AESOP ROCK - Interview

After arriving at the surreal setting of a small seaside village resort just minutes away from rural Norfolk, the third annual instalment of the Dedbeat festival was finally upon us. After being postponed by a few months and presenting a more than impressive line up, expectations were high.

As if we hadn’t already been spoilt enough with Boom Bip & Dose One followed by Buck 65, Def Jux’s contribution to the festival stepped forward. They had brought out El-P, Aesop Rock and DJ Cip from Cannibal Ox out with them. The set was performed incorporating all aspects of the Def Jux discography playing quite a few tunes from Fan Dam obviously "Delorean" as Aesop was there but also "Tuned Mass Damper", "Deep Space 9mm" and "Stepfather Factory". Aesop got time to shine in Coma and Daylight from his most recent releases as well as ‘Cookie’, a song produced by and featuring El-P from the up and coming album Bazooka Tooth. Cip exercised his impressive dexterity with a short but very sweet DJ showcase. It was an impressive set with a flurry of hype and crowd intervention.

Afterwards I managed to catch up with Aesop Rock and had a chat with him about his evolution as an artist, his feelings on Def Jux, his up and coming album and George Bush.

Firstly your name, how did it come about?

Well basically it came about in a kinda stupid way, I was like acting in a little home-made film for a friend and my characters name was Aesop and I ended up liking it and cats ended up calling me that, so I added the Rock part later.

Anything to do with rocking the crowd?

Well it came from the days when I did graffiti.

Oh so you’re involved in other elements of hip-hop then?

I produce, write rhymes, I used to write graffiti but I’m kinda old and I will get put in jail for too long. I’m a graffiti buff really, I love that shit. I definitely try to keep up with what is going on in New York and everywhere else.

Your sound, I mean you’ve got a pretty unique sound in your flow and delivery – is this something you worked at?

I’ve been rhyming for over 10 years basically, so as far as a style is concerned you kinda just evolve over years into your style. I never really flipped shit overnight or anything, y’know to go for a certain crowd, I kinda just let it grow by itself and it is what it is now.

So, it’s been a natural thing for you?

Yeah, I never really like threw something completely away and just decided I needed to switch up my style. It’s always just kinda like every project I did, even every song I did over the last 10 years has been a little different from the last, the sound grows in time.

I heard you been referred to as a walking thesaurus?

A walking what?

A walking thesaurus, because you cram all those words into your rap…

Yeah…

How did your vocab. get so good, are you quite a literate person, do you read a lot?

I actually don’t read ever, but, I’m a movie buff. I don’t know if it’s my vocabulary that’s that big, but if I hear somebody anywhere on the news, or in a magazine put some words together in a way that I never have heard before, I’ll be like, "That’s an interesting phrase" and then I’ll adopt it, and switch it up, put different words in it in a similar way. Basically always have my ear open, every movie I watch I will have a pen and pad with me, and then if I hear something I’m like not gonna steal the words, but use the words.

So you get your inspiration from all over the place? Culture, TV…

Yeah yeah, it’s mostly honestly TV and movies y’know what I’m saying. I always got bored with books so I ended up watching a lot of TV.

When did you work out the rap thing was for you? I mean what did you do before hand?

I was doing art; I went to college to do painting. I did art all through high school and college and then I was rhyming at the same time. When I got away to college I was working in a couple of art galleries. When I wasn’t working I was working on beats or rhyming and doing shows, and then it hit a point when I had to pick one or the other because I couldn’t dedicate all my time to either one, and I just ended up going with the music. I think I had a little bit of a following at that point, and as far as painting was concerned it was harder to get a following. I think I understood what I wanted to do more with music so I ended up doing that and once the Def Jux thing connection came I was able to sustain myself so far as I could quit my job and work full time on my rap.

In the past you have worked with such heads as Slug and Dose One, do you have any more plans to work with those sorts of people again or are you pretty much tightly nicked within Def Jux?

I mean I am tightly-nicked to Def Jux on one hand, but at the same time I’m open to work with people….Slug’s my man, y’know what I’m saying, we do shows together whenever we can. He’s my boy. I think we have a song coming out on some compilation soon. Me and him have songs together that haven’t been released all over the place that will leak out soon. So yeah, I am open to work with other people, I did a song with Camp Lo on my new album.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that – how did that come about? I mean how did you two meet?

They put out their second album recently which is very slept-on, like most people don’t even know it came out, and when I first heard it; it was basically the first time in years that I was floored front to back with a full length album. It also came out on an Indie label and didn’t get the props it should have got and it’s a f*cking sick record. So basically, this was the first time I was just gonna call someone based on the fact that I like their shit. We got in touch with them, and they had heard of me and Def Jux as a label and stuff. They ended up being mad cool, came through, kicked it for a couple of days and we worked on the song.

Good fun as well?

Yeah yeah, they weren’t on some stupid shit, they were down to work for a few days to not rush the song, and make something proper. And I was open for that. At the same time the rest of the guests on the new album are Def Jux people mostly, it’s got El-P, Mr. Lif, Smash Brothers who are coming up this year on Def Jux. The album is really family orientated but they are the one group that I’m sorta went outside the fam to get.

