By Brendan MurphyAesop Rock was born Ian Matthias Bavitz in Long Island, New York City’s sprawling suburban cousin. He had no plans of staying. After completing a degree in painting from Boston University (where he met producer Blockhead), he moved to New York, and, while working as a waiter, produced, rapped and released his own music before creating 2000’s Float for Mush.
This brought him to the attention of Company Flow’s EL-P, who was in the process of starting up Definitive Jux Records. While Def Jux has been home to many rappers and producers, EL and Aesop are the definers of its sound: dark, angry robot beats that underpin dense and intelligently pissed off lyrics. Def Jux, to this day, offers no middle ground: you either buy in whole hog or you can’t stand it.
His first album for the label, Labor Days, talked about his experience being a "wage slave,” but it was 2003’s Bazooka Tooth that introduced him to a larger audience. While he released a subsequent EP, contributed to the continuous mix Nike Run series and dropped countless cameos, he hasn’t released full-length studio album in four years."I ended up moving from New York and I got married and had to reset up my studio in California, did a couple side-projects with some people and did that Nike project, and basically kept working on the album the whole time.” For someone as tied as he is to the streets and people of NYC, it would seem that a westward move would have greatly affected the sound of his new album, None Shall Pass.
"I think what had the greatest effect was that I just wasn’t in New York, I don’t think that it had to do with being in California. I was out of my comfort zone, which I said I would never do. But all those things that I was nervous about, not knowing that many people — I still print out Mapquest to get anywhere — there’s a weird comfort and it caters to being creative when there are no distractions.”
What has coloured the content of his latest release are some of those other life-related changes that manifest in a nostalgia-steeped theme that he was careful about approaching. "I didn’t want to make ‘back in the day I wore pumas’ bullshit, and I don’t want a ‘I'm 30, so I’m better than you’ thing. I guess it was combination of those things — turning 30, getting married and leaving New York all at the same time, all that adult-y shit happening. I didn’t want to tell a story, you know, I didn’t want it to be story-specific, more like a snapshot.”
His new wife, Allyson Baker (guitarist with now-defunct Parchman Farms) appears on several tracks, as do Blockhead, EL-P and others, but the most interesting collaboration is with John Darnielle of the legendary lo-fi group the Mountain Goats, a partnership that started when Aesop, a long-time fan, realised that the feeling was mutual.
"I read that John had put Bazooka Tooth on some year-end list as one of his top ten favourites and I was like ‘Holy shit’ — I had no idea he knew who I was — and this was fully a guy I had looked up to in the world of writing lyrics.” Introducing himself somewhat reluctantly at a Mountain Goats gig, the two became friends, and after years of trying, finally collaborated on None Shall Pass’s "Coffee,” a song that shows how two lyricists from wildly disparate backgrounds can make collaborative magic without it being, as Aesop notes, "too Judgment Night-y.”While he may be living far from his comfort zone and surrounded by "adulty shit,” Aesop Rock appears to have used it to make the best album of his career.
Click here to read the entire transcript of Brendan Murphy's interview with Aesop Rock.