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Welcome to yet another Definitive Jux effort about the disintegration of identity and society. In recent years, the label has cornered the market on groove-based existentialism, churning out at least three entropy-obsessed classics: Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, El-P’s Fantastic Damage, and Mr. Lif’s I Phantom. Aesop Rock’s 2001 LP, Labor Days, arrived among them, and although its moody ruminations on life and work fit the Def Jux vibe, its sonic sparseness seemed out of place. But restraint isn’t the problem with Aesop’s new Bazooka Tooth, which instantly sounds both more far-reaching and more chaotic than its predecessor. “Oh my God/Journalists around the globe are officially critiquing my first eight bars,” raps Aesop during the psychedelic stomp of the title track, setting a dual agenda of self-consciousness and musical evolution. The MC produced more than two-thirds of Bazooka Tooth himself, and unlike buddy Blockhead, the chief booth man on Labor Days, Aesop leans sharply toward El-P’s hyperactive style of beat-making. But that extra oomph in the grooves presents a challenge: Though Aesop might have mastered the crooked couplet, his non sequiturs on Bazooka Tooth often fight for attention in the mix. “Chase the gimmick/Chase the genius/But I’d rather chase the phoenix,” he intones during the glitched-up intro to “No Jumper Cables,” which quickly becomes a race between a stutter-stepping rhythm and Aesop’s rhymes about making sense of a crazy urban landscape. He’s better when he’s chasing other rappers, or when he decides not to encrypt his words among the music. On “11:35,” for instance, he gamely trades lucid street narratives with the much more nuanced Mr. Lif, and on “NY Electric,” he clears room for a third-person explanation of Def Jux’s core us-vs.-them mission: “His daddy’s in the neighbor’s garbage/He’s making paper dolls decorated with targets/He’s labeling the dolls with the names of shitty rap artists/Then tearing out the still-beating heart from the loose-leaf carcass.” Most of the time, though, Aesop has to mediate a pitched battle between his still-untamed lyrical skills and his still-developing sense of musical drama. On Bazooka Tooth, it turns out, the most interesting conflict is in the rapper’s head. —Joe Warminsky