There remains a general misconception, based on a well-known and impressive survey of rappers organized by the highest usage of unique words in their vocabularies (where he comes out comfortably on top) that Aesop Rock still raps in the relentless, word salad-style of his formative years. Across several albums over the last decade, he’s gradually moved away from the electrifying but often cacophonous lyrical approach that had become so distinctly his. He’s a lucid communicator, more concerned with expressing his many clear thoughts rather than obfuscating them via clever verbal trickery.
On Integrated Tech Solutions, to misquote David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Aesop “has a philosophy, and that’s what makes him dangerous.” Nominally a concept album about mankind’s relationship to technology, as elegantly espoused on the gripping story of technological progression “Mindful Solutionism,” these 18 tracks splinter off into myriad tangents. These include the art of drawing pigeons (“Pigeonometry”) a mentally ill man breaking into Aesop’s apartment (“Aggressive Steven”) and a purgatorial drive-thru trip on “Time Moves Differently Here.” These musings are consistently interesting and frequently circle back to the album’s overarching focus in surprising ways. “Pigeonometry,” for example, weaves a fascinating meditation on the role of art in technological development into its witty verses about avian portraiture.
Some earlier reviews have characterized the Integrated Tech Solutions’ production as “retro-futurist,” but this is a misreading likely based on the eighties ad parody “ITS Solutions” that opens the album, along with the fact that these days apparently everything has to be tagged as retro or nostalgic. The album eschews familiar contemporary rap tropes, drifting off instead to a different vision of rap music’s present—one defined by a wonky-mid tempo pace, colorful synths and tasteful stabs of bass. The tone shifts with kaleidoscopic abandon, each track is as varied as the tech innovations that Aesop is celebrating and interrogating. “Salt and Pepper Squid” is dark and bouncy, “Aggressive Steven” starts linearly but subtly oscillates, while “Solid Gold” recalls the abstract early productions of Aesop’s former label boss and occasional collaborator El-P.
If, production-wise, Integrated Tech Solutions is highly mercurial, Aesop’s lyricism remains holistically focused on its overall targets, even while journeying down countless rabbit holes. It goes with saying that he possesses one of the most fascinating minds in hip-hop. There are moments here where, following a particularly sharp bar, you want to pause the track to contemplate the image or connection he’s just conjured. None of which is to say that his ninth studio album is didactic or cold. It’s full of great, funny stories (“Aggressive Steven” being the highlight) along with simply functioning as a showcase for its creator’s elite-tier rapping skills (see the precise flow and intricate rhymes of “Kyanite Solutions”). Aesop has continued to crack open his elaborately constructed shell, from which reams of engrossing ideas are flowing with considerable force.
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