And in terms of Bazooka Tooth, have you produced all of that?

Yeah, well I produced about 3 quarters of the album, Blockhead did about 3 beats and El did the one, so, I did like 10 or 11. I’m really been working on my production over the last couple of years since Labor Days and y’know I’m definitely trying to pitch that and maybe in the future produce an album for somebody else.

Ah yeah, so you would produce for other emcees?

Yeah yeah, it’s something I am trying to expand. I’m doing some remixes for some people now and starting to get my production out there a little more. It’s something I want to bring up to the level of my rhymes. I’ve been rhyming for longer but I’ve really been working hard on beats. Trying to get it out there so people want to hear my beats just as much as my rhymes.

In terms of equipment are you like a digital man on your computer or have you got a synth and stuff out?

I got some little synthy noisemakers, but mostly samplers, the SR10 I have and Pro Tools at my house. I do most of the shit in my house, and El-P actually lives in Brooklyn pretty close to me and he has a huge studio down there.

Oh, so you can pop down there?

Yeah, once I do all the initial stuff in my crib I go to the studio and record all the vocals there.

Ah that sounds alright.

Yeah, it’s pretty easy.

Def Jux, you got a nice family feel down, I mean how do you feel about the way it is evolving and the new people coming in?

It’s good man; the new people that are coming in are just old friends of ours that are now, y’know…

So you’re just expanding?

Yeah basically, Camu Tao who was on a few releases already such as the Def Jux presents release. His group the Smash Brothers coming up this year. My man C Rayz-Walz who was on my album and the Cannibal Ox album, he’s got an album coming out – Def Jux – it’s f*cking ridiculous. Murs, y’know, actually that already came out last week, guess it will be here soon. That’s dope. We’re definitely expanding, I’m kinda the first cycle, it’s coming back to my second album and we have all these new artists coming up too so, and I think a lot of the stuff that is gonna come out this year will switch the people thinking of a Def Jux sound.

Really?

Yeah, to a degree, we got stuff that’s all over the map. The Smash Brothers album is some real party shit. C Rayz Walz, he’s f*cking ridiculous and he’s on some real street stuff. El’s working on new shit. Lif and Akrobatik are doing a new album together probably coming out about 2004, but you know basically it’s…

All these little connections all over the place.

Yeah, everyone’s just like, something comes out and it’s like "we should get this record out too." I mean El-P gets the final say in what actually comes out, but everyone kinda agrees y’know. Everyone to a degree is unified, he plays shit for us, and asks our opinion.

So the input is quite general?

Yeah I would say so, especially amongst the core, which is like me, Lif, El-P, Vast and RJ, you know those are the sort of members people associate Def Jux with, and now, people are gonna start associating with more people, y’know just keep growing – everyone’s got new shit.

What sorta British Hip-Hop have you heard? Any at all?

No. Not that I don’t like it, I just actually don’t get a chance. I rarely hear, I mean I heard Roots Manuva stuff, because El worked with them, but really it’s hard for me to know what to pick out. I wouldn’t even know where to start, it’d be like someone from here being ditched in New York and being like "what should I listen to" with about a billion groups out there, and you don’t really know whatsup and what’s not. I heard some stuff that I like, I liked um…. what’s the shit, Lewis Clarke?

Lewis Parker?

Yeah, Lewis Parker, I thought his beats were fucking sick y’know. I heard a few things here and there.

Dope – Tony Hawk 4, how did that come about?

They contacted us about it, they wanted to use some jams. It was originally me and Lif on it, but they ended up cutting that out, but yeah, I was mad open cos I am like a video game freak. I think it’s a X-Box game coming out later this year, which has 7 Def Jux songs on it. We’re all video-game crazy so we’ll be doing some songs for that and putting out there that we’re down to do video game music at any time. They ended up contacting us pretty much out of the blue, "we like your stuff and would like to use it", plus I grew up with skateboarding so…

You used to skate then?

Yeah not for about ten years, not for a little while, but for a long time I did.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I just got the new Freeway album on Rocafella, I think that shit is f*cking sick. It’s weird, because when you’re on a label where most of the cats live in Brooklyn and you like most of their music you just end up listening to your friends. Aside from that I listen to Beatles, I try not to listen to hip-hop too much because I get sick of it after a while. I listen to everything from mainstream, underground…

You got a wide range of like and influences?

Yeah, so I recognise what is good with a lot of genres of hip-hop or whatever, so everything from people that kinda underground and a little more dirty with the sound to like completely cleaned up Jay-Z. I’m a fan of a lot of it.

I’ve heard you’re a fan of Cookies too – a whole box a day, is that true?

I’ve actually marked that this weekend when I got home, I’m gonna quit smoking cigarettes, and go to the gym, and stop eating sweets and stop smoking weed.

Ahhh, you’re doing the ‘get fit’ thing?

Yeah literally when I get back home to New York tomorrow, that’s my plan whether it will work out now I dunno, I definitely eat too much bad food.

