The first time I heard Aesop Rock was on a Molemen song called “Put Ya Quarters Up,” where he rhymed, “strapped with a plague in a cocktail napkin/ wrapped in origami dragon fashion/ flashed in an effort to smash your pattern.” Many of his lyrics flew entirely over my head, but the few I managed to grasp were enough to keep me trying to decipher all the others. Cumbersome but rewarding, listening to Aesop’s music was an experience that felt like I was receiving some special knowledge; some kind of hi-art hip hop gnosis I was being initiated in to. As MF Doom had said, “Whoever didn’t get, wasn’t supposed to,” and I was starting to get it. Timeless music creates an experience, and even Aesop admits, he’s been at it for a lotta years. In a genre where it’s commonplace for stars to come and go, Aesop is still here. He’s one of the few that hasn’t had any drop off in skill or ability to create musical experiences; it can be argued he’s gotten better.
On this Saturday, January 14th, Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, DJ Zone and Homeboy Sandman will stop by Mercury Ballroom for The Impossible Kid tour. Ahead of this weekend’s show, I interviewed Aesop about his new music, his production and his recent collaborative EPs with Homeboy Sandman.
Never Nervous: The Impossible Kid earned the best 1st week sales of your career. What do you attribute the strong sales to and why do you suppose they came from this album in particular?
Aesop Rock: I’ve been lucky enough that each of my records’ first week has outdone the last. I think there’s probably a lot of factors. Rhymesayers runs a fairly tight ship, and there is always interest in creating a “campaign” moreso than just pushing music out at random. They helped to facilitate a long lead-up, including webisodes, music videos, etc. Rob Shaw, who did all of the video content for this project (except one piece) was extremely creative, on point, and equally on board as far as making some some awesome pieces that kinda build until the release. Biz3 has consistently been an ally in my solo endeavors and help convince people that I’m not dead yet. And lastly, hopefully people can tell that I take it seriously. Whether or not each record is better than the last is obviously subjective, but from my end the effort and thought put into these things is only growing. I hope that adds a little to the interest people have. I’m actively trying to make my best work at all times.
“Hopefully people can tell that I take it seriously.”
NN: You can stream The Impossible Kid on YouTube while watching Rob Shaw’s remake of The Shining. Are there any figurative or literal links between the album and the film?
AR: We needed a video as long as the album, and Rob offered to remake any movie shot for shot. It was an insane task – and he did it all in one week, mostly alone. As soon as he said he’d go for it, we just started naming movies that could work – and I think the shining was literally the first one we thought of. There are connections as far as a theme of getting away from society to work. But in addition, it’s an iconic movie with tons of recognizable imagery and moments, and we felt picking something like that would help it translate into the miniature version better. People know the twins, they know the carpet, they know the hedge maze, etc. So when the low-fi versions of these scenes come on, you kinda can’t help but chuckle.
NN: What are your go to pieces of equipment/software to produce beats?
AR: Pro tools is the brains. I keep some synths around, guitar, bass, etc. Moog Voyager gets used a decent amount, and I love the Roland sh-101. But a lot of it is samples that get chopped and freaked in Protools. For years I kept the asr-10 in the mix – maybe for nostalgia. It eventually needed servicing, and it was in the shop for a month or two. During that time I realized I was completely fine without it – which is sad to admit because it served as my main sampler since the beginning. Now it’s in the closet.
NN: Last year on Open Mike Eagle’s Secret Skin Podcast, in response to his question about whether you felt you had any competition in rap, you said (at that time) Homeboy Sandman let you hear his new album and it made you want to go home and write. You also said that sort of inspiration used to happen all the time, but now you have to seek it out more often. Can you clarify whether that means you’ve changed personally as an artist regarding what you find inspiring, or there is just a lack of inspiration today in rap?
AR: I think it’s like anything – the longer you do it, the harder it is to be impressed. Also, as the genre ages, it can be harder to break off from the pack to truly find an original angle. I still love it though – I love hearing people rhyme, and I love seeking it out because the moment you hear something that feels fresh it makes up for every moment of mediocrity out there. It’s just a much larger pond these days, where as I think in the my earlier years it felt like almost everything that was dropping had something new about it.
NN: Can you talk about Lice 1 & 2, particularly how did you and Sandman come to the decision to do these EPs? Can we expect another one?
AR: I think just having become friends and fans of one another it seemed pretty easy and natural. We’ve spent many hours in vans together, and while I often find it difficult to get open with the writing in that situation, I think approaching the whole thing as a fun break from my solo stuff made it easier. On top of that, I never really did the thing where you listen to beats from tons of different people – I always had one or two people I went to, or just produced myself. It was fun going thru a million beats and seeing what we both react to. Not having to really worry about producing, and sorta making these decisions on the fly helped with the vibe of it all. We have not started a 3rd installment but it certainly could materialize.
“I do these free EPs with my guy and we can say “let’s drop this next week”. There’s a freedom to the whole thing that doesn’t exist when you’re worried about selling something. Plus people like free shit.”
NN: What are the benefits of dropping music for free?
AR: Hmmm. I don’t know? It just feels nice. I do a solo album and turn it in, and we spend many months figuring out how it’s gonna be presented. I do these free EPs with my guy and we can say “let’s drop this next week”. There’s a freedom to the whole thing that doesn’t exist when you’re worried about selling something. Plus people like free shit.
NN: On Lice 2 there are links to suggested charitable pages for Skateistan.org. Why did you guys choose those two?
AR: On both Lice projects we decided to say “hey we don’t want money for this, but if you like it, consider tossing a coin in one of these directions… ” We both picked different things each time. I grew up skateboarding and the things that Skateistan.org does are amazing. Sand’s choice felt awesome too and we received some videos of awesome kids out on sick fishing trips – psyched as hell. Feels good to help.