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.
asap rocky sweden – How Aesop Rock Does Breakfast
Aesop Rock emerges into 2019 with producer TOBACCO to put out their first joint album Malibu Ken,” the third release for independent hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment. In 2014, data scientist Matt Daniels analyzed a wide range of hip-hop artists in an effort to answer one pressing question: Who has the largest vocabulary in the game? Not surprisingly, renowned wordsmiths like Outkast and the Wu-Tang Clan ranked high on the list, surpassing Shakespeare’s complete works on the measure of unique words used. But one rapper’s verbal repertoire stood out from the rest: that of Aesop Rock, an obscure but beloved Portland-based artist who has been churning out insanely intricate raps since the mid-1980s. According to Daniels, Rock’s vocabulary far exceeds that of Melville’s Moby Dick.” In fact, he notes in his study , this rapper is so far above the mean that he shouldn’t even be on the chart.
Jeez, I really don’t know. In some ways, any of the things I’d warn myself about are kinda unavoidable anyway. I think though, if I’m honest, with turning 40 in a few months, I more than ever wonder what’s next for me. I don’t really feel done and I don’t know that I’ll ever stop writing songs, but I do wonder how long I can be up on stage, touring, doing press, etc. Either I’m gonna get completely sick of it or the people will finally be done with me, or I’ll lose the plot and fall off completely, but at some point I’m gonna have to figure out what’s next. So in some ways, I’d tell myself to keep that in mind. But you know what, it wouldn’t have mattered because I have been hearing that kinda shit forever about many of my decisions, including art school, rap career, etc. I mean, a lot these choices you just make because it seems like a cool experience and you’ll figure the rest out later. I hope.
Labor Days was followed by Bazooka Tooth in 2003. For the first time, production was mostly handled by Rock himself, with three tracks from longtime collaborator Blockhead and one from close friend and Definitive Jux label CEO El-P. Guest appearances include Party Fun Action Committee , El-P, and Mr. Lif (all Definitive Jux labelmates) and Camp Lo With this release Aesop hit a higher level of recognition, releasing “No Jumper Cables” as a single and music video, then another single, “Freeze”, shortly after. A remix of “No Jumper Cables” was featured on Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 , furthering Aesop’s recognition. In 2004, he released Build Your Own Bazooka Tooth and created a contest in which you had to create a remix of an Aesop Rock song using the cappellas and instrumentals.
Those years have been productive, though. Since his last solo album, 2012’s Skelethon, Aesop has released collaborative albums with Kimya Dawson (The Uncluded’s Hokey Fright in 2013), with Rob Sonic (Hail Mary Mallon’s Bestiary in 2014, which was tracked in the same barn in the woods), and with Homeboy Sandman (LICE’s self-titled EP in 2015). He’s also been actively crafting beats. Recent projects include producing the 32+ minute instrumental mix, The Blob, working together with Nike to provide the music for a series of their skateboarding videos, and producing the soundtrack for the upcoming film Bushwick, starring Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow.
Yeah. It was basically just a year renting this place. That was where, I guess, a lot of the initial ideas were put down. It’s the part of the record that I just sort of romanticized because it does have the aspect of solitude and just kind of getting out and moving, and just kind of parsing through your thoughts. Really it was just I just wanted to work. I wasn’t being productive where I was in San Francisco, so I was able to go to this place and just make a ton of beats and start a bunch of stuff. I didn’t create a whole record there or anything, but I was able to get up every day and make my life completely about that.
By his own admission, Rock is not the most social guy. He doesn’t like to traffic in the same circles as other rappers, and his preferred method of conducting interviews is via email. I had the privilege of sending Rock some questions about breakfast. He answered them gamely.
Way back in 2008, idiosyncratic indie-rap legend Aesop Rock teamed up with far-out synth-gloop producer Tobacco, one half of former Aesop Rock tourmates Black Moth Super Rainbow, on a song called Dirt” Now, more than a decade later, the two have teamed up to release a full collaborative album called Malibu Ken. And it’s great.
I remember Quim rapping in Eastern Exposure and thinking that was cool at the time. He’s probably my favorite of the bunch. I can hear the influence of what Quim listens to. You can tell he listens to Illmatic. But some of the other ones, not specifically the guys you mentioned, you just start wondering where the whole thing even comes from. It’s like rap music by people who don’t know anything about rap music. Like, how many times removed is this song from the genuine article? I don’t even mean that as a diss, more like a case study.
He would return to his solo career in 2012 with Skelethon , released by the Rhymesayers label. The album featured a guest appearance from Dawson along with Rob Sonic and Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts After his gear was stolen in 2013, Rock sold artwork to help fund a new studio setup. A tour with the Uncluded preceded 2015’s LICE, the first of a trio of collaborative EPs with Homeboy Sandman A year later he returned to his solo career with the single “Rings” and the album The Impossible Kid The following year he scored his first film, the action thriller Bushwick In 2018, he formed Malibu Ken with Black Moth Super Rainbow mastermind Tobacco , whose debut solo album Aesop had guested on a decade prior. The duo’s self-titled album arrived in early 2019.
