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I’ll try to keep this short. God knows at this point, it probably looks like Def Jux has been paying my rent for the last 36 weeks (in actuality, it’s only been 12). But the truth is, in a year where “underground” hip-hop has produced more good albums than at any point since its glory days of 97-02, no indie rap label around has produced anything close to I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and None Shall Pass.

The weird thing is, no one really seems to care. Of course, I understand the reasons why. This is 2007 and in a way, the Jukies have already missed their window of opportunity. What they’ve done this year should’ve really gone down in 2003, but instead Aesop followed up Labor Days with the really bad until you listen to it 50 times and it becomes really great, Bazooka Tooth. El-P followed up Fantastic Damage by going completely AWOL for the next half-decade and Cannibal Ox are apparently trapped in some strange shadowy netherworld with Kevin Shields and Jeff Mangum.

Instead of striking while the iron galaxy was hot, the label put out a bunch of mostly mediocre releases before re-gaining its footing with Cage’s Hell’s Winter in late ’05. But in the five years since ’02, a lot changed: Aesop, El-P and Lif all hit 30, Murs decided he wanted to be a major label hyphy rapper, RJD2 fancied himself the third member of Steely Dan, and the majority of the label’s fan base graduated college, swapped their backpacks for a beard and blazers and suddenly Aesop Rock and The Shins found themselves drawing from the same demographics.

Aesop Rock: Beards, Blazers But No More Backpackers

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But as I wrote in my review of None Shall Pass, you can’t blame an artist for their fan-base (but you can blame Zach Braff), and I certainly understand why Aesop’s detractors mock the legions of white kids with M.F.A’s. that hang onto his every word, yet had never heard Camp Lo until Bazooka Tooth. But rather than pander to his bearded and bespectacled acolytes, Aesop has consistently straggled the line between erudite dense wordplay and prodigious mic skills that owe a heavy debt to the holy Golden Age trinity of KRS, Rakim, & Kane.

Last Friday night at the Henry Fonda was no different. No gimmicky ham-fisted live backing band. No obnoxious hype men (just Rob Sonic who seems to look more like Jonah Hill from Superbad with each day). Just a DJ, a mic cord, some baggy tees and backwards fitted Yankees caps. In addition, frequent Aesop collaborator, Bay Area artist Jeremy Fish, constructed a series of dazzling background visuals that synchronized with the songs themselves. As for the set list, it understandably hewed closely to the stuff from None Shall Pass, but Aesop did manage to bust out an impressive rendition of “Nickle Plated Pockets,” “Holy Smokes” from the Fast Cars EP and a show-stopping acapella performance of “Puff Tuff,” the B-side from the 7″ release of “None Shall Pass.”

I understand I’m probably blinded in a sense because Aesop has long been and continues to be one of my favorite rappers. But I’ve continued to hold him in such high esteem because unlike many artists (I see you, Talib Kweli) he’s never disappointed. A decade into his career, this show might’ve been his best that I’ve seen and None Shall Pass remains a lock for my top 10 best records of the year list. If you get the chance to catch Aesop on this tour, I highly recommend it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a check from a Mr. Jaime Meline to cash.

Download:

From None Shall Pass
MP3: Aesop Rock-“39 Thieves”

From “None Shall Pass 7″”
MP3: Aesop Rock-“Puff Tuff”

From Daylight EP
MP3: Aesop Rock-“Nickle Plated Pockets”

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