It probably depends on the release date of ‘RTJ3′. It’s pretty silly if you can’t harbor a buzz by yourself. Aesop Rock, a 22-year hip-hop veteran, holds the largest vocabulary in the genre’s history.
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As Aesop Rock continues to tour on 2016’s The Impossible Kid, he realizes that as a rapper who is now past 40, he doesn’t have much company in pursuing his goal to stay relevant. Out of these seven albums (those which I find most integral to his discography); Music for Earthworms, Float, Labor Days, Bazooka Tooth, None Shall Pass, Skelethon, and Impossible Kid, which do you find the be the most quintessential to Aesop’s sound? Which would you first recommend somebody who somebody who has never heard any Aesop Rock before? And, if there are any that I didn’t list which you deem most important, justify your reasoning.
AR: Yeah, I guess it’s like people who, without sounding pretentious, feel like they were outsiders for any reason. Depressed kids or something like that. Kids who have strayed away from the norm. I like the fantasy-type shit because it feels almost more real to me. Same thing with the lyrics—sometimes I’ll describe something and people are like, “It’s confusing. It’s strange.” It’s kinda more realistic to me that way, in hyper-detail. Granted, it may have a surreal edge. I don’t actually hang out with zombies in real life.
It is far too easy to hate on something because pop culture has watered it down,” wrote Definitive Jux label rapper Aesop Rock in a recent URB magazine article. To entirely dismiss hip-hop as being ‘dead’ is a little like saying elephants are dead because they are no longer armored and used in battles like they were in 16th Century India.” No truer words have been written in the defense of hip-hop culture and the underground innovators who constantly strive to explore the possibilities of this young genre.
I’d definitely start with The Impossible Kid. The lyrical excerpts from that album are more digestible ( maybe because of how clean the beats are) to someone who has never heard of Aes before, then, if intrigued more, go to None Shall Pass.
I think it certainly can be. I mean every genre evolves and goes through phases over time—and there have certainly been periods in which the current sound is just not living up to the potential of the medium, for me. But there is still nothing more direct than hearing a strong rhyme delivered by a powerful voice over an infectious beat—and that remains as the foundation of the sound. Different things will resonate with different people due to generational differences and where their ear naturally leads them—but for all the changing that has happened in rap, I can usually still find something that at least references the feelings I had when first hearing rap in the 80s, and what eventually inspired me to try to write my own stuff.
Portland rapper Aesop Rock and analog synth master Tobacco have joined forces to officially form a new duo named Malibu Ken. Wasting no time, the pair is prepping to drop its self-titled debut album in just a few months on January 18th through Rhymesayers.
Case in point: From the first few seconds of None Shall Pass,” the title track from Aesop Rock’s new highly-anticipated LP, it’s clear that his vision of the art form is more vital and alive than that which was displayed in any of his previous output. The song’s subtle techno thump, spacey keys and guitar with shuffling hi-hats, sounds almost otherworldly, as does the rapper’s frenetic delivery. On the phone with The Marquee from his new San Francisco abode, Aesop discussed the direction of his new material, the upcoming None Shall Pass Tour and all the painstaking crap in between.
AR: Laughs. And to a degree, I get it. These kinds of things sort of set hip-hop apart. It’s like the person on the stage is leading the party, and I get that, and that element is cool. There’s a lot of crowd participation, and that sort of thing can be done well, or terribly. It’s basically like the ingredients for rap are awesome. Occasionally, the sum of the parts isn’t as good.
I don’t think I realized I was doing that until it was done, and then a couple people mentioned it and I was like, Oh yeah!” laughs. But I think it’s really my sliding up to 40 record. I think the age of 40 is the thing that looms over our heads and it’s got all these kind of … things that we attach to it. I think it’s just a period of reflection for me in a lot of ways. So I guess that’s kind of the shape that a lot of the songs took.
AR- As far as None Shall Pass it’s just a different time and as far as the more organic feel it’s because there is a lot of live instrumentation on there. A lot of the beats that Blockhead made wound up having samples pulled out of them and so myself and other musicians ended up playing the parts. It forced me to pay more attention to this project than any in the past because these songs went through a lot of stages to get to where they are now. There was a point we actually turned in the record but then even a few more samples got pulled because they weren’t quite obscure enough for the label to feel comfortable enough with the risk. On other projects I may have just been like, fuck it” and walked away but El-P came in and helped out some and there was just a lot of good collaboration this time around.
