Aesop Rock Interview by Gentle Jones

by Gentle Jones
originally published by

Aesop Rock has been dope for years. Currently a Def Jux staple, fans of his catalog seek out even his earliest work, which can command prices on EBay of hundreds of dollars. A classically trained painter who doesn't paint, Aesop Rock the individual is hard to pigeon hole. As a word maven and beat smith of the highest caliber, Aes Rizzle was recently tapped by Nike to create an original composition in the third installment of the "Nike + Original Run" series (some hi tech shit which allows your sneakers to communicate with your Ipod). Here he discusses his forthcoming Def Jux album, growing up in his brother's shadow, why he is scared as hell of the music industry, and the excitement of being involved in the Tony Hawk video game series.

Gentle Jones: Hey, Holmes, what's good with you?

Aesop Rock: Greetings.

GJ: How did you get hooked up with this Nike commission?

AR: Well, they basically hit me up somewhat out of the blue with their idea for this Nike + thing. They explained the concept, the technology, and what I would need to do. It all sounded pretty weird, and unlike anything I had ever done, so I said, "OK, lemme try this".

GJ: Did you holler "Read These Nikes" somewhere in your mix?

AR: I did not.

GJ: Let's go back a little bit, were you trying to write and record music when you were a freshman in high school?

AR: Yeah. I was writing and recording rap on a 4 track, playing bass in my older brother's high school band and recording weird instrumental songs of just me playing bass on a drum machine, and trying occasional weird bands with my friends. We did punk rock shit, we did a rap band once. It was all pretty awesome (as in the worst thing ever).

GJ: What type groups were you listening to at that time?

AR: Rap and Punk Rock. Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy, EPMD, Fugazi, BDP, blah blah. I was exposed to a lot and listened to a lot.

GJ: That is similar to my own experience. (Though I prefer New York Hardcore to Punk Rock.) In fact, I know scores of folks who had a similar taste and I can tell you that I've met them all over the country. Do you think the radio and the music industry in general are dismissive of the broadmindedness of the modern consumer?

AR: I dunno. I don't think the modern consumer is all that broadminded, to be honest. I mean, I think I was exposed to all of this music through skateboarding. At least a lot of it. Something like skateboarding brings a lot of different types of people together, and you hear a lot of music that way. And while I do know some people that have been appreciating several genres for a long time, most people aren't like that, I don't think. Many of the people I know that like rap and rock, or rap and something else, only agreed to let their "I'm so hip hop" guard down with the last few years. I think young people think they need to pick one and stick to it. I know very few people that can sit and hold a conversation about EPMD and Jello Biafra.

GJ: Do you recall when all the "underground" acts were actually on major labels, just not on the radio?

AR: Yeah it's funny to think about that. You were either signed or you weren't. That was it. No Major vs. Indy vs. Indy/Major vs. Small Indy, vs. Major Indy. It's all pretty silly now. We've really cornered ourselves.

GJ: Did your school teachers treat you well?

AR: Some did. My art teachers liked me. The rest could go either way. I think I was a likable guy, I just didn't do my work very often, and I had an older brother who was really good in school, so most of my teachers knew him and were expecting a student of a similar caliber.

GJ: Back in school what type cats were you sitting with at the lunch table?

AR: The skateboard kids.

GJ: In junior high I got Saturday school for counterfeiting lunch line cut passes and played hooky to skateboard pretty regularly. Were there any school days shenanigans that got you into hot water?

AR: Yeah, I used to get in a lot of trouble in junior high and high school. Mostly cuz I just didn't wanna do my work. I would just not do well in class. Mostly just fucking up, not doing my work, cutting class to skate as well. Nothing to out of the ordinary. Towards the end of high school I started trying to actually complete some work, as I was taught that college was the only way out of home.

GJ: Were you playing any organized sports in school?

AR: No, just skateboarding.

GJ: Me too, I've been skating since I was 7 years old. Out of all the events that changed the quality of your life, where would you rank being included in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game soundtrack?

AR: Man, I skateboarded for so many years of my life. I took a long break but I have been back at it recently, though I'm kind of old and decrepit. I think I was on a couple of those Tony Hawk games, and being a huge fan of skating, and video games, I was just so amped when that came through. I mean if you've been skating for years I'll put it this way: I had the first Lance Mountain; my first skate video was Future Primitive. After that I had a contest video from a pool comp at Del Mar where it boiled down to Hosoi and Hawk (as it often did in those days), and I just memorized the runs in it. I watched it till the tape broke. I mean I was amped on skateboarding from a young age, and it was a huge chunk of the reason I was exposed to a lot of music and people. So yeah. Tony Hawk game? I'm in. And I'm better than all of you at it.

