Published Jul 11, 2012For those who haven't stumbled across the series of dead-cat promo videos, watched the action-packed video for first single "ZZZTop" or even seen any of the regular ads through the usual avenues, abstract rapper Aesop Rock returned this week with a new album, Skelethon. It's his first solo album in five years, and in that time, Aesop Rock has produced the third full-length from the Slug and Murs collaboration Felt, A Tribute to Rosie Perez, and partnered with Rob Sonic as Hail Mary Malone for the album Are You Going to Eat That? Aesop also found himself without a label when El-P put Definitive Jux on hiatus.
"I kinda wanted to make the whole record without the shadow of a label," Aesop Rock tells Exclaim! of that post-Def Jux period. "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 get a job flipping burgers."
Whether joking or not about the latter option, his attempt at the former was rather short lived. "I had my manager doing some shopping for a second, but really I don't wanna meet with labels, like, at all," he admits.
So it's fortunate both the Felt and Hail Mary Malone albums dropped on popular Minneapolis indie rap label Rhymesayers, further building upon the prior relationships he had established with many of the label's early artists in the '90s. In hindsight, Rhymesayers would seem the obvious home for Skelethon, but it was never a foregone conclusion for the rapper.
"I've known the guys at RSE for a long time," he confirms, "and it just ended up being a natural move to send [Skelethon] their way when things finally took shape. ...Luckily they were into it and the whole process required minimal convincing."
Or more likely no convincing. After all, Aesop Rock has built a solid fanbase with a sound that has been well-defined since as far back as his earliest releases, Music for Earthworms and Appleseed. But that doesn't mean there isn't any room to refine and improve.
"I want to stay learning and hopefully allow my craft to evolve," he confesses. "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 complements 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."
With that said, a new label is certainly not the only refinement. Sure, Skelethon maintains the Def Jux-inspired beats that are hard-hitting, futuristic and funky, but the album is 100 percent produced by Aesop Rock for the first time, although that wasn't necessarily the original intention.
In fact, he says, "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 more true 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 album."
As sole producer, Aesop Rock takes the opportunity to experiment with a few slower tracks, as well as beats that offer greater opportunities to change up his flow, which allows for a little more variety in his gravel-voiced monotone delivery. His densely layered writing -- a heavy mix of extended metaphors, pop and counter culture references, and lots of two dollar words -- remains the same and is unlikely to change anytime soon. No matter how often listeners may wonder if any of it makes sense, Aesop Rock has no plans to dumb down his lyrics, ever.
"Rap is so weird," he states, "It's all about the 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 here which people are welcome to join or not."
Skelethon is the next step; you're welcome to join the journey.
As previously reported, Aesop Rock kicks off his North American tour tomorrow (July 13) and will be making several Canadian stops. You can see the entire schedule here.
Also, for more from Exclaim!'s newly published Aesop Rock interview, head here.