Aesop Rock , independent hip-hop’s Thomas Pynchon, is returning with his seventh studio album, The Impossible Kid, his first in nearly four years. While all of his dense, metaphorically rich albums have been acutely personal, The Impossible Kid is his most exposed and diaristic, with the rapper opening up about depression, regrets and aging — he turns 40 on June 5th. Somewhere between Grand Rapids and Pontiac, Michigan on the road,” he explains. Exactly where I want to be.” The album was born from secluded work sessions in a rented barn in Washington State, with the bulk of the beats crafted by the MC himself.
At his best, Aesop Rock expresses what every neurotic, sensitive nerd wants to say. Unfortunately, he exhausts his audience with self-indulgent, not-very-concrete prose. He needs to reel it in and let people have a chance to breathe and process the verbiage. Almost every track on The Impossible Kid is indistinguishable from the next, blending together in a way that converts the man’s talent into his fatal flaw, due in part to the forgettable beats.
AR- I recently got to play a show Turf Talk was at. Honestly, I think that shit is dope! Coming from New York and bumping New York hip-hop radio, I didn’t even know that shit existed because I just wasn’t exposed to it. Even underground radio there plays east coast” underground. I was totally opened up to this whole new world and I find it so refreshing because these dudes like Keak The Sneak have really incredibly bugged out styles for being the talk of the town. For breaking the charts and being the Bay Area dons, they’re pretty fucking weird! Maybe I’m just used to more New York shit where people are more scared to experiment, but it’s pretty dope, I gotta say. These dudes are emcees because they’re hungry and really trying to do something vocally that nobody’s ever done before and that goes beyond this whole holier than thou” type of thing.
This clarity was most apparent on his last solo album, The Impossible Kid , for which he earned substantial critical praise, but it was present, although inchoate, on Skelethon as well, where he rapped about mummifying a cat , Bob’s Donuts in San Francisco , and refusing to eat vegetables when he was young The Tom ‘Bedlam character from King Lear comes to mind; Edgar masquerading as a deranged vagrant in order to cover his true identity from those that may hurt him. The last decade has seen Aesop Rock slowly emerge from a protective shell of obfuscation, still a bit mad, but more accessible than ever.
I mean, rap is historically alpha male shit. So getting on the mic and discussing one’s weaknesses is not the most comfortable or even welcomed approach. That said, once someone does, you realize there are all these people out there who have maybe never had someone speak to them directly, and they’re thinking Hey, finally someone is talking to me.” But you’re basically volunteering to be the weak person in the room—and that will never be easy. There’s also a funny side effect where all the people who rap from the point of view of being extremely secure don’t even know what to do when they hear someone expressing self-doubt. It’s legitimately weird to them. I love the playfulness and braggadocio that accompanies a ton of rap music – that’s basically what makes up the foundation for most rappers. But there is nothing weirder” to me than someone who has never doubted themselves.
AR: And it’s got the pictures in it, and it’s all just stories about how meaningful every decision he’s made in his life is. It’s strange how it doesn’t seem strange to write songs where you’re not talking about yourself that much. I mean, I do because I rap, and I can’t avoid it. Pardon me if this all sounds corny, but when you put on a record, I’d like it to be an escape from everything you do. You can get lost in a record and forget yourself to a degree, as opposed to someone being like, “I am this. You should be this.” It sort of ruins the experience to just be berated. And I realize that rap is that, which is sort of what makes it beautiful. Now that rap has existed for as many years as it has, there’s probably a way to take that element, that in-your-faceness of the music, and apply it to different subject matter, or different styles of music.
While Aesop made his name as an artist with the Mush label, and later, on El’s Definitive Jux squad, this decade he’s been rolling with the Rhymesayers family, co-founded by Atmosphere. As recently as 2016’s The Impossible Kid , Rock has made some of his best Hip-Hop in years. He keeps the art exciting through interesting visuals, rugged flows, and compelling takes on the state of the culture.
Aesop uses such awesome hard to find samples, I know what songs he is sampling but I can’t find them anywhere.?v=9erp8NxaAwA such a great track, samples A Day with You by Hubert Laws, if anyone can find it.
