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Aesop Rock
Interview by Cara Soronen

Aesop Rock is a lyricist who rhymes about life as it is actually lived, in all its twisted complexity. His lyrics are packed full with metaphors and intellect. Although you may not hear Aesop on Hot 97 anytime soon, his last album, Labor Days, combined melodic head-bopping tracks with a personal-is-political message and earned him a strong fan base and credibility as one of hip hop’s top current MCs. He is now one of the leading artists on the ever-growing and never-dissapointing Def Jux roster.

As hip hop’s most successful independent label, Definitive Jux, started by former Company Flow artist El-P, continues to release album after album filled with the most intelligent lyrics and appealing beats around today. The Def Jux family includes underground monumentals Cannibal Ox, RJD2, Mr. Lif, C-Rayz Walz and a slew of other MC’s who put music before money.

Bazooka Tooth, Aesop’s second release on the label, was released in late September, and in October he launched a three-month tour. Before the madness began he and I sat down to talk a little bit about Def Jux, the new album, his new life as a full-time “rapper” and his passion for video games and bad reality TV.

Clamor: When writing “9-5,” (on the Labor Days LP) which could be considered your anthem, what was your job at the time, and what frustrations led to the writing of the song?

Aesop Rock: It’s pretty simple. What nine-to-five I was working is somewhat irrelevant. But, you know, just the everyday being somewhere and doing something you don’t wanna do for long periods of time, knowing that you should be doing something else, it’s sort of a frustration and a problem that pretty much anyone can identify with, and that’s basically where it came from. It’s just being cooped-up behind a desk.

So now that you’re not working that nine-to-five anymore do you feel it’s going to be difficult to still relate to that group of people you initially appealed to with that song?

No, I don’t think so. I mean I think I kind of consistently stay on some relatively down-to-earth, feet-on-the-ground subject matter. And another thing I realize is, I still have a job. Granted, I wake up late and hang out with my friends probably more than most people, but now there’s a whole new set of stresses and bullshit that comes along with it, you know? But you know, I did that whole thing, I went to school, I did the college thing, I did the work thing, and that’s always and forever embedded in me. Especially how artistic things in general are run, like the whole art gallery world, which I’m relatively familiar with now, is very similar to the record industry. The difference between the people that buy the product and the people that make the product, the artist versus the consumer, they’re so vastly different. So there’s so many similarities that can be drawn and every now and then I’d be like “This is exactly like the music world.”

It’s not getting to your head at all?

No, it actually like steers away from my head, I won’t let it. I mean, if I ever get to the point where I can’t go out, like can’t walk to the store and buy some cigarettes by myself —

You’re getting there though, what was it, you’re the most downloaded, right? On the Internet?

[Makes yuck face] But, uh, nah . . . well, I mean the thing is over the last year. Basically, I think that a major good thing is that the masses are the people who buy the music and the people that watch MTV, and they’re starting to get a little bored, you know what I mean? Like with the fact that they only have ten choices of who they can buy.

How did the Style Wars thing come up? They came to you and asked you to do that?

They basically came to me, and it was like, fucking one of the most honoring experiences I’ve ever had, ‘cause that movie was in my junior high school library and we used to rent it everyday and watch it at school and it was like, the shit.

You did the soundtrack for the bonus footage right?

Basically they did a DVD, it was the 20-year anniversary. Yeah, it came out in ‘82 so finally they’re gonna release a DVD of the movie. And they decided to release a second disk with all this bonus footage blah, blah, blah, and they asked Def Jux to kind of supply some music, so they licensed songs from us. But on top of that, I got a call from the people that were editing the DVD down and they were like look, we have more footage, like bonus footage from like fuckin’ ‘79 and ‘80, this like, fuckin’ priceless graffiti footage that like nobody has except Henry Chalfant, who is the guy who documented Style Wars in the first place. They said if you want it you can have it all, and I was just like “Okay.” So basically for next to no money we threw the video together ‘cause I had a song on my album that kind of fit the concept, it was kind of like a real urban, graffiti-based song. I played it for Henry Chalfant, we’re sitting in the room and he’s like “I really like it” and I was just like, this is really weird, you know? I was more just like, I can’t believe I ever got to meet you in my life, that movie’s my shit. So, it ended up we made a music video with all this Style Wars footage that no one’s ever seen before.

Do you write, or did you?

Graffiti? Not really any more. I fucked around when I was young, but I’m a massive fan and I did my kind of like, photos — used to go and take flicks and shit and fuck around in books, but I would never consider myself, like —

What name did you write?

Just my name, Ian. Ian 1 on Long Island, I grew up on Long Island. Like Long Island Rail Road, and all that shit.

Northport, is that what it is? I have a friend from there and when I told him I was doing this interview, he was like “Oh Ian, I remember him from the rail in Northport. He couldn’t do a kickflip”

That’s great. Well, put that in my article . . . I couldn’t do a kickflip.

