere between None Shall Pass and Skelethon, Aesop started moving differently. His penchant for cramming as many syllables to overfill the beat was still evident, but his subject material shifted. While None Shall Pass had a dark tinged organic glow, Skelethon sounded lighter, and gleamed with past youth reflections usually with a new comfort of self acceptance. That sense of acceptance turned out to be a mainstay, as Aes started relaxing in his storytelling. The Impossible Kid was essentially an extension of Skelethon, while the glorious Spirit World Field Guide indulged with quirky observations of middle age, and found the most verbose rhymer slowing down, and flowing along with the beat, rather than firehose filling a mason jar.
Integrated Tech Solutions marries what he has learned through his previous albums, and the combination gives us an Aesop Rock that’s at full ease, and really interested in mellow vibes. That new found relaxation has Aesop probably rapping the slowest and most traditional of his career, with approvable results. “Mindful Solutionism” acts as the abstract vibe for what you can expect throughout the remaining tracks. Rock presents a catchy as hell beat filled with authentic scratches, and pure at its roots sci fi samples that’s a lighter look we’ve seen from his past Def Jux labelmates. His flow stays well contained and buoyant from beat to beat, as he fills his lyrics with vague referential esotericism we’ve come to expect, with all the gusto of someone enjoying the lane in which they carved for themselves.
He carries that cool as fuck humility into “Infinity Fill Goose Down” that just sounds like Aesop having fun with both his flow and production. The gritty New Yorker ‘I am always into something!” sticks out like a shiny piece of glass in the kaleidoscopic exploration of sci fi sounds Aes keeps teetering with. “Living Curfew” presents a dancier side we’ve not heard from Aesop Rock, as it’s more sober in its presentation than the past red-eyed late night paranoia of None Shall Pass. The bridge in the beat invites a sample that shifts the tunes to a wavy as fuck trip hop vibe that keeps the pace of the beat elastically keeping pace of Aes’ temposhift see-saw flow. billy woods‘ verse bursts through the chill vibe like a fucking wrecking ball. The matter of fact flow he’s been cultivating the past few years, and just kind of shines like a second moon in the sky that’s wildly noticeable, but oddly not out of place. Another feature on “Forward Compatibility Engine” shows Aes’ Hail Mary Mallon counterpart Rob Sonic offering his presence in a flow that rivals E-40’s elasticity that sticks and slaps along Aes’ clunky production.
The production generally hangs out in a midtempo chill zone comfortably and soaks itself in trip hop and late nineties alt dance samplings. It’s somewhere between a caffeinated Portishead, Fatboy Slim, and White Town’s “Your Woman”. The progressive shifts are smooth from bridge to bridge, while the dj scratches stick out like signals to genre roots. “Salt and Pepper Squid” stands out the loudest thanks to its Salt-N-Pepa sample with a foggy funk live production that should get any genre devout head bopping. The way Aesop stretches ‘squiiiiiiid‘ across the chorus feels like a slight nod to ‘ASAAAAAP‘ but I don’t want to know if I’m right. I like to believe its a cool easter egg shouting out his name counterpart A$AP Rocky, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
On album closer “Black Snow” Aesop gives us some melodic vocals from Nikki Jean that’s another something we’ve never seen Aesop Rock attempt in his discography (excluding The Uncluded). It’s a welcomed addition, as it has Aesop Rock again flexing his evolved production strength. It’s awesome to see an artist with almost 30 years under his belt still finding inspiration, still growing, and challenging oneself for refreshing results. Although hip hop is finding more of those elder rap artist showing everyone that getting older, doesn’t mean you have to be stale; we’ve been all accustomed to the theory of hip hop being a young one’s game. Aesop, along with his other elder artists keep punching giant holes in that theory, and it’s nice to see hip-hop existing and thriving outside of the mainstream.
Overall the 18 tracks don’t have any misses. Aes has been getting more selective on his beat material, and developing catchier hooks, with the same density we all know and expect from Aesop, but also the maturity Rock has been developing since that perspective shift way back around Skelethon. It’s astounding to watch an artist stay as interesting, inspired, and creative as Aesop Rock is, especially when hip hop generally has a success rate for the elders that is hit or miss at best. I’m curious what Aes will be rapping about in his next decade of life, but whatever that is, I won’t hold onto any expectations beyond knowing it will sound fresh as fuck.