Aesop Rock @ Irving Plaza

Aesop RockNEW YORK, NY—Definitive Jux must be on top of the world right now. When the label started out in 1999 as the newest fish in the relatively obscure pond of underground hip hop, it didn’t seem likely that their roster would make the splash that it has. Each new disc has expanded their cred, and their compilation work has reached out to such far-flung locations as the Wu-Tang Clan’s empire and Williams Street (creators of another unusually popular hit, Adult Swim—the Definitive Swim comp is still available as a free download on their website, by the way). With the release of Aesop Rock’s fifth full-length album, None Shall Pass (Aug. 28) the label might be taking its first step into the larger world of mainstream hip hop, and judging by the mayhem that went down at Irving, the entire crew is more than ready.

Aesop Rock may be Def Jux’s frontrunner in terms of overall popularity, but the rest of the evening’s performers were by no means lacking in crowd support. The show was sold out and by the time Yak Ballz, the second of three opening acts, took the stage and the place was at least half full, more than I’ve ever seen at a NYC club at 8:30 p.m. Yak played a short, kinetic set filled with spastic moves and enthusiastic chants of his questionable name. The first high-momentum set of the evening, Yak snowballed into Cage’s time and stayed on to play hype man, almost getting away with stealing the show. Intense, half-crazed raps from Cage had the club (filled to capacity at this point) whipped into a frenzy, demanding an encore before he left the stage for the night’s headlining act.

Aesop Rock’s set was chaotic to say the least. Accompanied by DJ Big Wiz and labelmate Rob Sonic, he wound his way across his catalog, mixing classic tracks with new material, ripping through None Shall Pass’ title track only two songs into the set. Other highlights from early in the set included “39 Thieves” (woefully interrupted by a catfight in the crowd near the stage) and a hyperfast version of the Labor Days favorite “No Regrets.”

The rest of the show was peppered with special guest appearances—as Aes Rock’s only hometown stop on his massive fall tour, it was the perfect opportunity for a Def Jux get- together. Jux CEO and underground rap pioneer El-P came out for a song, followed by a return appearance from Cage. Rob Sonic also stepped to the front for a track from his upcoming album, one of a slew of releases hinted at during the course of the night (supposedly fans can expect new discs from Cage and underground supergroup The Weathermen sometime next year). Even the DJ, Big Wiz, got a piece of the action, cutting a custom beat on the spot which, to my dismay, nobody came out to freestyle over. I did get a kick out of his quick, barely noticeable cut of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme, though.

When Aes took the helm during the last part of the set, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. After blasting through some more new material, including the standout album- closer “Coffee,” the MC left the stage to the biggest crowd response I have ever heard at any show, anywhere. He returned in less than two minutes, bringing five-sevenths of The Weathermen with him for “Left It To Us,” a tantalizing peek at what will probably turn out to be the best hip hop collaboration of the decade. Clearing the stage and launching into the inevitable set-closer “Daylight,” Aesop Rock certainly seemed like he belongs at the head of hip hop’s fastest rising dynasty. I wasn’t surprised at all when MTV named him as their artist of the week the next day.

Photo Credit: Chrissy Piper