I know, Ok, all in fun. Where’d you go to college?

Uh, Boston University, School for the Arts.



You don’t anymore? Why not?

Not really. I did for a while after I graduated and like, I have a degree, but I moved back to New York after college and had a really tiny apartment and I was making really big paintings, and we had like, a two bedroom apartment with five people and a dog. I had a full time job and was doing music and painting, and something had to give basically. I just had more doors opening for me musically and so I just kind of, unwillingly phased out the painting. But, I mean, like I still fuck around in books and shit. But I used to spend hours a day on that shit, and that was like, what I had planned to do with my life. It just didn’t quite pan out like that. But it was just a lot more like, people knocking on my door for music and I felt like I had a firmer grip on what I wanted to do with music.

What do you listen to, what are you listening to now?

Well, it’s hard, ‘cause when your part of a collective you like, and honestly think is some of the best shit out today, you don’t really need to go out that much to get shit. But I mean, I listen to my friends’ stuff and then I watch MTV a lot, so like —

You watch TV a lot, huh?

Yeah, my other true love.

You watch all those reality shows and shit?

Some of ‘em. And like, Blind Date and that stuff too, I really like that. I don’t like the news though. I can’t really stomach any of the overly serious shit. Obviously, some of those reality shows are like, at this point, I’m kind of over it, you know? The whole reason those got famous is ‘cause it’s like “Look! These aren’t special people, these are just real people!” I was talking to this kid Nasa the other day that works for Def Jux, and it was just like, I’d rather see special people, I don’t wanna see normal people anymore ‘cause I’m just a normal person. But at the same time I’m not gonna deny that a lot of that shit is like, the funniest shit I’ve ever seen in my life. But um, I just get real drunk off like, bad TV and like, sci-fi movies and video games basically. And that’s where like, everything I write is me smoking weed, watching movies basically. That’s like, where I find the most comfort and relaxation. I mean, I tried to watch the war, but that was like, the worst reality TV show ever.

What’s that?

The War? Oh, we’re at war, didn’t you know? [Everyone starts laughing.]
No, when the war popped off we had like, cameras inside of tanks and shit, and for a week I was like, this is really interesting, and then a week later I was like, this is not really what I wanna see. It’s like those are real people being dragged out of their homes.

But they do make it look like it’s a TV show from what I’ve seen, it’s fucked-up.

Yeah! It looks like Blind Date or one of those reality shows ‘cause it’s like, CNN and then they have like, shit, like letters flying by, like actions. I feel like they’re gonna start shooting guns off and it’s gonna be like “BLAMMO!” and they’ll have cartoon words on the screen. So after a couple weeks of that shit I was like, Nah, I cannot watch this. Like, to tell you the truth I don’t fuckin care.

So you didn’t run out and buy duct tape and plastic for your windows?

I didn’t. You know, ‘cause it’s like, if we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die. Once you accept the inevitable apocalypse, then you can just stop worrying about it. Cause it’s like, alright, I’m gonna die, I might as well try and make some beats in the meantime, you know what I mean? And that’s the thing, it’s not what everyone’s thinking, so everyone is like “Did you hear about this?! Blah, blah, blah …political blah, blah, blah.” That’s like, all I hear and I’m just like, honestly man, I don’t care.

Feel bad not knowing about it, don’t you?

For a second, but not really. ‘Cause it’s like, I know the basics. I know we have a dip-shit for a President, I know we have a new enemy everyday.

You vote for ‘em?

No, I didn’t vote. But I wouldn’t have — [laughs], for whatever that’s worth. But you know, he didn’t exactly win the election either, you know. America’s a fucked-up place. It’s like, my whole life I tried to not think about politics, ‘cause I just didn’t want to and it didn’t interest me and it didn’t affect me directly. When I was growing up all I cared about was like, you know, I went to school, hung out with friends, couldn’t do a kickflip and fucking made music, you know what I mean? And basically nothing in politics, regardless of who the president was, or the senator or the mayor, ever directly affected me and my life. Until Sept. 11. You know, when I was actually sitting at home and my city was blowing up. You know what I mean? That was the first time where I was like, Okay, now like, war’s in my front yard. This is officially the first time I was concerned for the country, the globe, and my position. It was the first time I felt it had personally affected me. It was just kind of a stunning experience‘cause you know there’s people — like I grew up listening to Public Enemy and I mean, I wouldn’t do, I never did political rap because I just didn’t know enough. I left it to people that are good at it, people like Chuck D and Mr. Lif. People that can actually do it well, you know?

People who know what they’re talking about.

