Aesop Rock's well-chosen words paint dense, fascinating pictures.
He shrugs off the genius label, doesn't want to be too famous to walk in the grocery store alone and thinks someone who keeps his home as messy as he does shouldn't be anyone's mentor.
But Ian Bavitz can't stop the wave of worshippers from heralding his work as Aesop Rock as the savior of hip-hop and maybe even music in general.
Look at a page of lyrics from his latest, "None Shall Pass," and it's as dense as an essay. But unlike some of the more literate lyricists out there (Colin Meloy from the Decemberists comes to mind), Aes didn't study English.
His degree is in painting.
His songs have as many dots as an impressionists' work. But because each dot is its own image and not just a color, Aes' elaborate rhymes - packed with cultural, religious and personal references - have almost as much going on as Hieronymus Bosch's 15th century masterpiece, "The Garden of Delights."
That could sound intimidating, but only if you are intent on understanding exactly what he is saying and why, and what semblance it has to his personal life.
Bavitz's new album is deeply personal, dealing in large part with maturing, but it is also universal. It's not necessary to know anything about Bavitz to appreciate his messages.
Like a detailed mural, you can pick and choose where to focus and derive your own meanings. Just like fans have been doing for years on lyric interpretation Web sites.
Also reducing the intimidation factor on "None Shall Pass" is that it has its share of funny moments. And while amusing, a mock-interview video on YouTube.com that calls itself an EPK (that's short for electronic press kit) only thickens the mystery around Aesop Rock and his work.
Author Terry Tempest Williams got so obsessed with Bosch's painting that she wrote a whole book about it, "Leap," published in 2000. There would be enough material on "None Shall Pass" for some industrious college kid to write a thesis about how underground hip-hop can be quite educational and needn't rot the minds of impressionable preteens.
Aes isn't the only rapper (there's also KRS-One, Slug, Chuck D and Wu-Tang Clan) with a knack for packing much information in small amounts of time. He has a gift of clarity in his delivery that would make the most proper vocal coach clap her gloved hands and praise his diction.
Bavitz can thank a long-term relationship with Blockhead - his producer, good friend and touring partner - for some of these crisp, clear, perfectly balanced tracks, but Aes has been producing his own beats since before eighth graders were born. He gets credits on five of 14 tracks on the new disc.Blockhead also will perform solo Tuesday at the WOW Hall.
Blockhead produced "Cof-fee" and "None Shall Pass," the CD's two standout tracks. Bavitz's wife, Allyson Baker, plays guitar on those two tracks and three others.
Aside from overt references to characters and topics as diverse as Pontius Pilate in "No City" or stealing in "Five Fingers," he often communicates more in code. On "Fumes," he offers a refresher on the principle of inertia without using that word, then samples a science recording to reinforce the metaphor in the song.
Another subtle reference comes in "Citronella," when he taps the spirit of Michael Franti for one second to say the words "sea level."
Just like Williams with that Bosch painting, you keep listening to Aes and you keep hearing new things. Listen long enough and you will be deliriously uttering the words genius with bloodshot eyes.
Are you delirious with studied obsession, as Williams was on her repeat visits to Europe to see that Bosch painting? Or could Aesop be the real deal, to be studied and analyzed by students 500 years from now?
None of us will ever know, because we are living in his time. Instead, just find a comfortable place in front of this expansive, dynamic piece of work and focus on what's relevant for your life
With: Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Black Moth Super Rainbow and Blockhead with DJ Signify
Where: WOW Hall, 291 W. Eighth Ave.
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $16 in advance and $18 at the door
On the Web: Listen to samples and find a link to a funny YouTube video at rgweb.registerguard.com/ticketfiles