Last year’s “Skelethon” surpassed expectations, both lyrically and production-wise. Personal tragedy, five years of gestation and creation, a few side projects here and there, and Aesop Rock emerged with his best album sans Blockhead. It might be his best album to date, or at least his most approachable. After his second weekend at Coachella, Aesop is headed back to his home in the Bay Area. He’ll perform at the New Parish in Oakland on Monday, April 22, kick-starting a brief West Coast tour alongside Busdriver.
As a prelude, here’s an interview with Sir Ian Mathias Bavitz, son of Paul and Jameija, brother of Chris and Graham—he’s really into Game of Thrones. The questions were asked via e-mail, as that’s how he prefers to handle most inquiries. When you think about it, that format makes sense. For a guy who spends his time writing rhymes packed with cryptic and complex diction, I’m sure he’s tired of being misquoted and misunderstood. There are cats, hoodies, that rap music stuff, donuts, tattoos, and more—the essentials for floating while everyone around you is busy drowning. – Max Bell
Who are your favorite unsung rappers in history?
Hm, that’s hard. A guy like Grand Puba isn’t unsung, but there was a time when I think it seemed like he’d be an unstoppable force for a long time. He doesn’t get mentioned in too many “G.O.A.T.” talks, possibly would need more solo material, but Puba in his prime was pretty amazing. There’s always a slew of underground heads really doing great stuff that gets overlooked by the general public. I’d say Rob Sonic influences my writing more than anyone else these days – I’d love to see him get his due for his writing/rapping.
You collaborated with Kimya Dawson on The Uncluded album, Hokey Fright. How would you explain her appeal to more traditional rap fans? How does it influence your writing and/or approach to songs?
I think a lot of traditional rap fans are used to the type of female vocalist with a silky smooth, classically pretty voice, and that’s not really what Kimya does. Her style of singing and her skill at choosing words has really struck a chord with me for many years. I think she falls on the more “punky” side of folk – not in a yell-y way, more in a DIY way, pushing the emotion and message to the front seat of the song. She really is 100% in her own lane as far as a sound and approach. It’s daringly honest and funny and sad and sweet and poignant and smart. She also really puts it all out there in the lyrics, as in GOES there, and I find that endlessly inspiring.
How baggy is your most comfortable hoody?
XL. Perhaps not as baggy as they once were, but still an appropriate, comfort-inducing sag around the arms and waistline, as well as a hood that recreates a womb-like scenario.
What’s your ideal day?
Sounds dumb, but I love to wake up, get a giant coffee, and sit in my studio for many hours working in beats and/or writing. That is paradise for me. I prefer that to a tropical vacation any day.
What is the best donut at Bob’s Donuts? Should they cater religious gatherings?
The best would be the Maple Buttermilk donut, but the sleeper hit is the glazed crumb. I bet they’d help you out with whatever gathering you were gathering at. They are wonderful people.
If you weren’t performing at Coachella, whom would you want to see?
I’d probably see Wu-Tang, Danny Brown, Nick Cave, maybe the Stone Roses, Earl, hmmm… I forget who else played. To be honest I wouldn’t attend a festival to watch music, I’d rather see any of these acts at a venue.
What is it about Game of Thrones that interests you?
Oh man! That is where I want to live – I’m that world, haha. I don’t know how to put it into words, but man I love that show. Such fantastic, twisting storylines, awesome acting, so well written. I’m attracted to the world of knights and maidens and battles and magic and kings and peasants and whores and incest and dragons. Hahah.
When you made Skelethon, did you intend to make the greatest rap album for drum fills of all time?
Hahaha. Thank you. Every time I send my friend Blueprint a beat he comments on the drum fills. I love me some drums. I could pick apart breaks and fills and reassemble them all day. I have a nice, growing library of breaks and fills, and even though I have many saved already chopped into pieces, 9 times out of 10 I still re-sample the break and re-chop it, just to see if something changes when it gets put back together – maybe if I cut it here instead of here it will sound different, etc. Yum, drums.
If you ever received a “self-destructing memo,” what would you want it to say?
Hopefully it would be a clue as to the location of some missing, oversized, perfectly shaped, cartoon diamond.
On “Zero Dark Thirty,” it sounds like you’re lamenting the fall of the underground/indie hip-hop. Whether or not I’m right, is indie rap done? Or, if not, how has it changed? What do you like most/least about that scene today? Do you see a future for independent rappers?
It won’t end. People love rapping, and they will find a way to put it out there no matter what. I have my criticisms and complaints, but this shit won’t end and it can’t even really be steered. As for the scene – I have no idea. I’ll be 37 in June. I’m not really out at the bars and open mics seeing what’s cracking in the scene like I once was. At this point, all I can do is sit back and contribute music. Hopefully somebody likes it.
If you had to spend a couple Groundhogs’ days with anyone, who would it be? Why?
There are so few people I could tolerate in that fashion haha. Probably Rob Sonic, Wiz, or Blockhead. I’ve spent so much time with those 3 people in my life I could at least be confident that it would be a murder-free groundhogs day.
You have that quote from Invasion of the Body Snatchers tattooed on your arms: “Must Not Sleep, Must Warn Others.” Do you think that movie still has relevance? Is it relevant to you? Do you have any general advice about tattoos?
Ok, well… Yes those are my tattoos. It’s actually a phrase that my friends and I used to say jokingly in high school, in a fake robot-like body snatcher voice. I don’t know that it is actually a quote from the movie, but I think people associated it with that because it sounds like it could be. Then again, it’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie that it surely could be a quote. Regardless, it seemed like a good way to flip a childhood memory into a bit of a mission statement. Tattoo advice? Just go for it. They’re only as permanent as you are.
My Itunes library goes from Aesop Rock to Afrika Bambaaataa. Am I missing anyone in between? If so, who and why?
I’d say that sounds about right.
I’ve definitely reached for the dictionary while listening to your records. Apart from reading, what’s the best way you’ve found to expand your vocabulary?
Listening. I like hearing others talk, especially those who grew up in a different way than me, different time and place. I love movies and shows that take place in far off lands just to hear the dialog. I take a lot of notes and research stuff that I read or hear and am unfamiliar with. I mean – when you’re young, if you don’t know a word, adults tell you to “look it up”. As a child that sounds like punishment. Then one day your realize that learning is awesome, and looking things up is the spice of life. I also read a lot of science magazines, where people write very passionately about some very unfamiliar and complex subjects.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to this guy?
I would say, “Hey dude, your mom has terrible taste in ties.”
What is/are the name(s) of your cat(s)? If they were human, who would they be?
I had a cat named Beans for a bit, though he lives with my brother right now. He’s kinda like Sloth from Goonies. My current landlord does not allow cats, so I exploit the cats of my friends as much as possible. I plan on moving soon, and will obtain a new kitten. I can’t wait. I have some potential names, but you know… Can’t give a name out early, right?