SOUNDS FROM THE UNDERGROUND
AESOP ROCK IS PUTTING A BRAND NEW FLAVOR IN YOUR EAR.
"This fallen angel can stitch a wing with a shoestring." That's the second line Aesop Rock shouts on his latest and third release, Float. The 24 year old Aesop Rock sews together phrases that individually may not make much sense but tell stories once placed next to one another. Aesop a long island native and Boston University graduate currently living in NYC, has a vocal dexterity that sits on a multitude of timbres, from the dark cello driven "Basic Cable" to the brass filled jam of "Attention Span" on which he duets with Vast Air. If rappers were reptiles Aesop Rock would be a chameleon. He can flow in any given situation.
Ghetto Blaster: Long Island must have been a change from what you're doing now.
Aesop Rock: Definitely, it was basically a handful of people that I knew that I was around. It was completely different vibe in the air. It was a handful of MCs that would try freestyling thinking that we knew what we were doing. At that point it was like 7 or 8 years ago so I had no idea I was going to be doing this. We were just freestyling because it seemed natural. We were listening to hip-hop. It was sometime in early high school, I was always listening to hip-hop and I had a few musical instruments as well. I listened to some jazz and stuff just because I'm sampling things and I begin to think that it's fresh just by itself. It's funny because you graduate to the level of when you're finally, "Man, I want to do this in front of people." Around here though, everybody on the street is an MC.
Ghetto Blaster: Aesop was an obscure Greek poet. His fables regarded him to some as the greatest storyteller of all time. Why choose Aesop? And why Aesop ROCK?
Aesop Rock: Well, what you just said sounded pretty good (he laughs). "Aesop" actually came when I was acting in a friend's movie and that was my character's name. It ended up sort of sticking. It sounded fresh and it has a fresher meaning from what you've just said. So that stuck and I just ended up adding the "Rock" in a rhyme every couple of times, referring to myself that way. There were a couple of other MC's out there calling themselves Aesop so I thought this would make it a little different than the other ones. It just helped me when people referred to my music they would know which one was being talked about. When you say it it sounds kind of dumb; it doesn't roll right off the tongue.
Ghetto Blaster: Do you see these stories as urban fables?
Aesop Rock: I have the hardest time writing a story from start to finish that's coherent. I'd rather read a story but I couldn't write one. I can write a poem but I'd rather read stories. I have a hard time maintaining this cohesive plot through the entire thing. What I've discovered that's easier to do for myself is to pick a theme, idea or person I want to speak about. Whatever comes to my head beyond that doesn't necessarily have to be a chronological story line about how I feel about it. It can be a bunch of stuff that paints a picture of what it is I'm speaking about.
Ghetto Blaster: The album seems so organic that I didn't know if you were sampling or not.
Aesop Rock: The production is pretty much half me and half my man Blockhead. My friend Omega has one beat on there. I work with Blockhead a lot; we have a lot of the same ideas. I've known him for a long time and when we get into a room we throw out ideas at each other and almost every one we'll both agree with each other. It just works like that. I'm an MC/producer/performer so I think his beats on the album stand out just a little better than mine. I've played the bass for a long time too so I have some musical background besides that so I can definitely bring that into it.
Ghetto Blaster: Sample wise it doesn't sound like something I've ever heard. I'm listening and trying to figure out whose music is in the background.
Aesop Rock: I've sampled a lot of different music throughout the years. I gravitate towards pretty jazz beats, not necessarily happy jazzy beats but some sort of smooth, grim jazz. There are also some other styles on there.
Ghetto Blaster: That's another thing, what else did you throw in there, some bluegrass on "I'll Be OK" with Slug? Not your standard fare.
Aesop Rock: That was funny because that beat was made with this kid Slug. We originally had written that song with the cowboys in the idea of it. Blockhead had made the beat and when we got there we played the beat we were like reading our lyrics and Slug was like, "Man I hate my shit." I said my verses were kind of whack too so we threw on some other verses on there that had nothing to do with the cowboy beat but it sounded kind of fresh. I like the beat, it's funny when you first hear it, you kind of giggle when you first hear it because it sounds so country but when it's good.
Ghetto Blaster: How much of this did you take with you to college?
Aesop Rock: When I was in college I basically made no effort to get accepted into the Boston area. That's nothing against the Boston hip-hop scene, it's just, when I would do a show I would come home on weekends and do shows here. When I'd come back here we'd record some songs and I had my sampler up in school so I was working up there by myself recording some 4-track stuff. I did a few shows up there and rocked open mics with people I knew were Djing out. For the most part I felt I was already establishing myself in NY area. I was definitely really busy with school and doing music in my spare time.
Ghetto Blaster: But it was strictly an underground thing when you would do it?
