Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock
While Aesop Rock produced Murs and Slug's collaboration, Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez, in 2009 and released his collaboration with Rob Sonic, Hail Mary Mallon's Are You Going to Eat That?, in 2011, it's still been five years since his last solo album, None Shall Pass. But don't expect a drastic change in direction. His first entirely self-produced album, Skelethon fits nicely amongst the El-P-inspired production of his Def Jux days, a more musical, disciplined evolution of Bazooka Tooth. Skelethon is funky, freaky and heavy on the drums. It's also dark and paranoid, a perfect match for Aesop Rock's songs about death ― of ideas, relationships and people ― rapped in his signature raspy, monotone flow, although that too is evolving as he experiments with new styles.

After collaborating with Rob Sonic for the Hail Mary Mallon album, Are You Going to Eat That?, how did it feel to go back to working on a solo project, especially one as isolated as a self-produced album?
The Hail Mary Mallon album was made right in the middle of making my solo album, so it seemed a nice break from the isolation. That said, Rob is one of my best friends in the world, so his input on my solo album was an everyday thing; we've also toured together for many years. I think we were both feeling bogged down by making relatively isolated solo projects and found some enjoyment in collaborating for an entire album.

Why handle all production on this album yourself?
It just felt necessary; it started out as a co-produced project with myself and Blockhead at the helm, as usual, but somewhere along the line it just became easier, and more realistic, and truer to my vision, if I just challenged myself to do it all. There is something intensely satisfying about putting the time in to write and produce an entire record. I think I am a nitpicky perfectionist in many ways and having a long distance between Blockhead and myself was making it harder to get on the same page. At some point I decided to just do it all and treated it like I had something to prove.

Was there anything you were attempting to do differently or improve upon with this album compared to previous releases?
Sure, I hope to be better at everything; I want to stay learning and hopefully allow my craft to evolve. I don't want to hit a point where I feel there is nothing to improve upon ― there always is. I am hoping to improve my writing and rapping, as well as get a better grasp on how to make beats and music that complement what I do vocally. It's a learning process that hopefully won't end. I think if the desire to improve what I do starts to plateau then what's the point?

Art can be an important component of an album's packaging and presentation. Why did you decide on Barcelona painter Aryz to provide all of the artwork for Skelethon? How did you hook up with him?
I love Aryz's paintings. I also found a lot of what he paints to reflect a lot of what I had been writing about. I read an article about him and looked up his work further and was pretty bowled over. I originally emailed him to buy a print and just say, "Fuck yeah, you rule!" That turned into some back and forth emailing over time and I eventually asked if he'd like to be involved in my record art. I still kind of can't believe he did it. I feel extremely lucky.

Who came up with the idea for the promo videos? Was a lot of work involved to create those?
Not sure which, but I am guessing you are talking about the dead cat videos? I'd say they weren't very much work, just kind of an idea and a little time. I had an idea and Coro had a camera and I asked for his help in executing it. Neither of us knew Premier very well, which kind of shows, but I don't think the jerky-ness is really a bad thing in the context of the vids. The general idea was that a lot of the songs on Skelethon were about things dying ― people, relationships, ideas ― non-stop skeletons. I wanted to present death as something that had become commonplace in my life, perhaps to a surreal extent. I figured dragging around a dead, common house cat and treating the whole scenario as if it were "normal" was a nice metaphor for how regular death was becoming to me.

Once again, the lyrics use big words, are densely structured and come at a rapid pace. Even De La Soul admitted having to dumb down their lyrics for their fans. With the criticism you get over your lyrics, do you ever see yourself following suit?
Big words... such an abstract concept. I just never saw it like that. Language has all sorts of words and combining them in different ways means different things. It's no different from mixing colors on a canvas. Rap is so weird; it's all about words, but then you hit a point and people are like, "whoa, whoa whoa, not those words!" I have no interest in dumbing anything down for anyone. I'm on a journey, which people are welcome to join or not.

When El-P put Def Jux on hiatus in 2010, was it easy to find a new label? Why did you decide on Rhymesayers?
I didn't look for a label for a while; I kind of wanted to make the whole record without the shadow of a label. I figured when I was done I'd try to find someone to put it out, or I'd just put it on the Internet for free and go get a job flipping burgers. I've known the guys at Rhymesayers for a really long time and it just ended up being a natural move to send it their way when things finally took shape. I had my manager doing some shopping for a second, but really, I don't want to meet with labels, like, at all. Luckily, they were into it and the whole process required minimal convincing.

Read a review of Skelethon here.