EPs have historically enjoyed a reputation only slightly more elevated than that of the late, unlamented cassingle. EPs tend to be viewed either as a way for newcomers to make an impact without the expense endemic to a full-length debut, or as a disposable stopgap measure to satiate fans between albums. But in the hands of wildly idiosyncratic brainiac weirdoes like Count Bass D and Aesop Rock, an EP can still qualify as a major release. Bass D began his career making oddball jazz-rap on live instruments (strangely enough, initially on Sony) but got dropped, fell in love with sampling and the pop-culture crazed soundscapes of MF Doom and Madlib, and reinvented himself as a savvy pop-culture scavenger through 2002's exhilarating, revelatory Dwight Spitz.
A simultaneous extension and continuation of Dwight Spitz's expansive sonic experimentation, Begborrowsteel races through 16 eclectic tracks in just under 30 minutes. A crazy patchwork quilt of found-sound sonic collages, left-field hip-hop, and woozy neo-soul, the album is roughly the same length as Aesop Rock's EP opus, but feels half as long.
Money, or rather the desperate lack of it, is the thematic glue holding Bass D's sonic flights of fancy together. "Straight out the bedroom, straight out the homelessness," Bass D boasts on "Doxology," with a mixture of defiant pride and resignation. Later, when he raps "I'll tell ya like Fats told Mingus, / Jazz ain't supposed to make nobody millions," he sounds like he's trying to console himself in the face of the marketplace's Darwinian cruelty. Begborrowsteel leaves little doubt that Bass D would rather make good music than good money. Music this iconoclastic probably won't ever make nobody millions, but consistently turning out adventurous, genre-blurring releases should at least be spiritually rewarding.
Fast Cars, Danger, Fire And Knives is the rare underground release that's as notable for its packaging as its contents. Aesop's latest comes with a darkly beautiful 90-page book of lyrics, photos, and sketches called The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow, an obsessively detailed chronicle of Aesop's two EPs and three albums; it turns the EP into a celebration of the Rock's career as much as a fresh batch of new songs. Of course, it takes a lot of chutzpah to package lyrics as poetry. After all, if P. Diddy were to release a book of his lyrics, it'd be only a few pages long, and would consist mainly of variations on "Yeah," "I like dat," "Bad boy baby," and "Can't stop, won't stop."
But Rock has always been one of rap's wordiest wordsmiths, a jester-voiced arch-surrealist whose songs pack an almost unbelievable volume of evocative imagery, belligerent attitude, and gallows humor into a few maddeningly concentrated minutes. Like bossman El-P, Aesop Rock seems as intent on scaring away the wrong kind of listeners as hooking in the right kind of fans. On the EP's first track, Rock bites the pasty white hands that type his ecstatic reviews when he spits "Like every other week, these hipster tabloids jumping on and off my sex pistol's bullets," and then "Like every other week, these fucking fanzines forget if they spit or swallow." Rock's marathon verses are so long and involved that it takes a few listens just to digest them, which their density and harshness makes a little daunting. Rock's diehard fans will embrace Fast Cars as a loving gift from hip-hop's Dylan, but it'll do little to change the minds of those who think El-P and Rock are simply too damn hip and arty to make music that's fun (as opposed to mind-expanding or important) to listen to. A prickly pear whose sneering delivery seems to mock himself, his fans, and everything else within earshot, Aesop Rock is easy to respect but hard to love, especially by comparison to the kind of warmth and intimacy Bass D's music inspires.