Aesop Rock - Aesop's Fables
Friday, 17 August 2007
Aesop Rock - born Ian Bavitz - first attracted hip hop heads globally with 2002’s Labor Days - not quite Karl Marx does hip hop, but certainly out-there and evocative - after signing to El-P’s venerated Definitive Jux.
Now the MC has assured himself a place in hip hop history with what is technically his fifth album, None Shall Pass. It’s another revolution for a compelling lyricist. This time Aesop sought to bring a less combatant vibe. “My main goal was to not talk at people so much and to be a little less preachy,” he says, breaking off from solid rehearsals in New York. “I wanted it to be more of a record that would pull you in, rather than talk at you.” Aesop’s objective, too, was to develop as a storyteller, like his Greek namesake, devising a sonic film with different ‘scenarios’. “I was hoping to have a record like that, where you could put it on and get lost in the imagery of it.”
Tellingly, Aesop listens to the folk songwriter Tom Waits daily.
Aesop admits that he’s not one to analyse his back catalog. The MC generally returns from tour, bunkers down in his studio, and looks forward. “I just know that I need to slip away from stuff that I’ve done before. I have this desire to not make the same sounding-thing more than once. I don’t wanna keep doing the same thing over and over. It just turns into this little game of like, How long is it gonna take me to find the sound that I can follow up on and really dig into-”
Aesop urges listeners to approach None Shall Pass in isolation. “More than anything, I hope it stands on its own without being compared to the other works that I’ve done.”
The theme to None Shall Pass is personal change, but Aesop hasn’t necessarily recorded his ‘most personal’ album. He speaks of his lyrics in the abstract. ”I always think the most recent stuff is the most personal - and that’s usually how it goes with me.
“I’ve been hearing all different things - I hear that every time I put something out. Someone says it’s the most personal, someone says it’s the most difficult to access, someone says it’s the most easily accessible - so I don’t know.
“It’s personal, but it’s not so much directly autobiographical - I mean, parts of it are - but it’s personal ’cause it’s me trying to talk less directly about myself maybe and use more of what I’ve learned in the world of writing to create something.”
Aesop is cagey when discussing how his life has altered dramatically in the past two years. He wed Allyson Baker, guitarist in the band Parchman Farm. This culminated in his moving to her San Francisco base.
Aesop could have switched to a major label early on, but he’s stayed avowedly underground. Nevertheless, as an independent, he is inevitably cast as a ‘backpack’ MC. Aesop’s hip hop is more than that. “I don’t know if I’m out to try to break down the perception, ’cause that’s gonna happen, anyway. Someone’s gonna label it, no matter what - that’s what the media is for, they create these little boxes, or quick terms, to refer to a sound. The reason artists get annoyed by it is ’cause there’s so much that goes into these things. A lot of people - especially some of the underground people - put a lot of time into creating something that’s really unique and then it gets all wrapped up into one word or one phrase and tossed to the side. I’m not out to break that, because I know that it’s just gonna happen, anyway. But I hope that people can listen for themselves and just make their own opinion up about it.”
Aesop isn’t opposed to the odd corporate overture. Like James Murphy, he even collaborated with Nike - and iPod - on a sports mix. On the flipside, the MC has liaised with his friend Jeremy Fish on art projects, scoring a short film, Fishtales. He intends to do more in the same vein. “I love doing stuff on the side ’cause it’s almost less pressure than doing ‘the new Aesop Rock album!’ They make the pressure so unnecessary... So, when I do these kind of side things, it makes it a lot more enjoyable. I can experiment without feeling the repercussions of taking a risk.”
Aesop isn’t at all dictatorial when asked about the dearth of ‘political’ - or socially-conscious - hip hop in the wider culture. He lauds old Public Enemy, yet stresses that not every MC can aspire to follow Chuck D. “I’ve definitely heard it done badly a few times and it becomes really preachy and almost a task to listen to.” Many MCs are just not politically inclined. “It’s not an artist’s responsibility to have some political message in the music if they’re not really paying attention to politics or that’s just not their interest.”
Aesop would simply like to hear greater creativity in the music. “We’re starved of really heavy stories and just approaching the writing of lyrics in a more interesting manner. A lot of the stuff just gets recycled and recycled and recycled... There’s a lot of hallways left that people haven’t gone down in rap music. I just wanna hear anything different.
“I think expanding in any way is important - and just bringing the art back into the music, the art back into the creative side of things, is the most important.”
WHO: Aesop Rock
WHAT: None Shall Pass out through Inertia.