Yeah, basically, you know? And I have like very dumb views on shit, ‘cause I just never cared. And maybe that’s being ignorant, but like, who cares really? You know what I mean? So then once the city blew up your just like “Oh Shit.” You’re watching TV everyday, then after a month of that your like “Alright, so like, bottom line is we’re all dying within a few years” and like, the details kind of just don’t really matter. You know? I don’t really care to know how many people we kill this day,‘cause it’s all the same. You feel like you’ll turn on any of the fuckin’ news with the war and you literally just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about at all, you know? I just wanna be like “Guys! It doesn’t matter we’re all gonna die! I don’t need to know the details, just rerun Blind Date again! It’ll be funnier.” So, I don’t know, maybe that just makes me fuckin’ arrogant, but, Oh well — [laughs] You’re like “Yup it does!”

No, no [laughing] … I don’t disagree. Do you drink?

No, never.

Why not?

Um … I don’t know. Like, you grow up and you kind of like, watch people around you and you decide which drugs seem like they would be interesting to do, and when I saw drunk people I was just like, that doesn’t really seem like it’s for me. So I just never bothered to try it.

So then what’s for you?

Drugwise? I mean, I smoke weed. I smoke weed and I used to eat acid a lot, ‘shrooms, I’ve tried like, a handful of other things, but I don’t know, alcohol just always stood out as something that wasn’t for me. Just like coke wasn’t for me, like heroin wasn’t for me. It’s kind of funny ‘cause I’m not like, ultra-preachy ‘cause like I smoke weed every fuckin day. I definitely during a point in my life ate a lot of acid, but um ... So I can’t really be that much of a critic or a preacher, but like alcohol killed more people than any of that other shit, you know what I mean? It’s more dangerous that any of that shit, and it turns people into assholes when they’re drunk and you end up fighting your friends basically. Granted, I guess it has its perks, ‘cause there’s reasons people do it. But it was just never for me. Knowing my personality and just stepping back I was like, I’d be a really bad drunk, I just wouldn’t pull off being drunk very well, you know?

But do you still go out with people, like out to bars ever?

Yeah, of course, I mean I’m the only one I know ever in life that doesn’t drink, you know? So it’s not like I’m against it to that much of a degree.

It’s just, when you don’t drink though, it’s just kind of obnoxious to sit around and watch drunk people, you know?

It can be, it can be. But like, I was always the kid who didn’t drink, but it’s not like I didn’t grow up around drugs and alcohol my whole life. People I knew were doing all that and everyone was smoking weed, snorting coke and selling it, and this and that and it was just like, that was my decision. But I recognize that everyone drinks, you know? That’s just the bottom line, it’s strange to not drink, like I’m the weirdo in the situation. And I don’t go to clubs or bars normally, less because of the alcohol and more because I’m just not all that social of a person really. The times I’m like “Fine man, I’ll go out with you man, yeah, let’s go out, let’s do this man, we’ll go to the bar!” Then I get there and I’m like, I’d honestly rather be home trying to beat Zelda. I’d rather be stoned, making a beat, trying to beat Zelda and calling ex-girlfriends begging them to come over.

So you’re really a big fan of video games, huh?

Yes. I was a big fan of the whole Zelda series. There’s a game on PS2 called Ico, which was pretty slept on. It’s probably like, one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. I don’t know, I wanna do that shit I think. I think that making video games has a lot of potential to be intensely creative, and intensely dope. And like, a lot of people fuck it up. There was a time when I would just buy a game, beat it in like three days, and then go out and buy another one and beat it, like, just play them constantly. Now, it’s like, so much shit is boring me. It’s just like, I feel … this sounds so stupid when I say it out loud, but in my head this is what goes on. Every now and then there’ll be a video game where I feel like, wow, that was like a life altering experience. That shit was sick, and like you can tell there was a lot of creativity and a lot of honest to god art put into that. As opposed to just like, muscle guy #1 shooting up the country, which can be fun, that obviously has its place. I feel like a good video game is like, the best thing you could possibly experience. Aside from like, sex and weed.

You gotta get out of here or no?

Oh, um I don’t know. What time is it? Yeah, I guess someone else is coming. I mean, I know you really seem to be really enthralled, I can tell.

Oh, yeah, I really am, really interested.

Is there a reason you came in here with such a hostile attitude?

No, I’m sorry, I just have a lot of things on my mind. I apologize.

No, are you…[laughing at me], I’m just wondering.

I’m not much of a “people-person” either.

Me either, but, you know —

I’m trying, I’m smiling, we had fun . . . So are these annoying, these interviews?

This one’s not! I mean, I wish you were being a little nicer to me —

I’m being nice!

Ha! But yeah, they can be really the worst thing in my life. At best, they’re like, okay, they’re tolerable. That was good; but you gotta understand, most people are like, it’s just the same questions, and when you do like eight interviews in one day, it’s like, they walk in and you just wanna be like, “Ok, I like Run DMC and BDP, that’s why I started rapping.” You just wanna give them all the answers that they’re already gonna ask you anyway, cause people just ask the same bullshit. I’d rather like, let the albums speak for themselves and then like … talk about video games.

Check out Aesop Rock and the rest of the Def Jux crew online at

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