Despite the massive volume of material processed by thousands of listeners through music, movies and video games (can somebody say Tony Hawk?), Aesop Rock is experiencing a lot of firsts relatively late in his career. On June 13, he made his first-ever network TV appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, shining a much-deserved light on a talent that’s been simmering below the surface for almost two decades. His latest album, The Impossible Kid, which was released by Rhymesayers Entertainment on April 29, has charted higher than any previous effort and is a crowning achievement in his self-produced projects, maintaining his ridiculously dense wordplay notoriously riddled with metaphors, word games and acrobatic rhyme schemes.
At the same time, this is the most purely Aesop Rock record of his career. Like Skelethon, Aesop exercised complete creative control over the whole thing, from the production (which he handled himself, with instrumental help from Philly’s Grimace Foundation) to conceptualizing the cover art by his friend Alex Pardee.
You could see that as stubborn defiance, the old man fighting against tides of change. But on The Impossible Kid, such moves mostly come across as a musician aware of what he likes and working to update it for his current circumstancesa forty-year-old, long-rapping, new cat owner, equally mesmerized and perplexed by the world’s possibilities and problems. Aesop Rock seems to understand it’s impossible to become a kid again, even if youth is more fashionable than legacy.
Aesop then surfaced on the Rhymesayers label in 2011, collaborating with producer, rapper and former Def Jux label mate Rob Sonic in the group Hail Mary Mallon before his next solo album, Skelethon, arrived a year later. That album debuted and No. 21 on the Top 200 album chart and at number one on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart, and found Aesop gaining more of a mainstream music audience.
Asap Rocky started off as an underground artist who began his career at the age of 17, wen he found himself in the hoods of Harlem, NY trying to make it out with his single mother. Although he is from New York, a lot of his lingo, and rhyme schemes comes from Houston, Texas. His first big break was when his songs Peso”, and Purple Swag” released on air.
A: Yeah, but I do that at least once a day laughs. I’ve never thought about not writing anymore songs, I don’t know if I’d be able to. I’ve been frustrated about songwriting but when I’m frustrated it’s usually related to an aspect of the “industry.” But no matter what, it’s a job, so I’m going to complain. So, again, at this point all I have is the songs. It’s all I really have, it’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.
The reality of reaching age 40 was a major source for inspiration for the record as Aesop examines his life—looking back all the way to his childhood—as he attempts to figure out who he is as a person and how he got to where he is now. Some of the lyrics are fairly straight-forward, a surprise considering Aesop has had a long-running reputation for being cryptic in his lyrics. That’s pretty much what The Impossible Kid is largely about; just kinda staring at 40 and thinking, ‘OK, what now?’” he said.
I don’t know, that’s tough. I can’t remember the last time I felt pumped to take on the day. Maybe the Mountain Goats’ Love Cuts the Strings.” Actually for the last few years that Nas song Locomotive” from Life Is Good has not left my daily playlist–that one gets me hyped.
AR- (laughter) That’s kinda true but I’m thankful for everyone and not to sound corny but, I never thought I could make music for a living and I wake up literally every day thinking that this could all just be gone. It’s become really superficial and easy to get the rug pulled out from under you in this industry. So every fan I get is shocking. I welcome everybody.
Even with his lyrical departure from obscure, The Impossible Kid retains Aesop’s characteristic fluid delivery and cautionary tale thematics with the key difference coming by way of his lifting the veil between his own vulnerabilities and their relationship to his personal life and the art he creates. In our recent chat with him, Aesop opened up about that new sort of direction and why he doesn’t feel as connected to the hip-hop scene anymore. Read the interview below and be sure to check out Noisey’s exclusive album stream of The Impossible Kid, which is a full shot-by-shot recreation of The Shining and holy shit why are you still reading this.
AR- Yeah man, no bagels either. But I’m mostly an introvert so I feel I can be almost anywhere with a few people I love and a studio. Born Ian Matthias Bavitz, Aesop Rock was at the forefront of the new wave of underground and alternative hip-hop acts that emerged during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Along with writing all of the songs on the album, Bavitz did most of the musical production as well, giving the album a personal feel. With a career spanning two decades, Aesop Rock ‘s name is synonymous with quality, underground hip-hop.
The less straightforward, less narrative tracks on Malibu Ken” offer a world of lyrical content to explore. However, Aesop Rock can craft a verse with a flow as rhythmically satisfying as any hook in hip-hop, making the listening experience without lyrical focus still highly enjoyable.
Bavitz’s latest release, None Shall Pass Definitive Jux, is the first recorded in his new studio digs, but it doesn’t lack the fidelity of his past albums—all recorded in decidedly more posh surroundings.