Aesop Rock: It's come to a point now where the term "Underground" is so blurred. You have people doing everything from saying the craziest shit that may not seem to make any sense to people that basically sound like Jay-Z but just don't have the coverage that he has. I think to some degree people think "Underground" is some more abstract shit but it's really not. There are people doing everything. the mainstream tends to be less abstract because it's not as easy to grasp by the general population. The reality of it, especially in NYC, is that there's an underground scene that has people doing everything. There are those that are underground because they want to be and there are others that don't have a choice.
Ghetto Blaster: You went to art school and work in a gallery now. Do you ever feel yourself finding inspiration in art and then translating that into music?
Aesop Rock: I don't necessarily directly think about artwork like that. Sometimes, not always. Boston University's art program is very strict in the sense that it's very classical. You basically start drawing circles, they make you think that you can't do shit. They basically make you think you can't draw; they build you from that, drawing cubes and things like that slowly learning. When you're done with it you look back and think,"As frustrating as it all was, I didn't know shit. I'm glad they told me that." I take some of the ideas from that and I apply them to my music in that I really think it's necessary to sort of have to slow learn and not jump into a style that's not really me. The style that I've built for myself is the result of the culmination of my life. If you heard the first rhymes that I ever wrote you'd know they're not anything like this ( he laughs). But if I played you all the music I've ever made you'd see how it's totally changed and has gotten to where it is opposed to some kid coming up and deciding he's either going to be a 'crazy' MC or a 'hardcore' MC. I've done this for a long time, people consider me to say some abstract things, and it's not like I'm someone that just jumped into it.
Ghetto Blaster: Funny you say that, some people say words can't be abstract.
Aesop Rock: I've recently read my first book in ten years (he laughs). My girlfriend and I moved in together and she reads a lot. She has stacks of books on a shelf so I walked over and the first book on the shelf was Orwell's 1984. I pulled it off, read it and liked it. I figured I'd start from the top and work my way down (he laughs). But it definitely fed me some inspiration. Often at times I say sentences that aren't grammatically correct or aren't even sentences in the English language but when you put the words together you can still evoke a meaning out of it. It might be three verbs in a row (he laughs) but it works for me.
Ghetto Blaster: When did you get into art?
Aesop Rock: I've been drawing since I was a kid. It's one thing I knew I was always going to do, when I was in 5th and 6th grade I didn't know I was going to be a rapper, I didn't know what rapping was. Aside from Beastie Boys and Run DMC and stuff like that. I had no aspirations to be an MC when I was little but I always knew I would draw forever. In high school that's what I concentrated on and I just knew I would go to art school. Once I hit the point when I was MCing in my spare time, I realized I was really going to start to make some songs. For both things I hit a point where there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it. It just felt right. There are some similarities between the two and there are a lot of differences as well. Whatever I can't accomplish in making the paintings and drawings I can accomplish when I write. It's a little weird because when I was a lot younger I knew I wanted to draw so I was always looking at art out of art books. That's why now I'm reading more, I felt guilty because I was writing every night and not reading enough. But it was natural for me to do both. I guess I couldn't vent everything I needed to with just one.
Ghetto Blaster: Some people look at it as a contradictory thing. Basquiat's first manager once asked him if he was Tony Bennett; not taken seriously as an artist because he was a performer/entertainer. Aside from visual art, Basquiat also played in a band. If you had to choose...
Aesop Rock: That's interesting because to be completely honest I haven't made any paintings in about 4 months now. It came to a point where I had to work a full time job, I have a full time girlfriend and I'm trying to do two hobbies that should require all of my time. I was involved with both of them but it came where I put down my paintbrush for a while because I felt like that was just the one that naturally dropped off at the time. I'm by no means going to quit that forever. I'm still doing my best to read up on artists and keep my head in it. I used to make these things that were about 8 feet, pretty big. I made 5 or 6 of them, I'm going to start doing them again.
Ghetto Blaster: Where's your favorite place to go and think and feed your creativity?
Aesop Rock: The fact that I have to work 40 hours a week I feel the frustration of not wanting to be there and having to wake up early. By the time I get home from a day of dealing with the rich elite Soho crowd that looks down on me because I have to dress the way I do, I have a thousand things to write about when I pass through my front door. If nothing happened to me that day I can visualize someone 4 years ago that tried to pull something over me. I won't necessarily write something directly about them but it's forms of feelings...thousand emotions that gives me enough to write about. I also like to walk around. This city, of all the cities I've been in, is definitely the most claustrophobic. The people that live here tend to have this incredible love/hate relationship with it. It seems like everyday they're like, "Fuck, I've got to get out of here." But then when they leave for a week they're just like, "Shit, I've got to get back to New York. There's definitely a lot of claustrophobia here. There's like a fucking billion people here. When you rent an apartment you pay a lot of money and you get a little square (he laughs). Everything I write is kind of this venting of the aggravation of all these things.