If, as Marshall McLuhan insisted, puns and wordplay represent “intersections of meaning,” then Aesop Rock has a gridlock on the lyrical superhighway cloverleaf overpass steez. Every time I spin one of his records, I hear something new, some new twist of phrase, some new combination of syllables. These constant revelations are precisely why I’ve been a hip-hop head since up jumped the boogie, and Aesop keeps the heads ringin’. I’d quote some here, but you really just have to hear him bend them yourself.
The product of our multimedia all-at-once-ness, Aesop Rock mixes, matches, and melds references from the nonstop traffic of messages we all experience. It’s a lyrical journey that expands the literature of the now and not-so-gently takes your skull for a ride, mental multicar pileup notwithstanding.
Roy Christopher: Your records unfold themselves over time. I’m always finding and figuring out new references and metaphors upon repeated listens. With all of the intricate wordplay, do you ever worry about your listeners not “getting it”?
Aesop Rock: Nah, not really. I mean, all or most of the references I make are from shit I experienced growing up: funny random movies, TV shows, music, etc. That combined with modern references of the same sort. It’s become second nature to me to write like this. I never really worried if people got it or not, ’cause it’s how I tell my story. It’s all part of a style that’s continually developing and has been for a long time.
RC: Your lyrics are so steeped in said wordplay, they seem to be coming from a rich literary background, yet you claim not to read much. Where does your lyrical inspiration come from?
AR: Yeah, reading bores me. Like I said, it’s mostly movies and TV, and comparing real-life situations to similar nostalgic movie situations or things like that. I like strange slang, strange wording, etc., but not based on how it reads; it only matters if you can deliver it well. So, I’ll hear some weird kid’s movie expression and adapt it to hip-hop slang, and end up making up my own shit. Some people get it, some don’t.
RC: Who do you like doing hip-hop these days?
AR: I like all my friends’ stuff, very genuinely. I like DOOM. Lately the rotation has been the Beanie Segal mixtape, new Cage material for his upcoming LP. Been re-visiting Slick Rick a lot, Snoop’s new one — a lot of shit.
RC: The workaday tales of songs like “9-5ers Anthem” and “No Regrets” lay out a loose archetype for living according to one’s own passions. What are you striving for? What’s the ultimate outcome of your pursuits — in hip-hop or otherwise?
AR: I’m not sure. Passions consistently change and adapt as you get older, I am finding. I still love making rap music, but I don’t care about covering the same topics I did when I was a teenager, or in my early twenties for that matter. These days I just write about living my life, being a scumbag, feeling old, porn, the strength of having a crew behind you. Just boiling it all down to simple shit: friends, fun, sex, pain, violence — things like that. As I get older I get less obsessed with details and more obsessed with finding real general ways of saying a lot. Like an old man who doesn’t speak much, but when he does it’s some weird, clever statement that somehow sums up everything: That’s what I wanna be. Easier said than done, of course.
RC: With all of the controversy surrounding records like Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (i.e., issues of intellectual property, copyrights, artistic freedom, etc.), the Build Your Own Bazooka Tooth remix contest bridges the gap. What was the impetus behind this project?
AR: Well, Jux has a nice history of releasing instrumental versions of records, so we just built on that idea: We gave out all the instrumentals and a cappellas and said, “here, have fun.” It gives the fans that are actually involved in music-making something to play with.
RC: Tell us about the new EP, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives (Definitive Jux, 2005). It’s coming with an extended book of all your lyrics, right?
AR: Yeah. It’s got seven new songs: three Blockhead beats, one Rob Sonic beat, and three by me. Guest rappers are El-P and Camu Tao. Cage and Metro both do choruses also. It’s real family oriented and, at this point, is my favorite stuff I’ve ever done. It’s kinda funky. We also spent a lot of time on the packaging, which contains an eighty-eight-page book of all the lyrics from Float to the present. It took me fucking forever, and I almost lost my mind transcribing it all, but I had some ill designers that really pulled the book and the whole EP package together to look sick. Seems like everyone’s doing DVDs or enhanced CDs, but I didn’t want to do that. So, I thought this could be a cool thing, something a bit different, something that looks good and is cool for the fans to have. People lose and scratch DVDs. Hopefully the time we put into making the book and CD package look good will make people wanna hold onto it.
RC: Are you working on anything else that you’d like to mention here?
AR: Well, just getting ready to hit the road again. I have a few guest spots dropping soon: on the new Zion I record, the Rasco record, Cage record. Beats on the new C-Rayz record, beats and rhymes on the new S.A. Smash record. I rap on the new Prefuse 73 record too. Some mixtape shit. You’ll be hearing from me a lot, hopefully. Plus, I started work on new solo material, so we’ll see what happens there.
Here’s Aesop Rock’s video for “Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives” (runtime: 3:59) from the EP of the same name:
And here’s one from Bazooka Tooth. The Style-Wars-inspired “No Jumper Cables” (runtime: 4:00):