In early 2007, Aesop Rock composed a 45-minute piece for Nike’s Original Run series titled All Day, a continuous track meant to be listened to while jogging (other artists included LCD Soundsystem and the Crystal Method ). By September his much-anticipated full-length, None Shall Pass, which included guest appearances from El-P and John Darnielle (from the Mountain Goats ), came out. A year later, Definitive Jux would be put “on hiatus” by label head El-P , but Aesop would remain busy, producing major works like Felt ‘s 2009 effort Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez and working on a collaboration with the Moldy Peaches ‘ Kimya Dawson dubbed the Uncluded Additionally, he formed Hail Mary Mallon with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, debuting with Are You Gonna Eat That? in 2011.
It all adds up to one of the year’s best efforts. But, with an extra layer of Aesop’s signature murkiness comes a level of increased perplexity for us layman listeners. We asked Aesop to give us a feel for each track — as a listening guide and a way to decode the often-confusing lyrics that he spews so eloquently. He obliged (thanks, Aesop), and provided us with a run down of the new album. Enjoy.
This is about isolating, feeling disconnected, etc. I wanted to accent that while I enjoy a nice tantrum, I’m pretty much a piece of shit who brings the majority of the adversity in his life upon himself.
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: No, it’s not like that. Nothing’s done, it’s just a bunch of scraps and stuff, there’s one I kind of like. I don’t know if you know; there’s this guy named Ricky Casso who was a satanic serial killer from the town I grew up in. I actually went to school with his sister. He did all these satanic rituals, and ended up stabbing this kid 17 times, and hung himself in jail. I’m three-quarters of the way through doing the Ricky Casso story. I think a few people have done books on him, but it’s sort of this satanic-murder story.
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.
Portland is picturesque and green, and it’s allowed me to live way cheaper than I had been for years while simultaneously being pretty productive with my music. It actually rains less than I thought it would and I don’t really mind when it does anyway. I’ve also gotten back on my skateboard a ton because of this town and that’s a good thing. All that said, it’s not necessarily a place I feel completely at home in. It’s always been a temporary destination for me so I haven’t fully made much of an attempt to get too involved. Ultimately, I’ll most likely end up back east at some point.
AR- Yeah, and also more successful once you drop the stigma of what your fan base should look like or listen to. A lot of people don’t get used to it and if their fan base doesn’t look exactly like they envisioned when they wrote their first song, it fucks them up and they will switch up their whole steez in order to capture just those people they’re focused on capturing. It can fuck your shit up. If you have fans, you’re lucky in the first place.
The opening track Corn Maze” introduces Aesop Rock as the private and guarded individual many fans already know him as. He repeats the phrase I got some walls up,” which may be an answer to why he’s known for such abstract and cryptic songwriting. On this particular track he seems to have more pride and lighthearted feelings towards his own isolated behaviors.
Purple Moss,” the last song on the project, shows Aesop Rock’s desire to escape to a far off place from the world that makes him feel off-centered. He ends each of his three verses wanting to stare at stars, watch weird, non-judgemental individuals and dream of a chair in a yard while on an Empire Builder, which is actually an Amtrak train that goes cross-country.
Stage named Asap Rocky, real name Rakim Mayers. Stage name Aesop Rock, real name Ian Matthias Bavitz. Two totally different artist with very similar names. Does this mean they have similar style? Perhaps one idolizes the other, or perhaps one envy’s the other.
Last year Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman collaborated together on this self-released EP, featuring production from DJ Spinna, Optiks, Blockhead, Alex Apex” Gale and artwork from Jeremy Fish. The two MC’s toured the US together with copies of the album, and now we have a limited amount of the 12-inch vinyl available.
I guess for me, The Impossible Kid is me closing in on 40 and just going over it all. It feels sorta reflective in the sense of going through some childhood memories, some family stuff, some friend stuff, some music stuff, some moments of being baffled by the youth of today, and just coping with getting older. I kinda feel like turning 40 is a very specific thing in our society. It somehow holds more weight than any other age, even though in some ways it’s pretty arbitrary. For whatever reason, it’s the age that we are officially old. Maybe because if we’re lucky, it’s the halfway point. In your 30s, you can kinda still pretend to be young, but there’s not much pretending at 40. It’s the age that looms more than any other. So yeah, this is the sound of me sliding into 40.
For many critics this ceaseless and highly cerebral flow is alienating. To them discerning which couplets constitute a meaningful narrative and which are just exercises in MF Doom-esque instinctive word-wrangling is an impossible task, the musical equivalent of trying to speed-read Gravity’s Rainbow without glancing at SparkNotes. Ultimately ‘The Impossible Kid’ is an album that will reinforce whatever preconceptions about Aesop Rock you already hold. However, it’s also worth noting that this is most probably the least cryptic and most honest of all his records.
The next step for Bavitz is recording his bass lines, which he does with an old Fender P” into a Radial JDV Super DI through a Mackie Onyx 1640 16-channel mixer. After laying down his rhythm section, Bavitz spends the rest of the time writing lyrics to match his loops.