GJ: Have you played any of the "Next Gen" video game consoles? Do you own one or have a fav title currently?

AR: I have an Xbox 360 which I like. Gears of War is probably the go to "best graphics ever" game, but at this moment I am playing God of War 2 on PS2. I also played the Wii at a mall. I'm not crazy about that goofy controller, but I do like Nintendo. Eventually I will probably own them all, but for now I wont buy a Wii or PS3 ($$$). When the price goes down and quality of games go up I'm there.

GJ: I saw you and El Producto perform in Philly around the time Fantastic Damage dropped and remembered thinking how well you two worked together on stage and how the symbiosis brought a good deal to both of your stage presences, has it been like that in the studio when you two work together?

AR: Well, what you probably saw on stage was just 2 dudes that hang out a lot off stage, hanging out on a stage. Our studio days are similar. Our friendship way precedes the work we do, so the music tends to reflect that. It's not just 2 guys in a room collabing. It's 2 guys who are long time friends fucking around with some rap shit till something interesting hopefully comes out.

GJ: When was the last time you spoke with dude from Mush records?

AR: Years.

GJ: How did Float manage to get released through them?

AR: I was scared of every label in the world in those days. I didn't want to see any paperwork, I didn't want to sign anything. I had a few labels step to me and I was just really overwhelmed with the entire process. I was friends with DoseOne, who said this label "Mush" would put out one record, easy contract, no complicated shit. I got the contract, it was about 3 pages long. I said this looks right for me, and that was that. The only thing I knew in those days was that I was scared as hell of the music industry, but I liked making music.

GJ: Still caking up off that release?

AR: To be honest, I don't even know if it's still being pressed. (note from GJ: It is in Best Buy currently) Any money I made off that release has kinda trickled in over the years, as it wasn't like a release that flew out the box. There was a little anticipation for it from some of the underground cats that had heard of me, but it wasn't like a widely anticipated release.

GJ: Are you still "scared as hell" of the music industry?

AR: Very much so, yes. I hate it so much. I hate every way that the business side gets involved with the music side. I make sure no matter what project I am doing, I can do it my way, which is in my studio with my equipment, my engineer I'm used to, etc… I just hate paperwork. I hate contracts. Even in theory they give me anxiety. I got into music so I didn't have to work a job, so when it starts to feel like a job I tend to run and hide.

GJ: Have you done any acting recently?

AR: Nope.

GJ: How about painting? Can somebody purchase an Aes Rizzle original?

AR: I've done some drawing this year, but nothing I'd ever consider showing to anyone that wasn't in the room when I drew it. I think my days of 'fine art' are kinda well and gone, though sometimes I get nostalgic and try to convince myself that I could still go that route. Truthfully speaking, I can't go that route.

GJ: How streetwear are you?

AR: Medium.

GJ: Do you customize your own sneakers?

AR: Not really. I have a lot of sneakers but I don't really alter them, I just lace em how I like them and call it a day.

GJ: You ever heard a record so good you just had to reach out to the cats that created it and introduce yourself?

AR: I really hate doing that, but I guess when I heard Camp Lo's 2nd album I was like man these guys are fucking sick and cats aren't checking for them anymore. so I hollered to see if they wanted to collab on that song. that ended up being fun. But beyond that I'm not really a doorbell ringer.

GJ: How many emcees must get dissed?

AR: Probably like one million.

GJ: You've been making beats for over a decade now, what are some of the newest tricks you've learned on the production side?

AR: I'm always kinda of expanding my studio a bit. I got a Roland Fantom recently, which is a nice all around synth. This year I did more recording of live instruments than ever before. I dunno if I really have any cool tricks, but I have been mixing a lot of samples with live instrumentation. Its a new layer that I like fucking with.

GJ: I heard your shit off El's new record, well done, man. How long until your next release?

AR: Thanks very much man. My new album "None Shall Pass" is totally done and mastered. Jux is kinda just figuring out a release time. More songs will leak soon and videos and all that stuff. Tour. World domination. etc...

GJ: Since it's done, who is on it?

AR: Blockhead, El-P, Rob Sonic, Cage, Breezly Brewin, Camutao, John Darnielle, and various instrument players. Thanks very much. I hope you like it.

GJ: Any final words?

AR: FUCK!!!!!!!!!!

GJ: Thanks again, man, its a pleasure chatting with you. Best of luck with this latest endeavor.

AR: Thanks very much, man. I can't wait to get this shit OUTTTTT.

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