Hehe, this may also be a rumour, but have you got a gay cat?

That’s…no I don’t…that’s probably from a radio show we done.

Orphanage free style?

Yea it was Slug basically ripping it out of me, so a bad rumour, he’s heterosexual, he stays at my brothers place now, so I don’t have him anymore, but a fully heterosexual cat.

Tattoos or party tricks?

I got tattoos on both arms.

What do they say, because they’re quite prominent?

Yeah, they say, "must not sleep" and the other say, "Must warn others".

How did they come about?

Ahh it’s the chorus from an old song I did and I ended up liking the way it sounds, a good life motto and basically ended up getting it done.

What about party-tricks?

Party-tricks?

Got anything you like to do at a party if you’ve had a bit too many beers?

I don’t drink alcohol so it is hard for me to get naked on top of a table and dance.

What about if you’re a little bit chilled and feeling a bit stupid?

Yeah, well to tell the truth most of the time I retreat back to the crib with a few people, take it easy.

Chilling out, yeah…

Unless I’m like looking for girls basically.

You tied down at the moment? Got a girl?

I’m seeing someone, not saying I’m tied down, but definitely seeing someone.

In terms of your old releases Music For Earthworms and Appleseed, are there any plans ever to bring them back? I mean I know you had a big of a disagreement with Dub L…

Yeah pretty much, well he did a lot of the Music for Earthworms, and I wouldn’t say it is open beef but we kinda don’t like each other. He’s doing a lot of stuff now, he’s got a label with some other cat, we just had artistic differences y’know…

It’s just part of your roots now then, in the past?

Yeah well at the same time I would rather work on new shit than worry about pressing up old shit y’know what I mean. I’ve been offered a lot of money to re-release them but I’m just like…

That’s that?

Basically yeah.

Back to the new shit, are you happy with the way Bazooka Tooth is sounding? I mean the evolution of yourself as an artist, how do you feel about that? Is much changing?

I don’t know, some people are saying it’s changing, some people aren’t. I can’t even tell, I made so many songs, and thrown out so many songs. I mean the record is like probably 80% done, but, I don’t know. Some days I hate it, some days I like it, nah what I mean?

Yeah, depends how you wake up.

Yeah, one day I will be like "I’m the f*cking worst, this sucks." And other days I’ll be like "Yo El, come over! This shit is ridiculous." You know I switch moods all the same, but, I think in my honest opinion this is my best work, and when it all comes down to it and I break through my self-consciousness and stuff I think it’s a pretty good record, so, we’ll see if any one likes it. –Laughs-

I notice from the stage you got a pretty anti-war message going down. You against all that sorta stuff I presume?

Well right now, it’s kinda hard to not. The situation in America is pretty ridiculous, we got a knucklehead for a president and obviously I mean just, y’know, I just feel like that shit has been on the news 24/7 after the twin towers. Nobody wants war you know, basically I was in New York when the whole twin towers shit happened and it was like the craziest shit I ever been through in my life.

Was it just mad? I mean we see it all on TV, but I don’t think we could really grasp the feeling of what it was like to be in New York…

I used to live in Manhattan and I went outside of my house and saw a massive black cloud over downtown, and I was like what the f*ck, it was shocking, the crowd, the whole city was just out bugging out. Nobody knew what to do, it was f*cking nuts.

It’s mental.

You kinda get numb to it after a while cos it is on the news all day, everyday, "Osama Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden" and it’s like after a while I can’t even watch this shit anymore, y’know, nothing’s happening. We can’t find this mothaf*cka and now we’re going to war against with Saddam Hussein again, it’s just like, nobody f*cking knows.

Yeah, it’s not good.

It’s just a f*cked up situation. We have a president that most people, well most people I know don’t really like.

That’s the general feeling with you guys then.

With us yeah, obviously not with America, because they chose him, y’know. But most of the people I know hate him, my family don’t really like him, everyone kinda thinks he is a dumbass, but I guess there are a lot of people who like him. I don’t think anyone is really openly thumbs up for war, but it is a hard call. I just know New York City right now, is the number one target in the US for any terrorist attacks or war attacks and it’s f*cked up. Basically, the day September 11th happened with the twin towers, I was walking down the street thinking I am die today, y’know, I’m gonna get hit by a plane in 5 minutes.

Must have caused mass hysteria.

Yeah, definitely the most crazy shit I have ever seen.

On a lighter note, you got any plans to do a Bazooka Tooth tour in Europe and the UK?

Yeah, well at the moment I am just kinda doing sparse shows here and there because I’m working on the record and it’s due pretty soon, but once I’m finished with that I’ll be back.

Well you were well received this time, how has it been in the past?

I hope so, I toured here with Can Ox last year about a year and half ago and it was pretty well received all over Europe and El just toured here with Lif and Murs. I think me, Lif, Murs will be back – September the album is out in America – and the album will probably drop back about a month after that.

That sounds good man, and it’s been good speaking to you. Last few words

Check the new LP, we’ll be back soon.

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