On the back of his two minor, but notary, underground releases ('Music For Earthworms' and 'Appleseed'), New York's finest abstract MC Aesop Rock has finally dropped his full length debut. Marking a dramatic departure from 'Appleseed's tight package of eight near flawless songs, 'Float' comes twenty tracks deep with a plethora of clever instrumentals and cunning linguistics. With a booming baritone, a flow that knows no fear and a generous collection of alternative quotables, Aesop is the type of MC who could probably produce a classic, paradigm-shifting album. Keeping this in mind, it's perhaps a bit disappointing that 'Float' is merely a great record, not a tremendous one. Nonetheless, any listeners of innovative hip-hop will be highly impressed by 'Float.'
Unlike most rappers pigeon-holed as "innovative" or "progressive," Aesop has a strong voice closer to Rock from Heltah Skeltah or Xzibit than Morrissey. No complaints about breath control or flow could be aimed at the exemplary vocalist, who combines this talent with lyrics that'll have you reaching for the notepad as much as the rewind button. It would be wrong to call a burst of inspiration like "I'm running with these fantastic amalgams / Painting casket boundaries to peers gunning with plastic albums," exceptional for Aesop Rock, since that's the quality of every line he spits. All of these great liners are tightly integrated into real songs with real concepts, such as 'Commencement At The Obedience Academy,' the source of the quote above, which uses a variety of creative metaphors to outline Aesop's struggle for individuality and '6B Panorama,' a literal observation of the New York streets in front of our talented narrator.
Also of note on this fine release is the production. The beats are provided either by Aesop himself or his producer Blockhead, with the exception of Omega's superb 'Skip Town,' one of the album's best cuts. The main two musicians are strong throughout, with Blockhead taking extra attention with his three interludes sprinkled throughout the disc. With his 11 tracks on here, Blockhead establishes himself as a beat maker strong enough to match Aesop's vocals, throwing in a bunch of clever shit from the harmonica in 'Ill Be OK' (featuring a nice cameo from Slug) to the crazy strings on 'Dinner With Blockhead.'
If 'Float' has an over-riding flaw, its the 69 minute length which stretches Aesop and Blockhead to their limits. While I wouldn't call any of the 17 full songs filler, many of them look poor in light of the stronger tracks. A beat like that on 'Fascination' would certainly impress on its own, but it is immediately overshadowed by 'Oxygen,' which is quite astounding. Likewise, the sufficient deliveries on 'Prosperity' and 'No Splash' sound inadequate when framed by Aesop's dynamic flows on 'How To Be A Carpenter' and the Dose One collaboration 'Drawbridge.' Of course, this complaint can be aimed at most albums with incredible songs, but the problem is significantly more noticeable on 'Float' to my ears.
Still, like most other albums with incredible songs, the best tracks on 'Float' make it an almost essential purchase. 'Skip Town,' 'Commencement At The Obedience Academy,' '6B Panorama,' 'The Mayor and The Crook,' and a bunch of other stand-outs are more than enough to justify a purchase, and you could spends months unraveling the layers of Aesop's dense poetry. While certainly a landmark release, 'Float' doesn't pack quite enough punch as a whole to increase the sum of all its parts. Nonetheless, this is an incredible LP and stands as one of the year's best displays of outstanding emceeing and virtuoso production.