3 out of 5
Produced by: Aesop Rock, Blockhead
Wordsmithery. That’s what we’re listening to here. Aesop Rock has rightfully made a name for himself off of his insanely layered, inventive lyricism – not just capable of rapping quickly, but sensibly, spitting out thoughts and metaphors that are worth sitting on and contemplating years after the fact. And his spitting flows naturally; it doesn’t feel showy – it’s this relatable sounding dude, rattling off his ideas, which might be casual observations but then sprout, line by line, into much more.
That’s here in spades on his first official release, Float, non-stop and for over an hour.
And that’s kind of the problem: it’s non-stop. It’s rather too much. And while Rock impressed us right from the start, my goodness has he grown as an artist over the years, finding even more rhythm and pacing nuance with his misleadingly drawled delivery, and progressing leagues in terms of production and songcraft – Float might as well be slam poetry; later he’d learn to actually rap over songs.
Splitting production duties with Blockhead, Float mostly sounds fairly flat. A lot of backpack rappers love to just dual-track their vocals in order to add some depth, and that’s pretty much the extent of things here. There are no choruses, and rarely any hooks with the beats. Blockhead’s work does tend to be the more dynamic of the two, but in general, tracks stand out when Rock’s delivery is a bit more aggressive, and this occurs when he’s rapping against some guest stars (Slug, Doseone) or when the beat demands it. Songs of this nature are favored more toward the album’s opening, but that also might be because the template doesn’t change much thereafter – drop a similar paced / toned beat, let loose with rhymes – and so is freshest. Undeniably, any song taken in isolation is impressive as hell: if you played one track – any track – to the uninitiated, it’s impossible to not be wowed by Rock’s delivery. But by the same token, the almost complete lack of standout moments prevents a lot of the tracks from sticking beyond the awareness of this dude being able to rap like a champ.
Given this flatness, the 2020 vinyl reissue by Rhymesayers isn’t a better or worse way to listen to the album, just a different one. There’s no extra material, but the vinyl pressing does sound clean and crisp, and the backpack style does lend itself well to the “warmer” sound of wax.