Despite being one of the more prolific rappers in the underground scene over the past few years, Aesop Rock still maintains an aura of mystique.
The rapper recently released his second solo album on Rhymesayers Entertainment, “The Impossible Kid.” He was living in a barn in the woods during the early stages of creating the new record, which he said gave him space to clear his mind and focus.
“To me the record is about a guy who’s about to be 40 going somewhere somewhat secluded, reflecting, and making art about it,” he told the Sun Times Network in an exclusive interview. “The environment can always kinda heighten or diminish things depending on how it’s working out, and for me – on this project, it really helped me feel focused creatively.”
“Impossible Kid” features some of the rapper’s most personal and introspective work to date. He touches on family, his lost passion as a visual artist, his views on psychology and his new pet cat – Kirby.
Aesop Rock, along with Homeboy Sandman and Rob Sonic, will be performing at Metro in Chicago on June 3. Ahead of the show, he spoke to the Sun Times Network about his new record, fitting in with the Rhymesayers team and his passion for words.
STN: How was Soundset weekend? What’s the weirdest thing you saw while there?
Aesop Rock: This was the first time it was at the new location, which seemed to work out great. But the weirdest thing was that the artist area, which is usually kinda bustling, was just super quiet all day. You wouldn’t have even known it was a festival. I guess that kept the vibe very chill, which was cool but it felt odd. Over by the stages everyone was kinda milling around so maybe people got private when they were at their trailers. Other than that not much weirdness.
STN: You did your first set with Homeboy Sandman (as Lice) during Soundset. How did it go? Do you envision more Lice sets in the future?
AR: It went great. I’m sure we’ll do another set some time. It’s weird because “Lice” was just the name of the EP, but in recent weeks people have started calling us as a group “Lice,” so now we’re not sure what we’re called. We’ll probably do some more in the future – and we gotta figure out if the word “Lice” is even attached, or if it’s just A.R. and H.S. – New Crap. Anyway the set was fun. He’s the man, dope on the mic and stage.
STN: When you first started work on the “The Impossible Kid,” you were living in a barn in the woods after moving away from San Francisco. What made you move to a secluded area like that?
AR: A combined desire to save money and be away from city life temporarily. I had the opportunity to rent this barn and took it – it sounded fun and weird and I got a nice amount of work done there.
STN: One of the my favorite cuts off of “The Impossible Kid” is “Blood Sandwich.” You tell two very specific stories about your brothers in the song, are these events true and why did you decide to write a song about them?
AR: Thanks. Yeah they are both true. My brothers and I have a bunch of stories that we chop it up about when we see each other throughout the year. “Remember that time when…” – that kinda stuff. There’s a bunch that are always recycled as our family’s “greatest hits,” so for that song I just grabbed one from each brother and tried to speak on how important these weird experiences with these two people were, and how they really shaped me. I could write that song 10 more times with new stories from each and pretty much maintain the song’s angle.
STN: “Kirby” is another one of my personal favorites. What made you write a song about your cat? Is your cat actually named Kirby?
AR: Yes, Kirby is my cat. She was like brand new when I wrote it – 9 weeks old and freshly adopted. So I just wrote her a song because I wanted to celebrate her.
STN: You’ve been releasing music on Rhymesayers Ent. since 2011. What are some differences in working with them and working with the now-defunct Def Jux?
AR: For much of the Jux era, there was a bit of a family vibe and my social circle overlapped with business circles. I think maybe Rhymesayers has that for themselves with their Minneapolis-based artists, but I’m somewhat of an outsider. We’ve been close a long time, but I’m still an outsider because they had already been around for 15 or so years before I had anything over there. I still feel like a guest in their house. That said – they are very nice to me and always entertain my ideas and tolerate my idiosyncrasies, even when I’m being annoying as hell.
STN: Earlier in May, you celebrated the three-year anniversary of your collab album with Kimya Dawson. Do you envision making a follow-up to that record anytime soon?
AR: It gets talked about sometimes, and I think it’s something we’d entertain if it came about as naturally as the first one. We still bust out a new song from time to time, but just haven’t really focused on a new album or anything. I was working on my solo pretty intensely, and she is working on a lot of new solo material as well. But I think we both really enjoy that record and would ultimately like to see more.
STN: You recently produced an entire project with former Rhymesayers emcee Blueprint. How did that collaboration come about?
AR: Him and I are old friends who have collaborated a bunch over the last 15 plus years. He had the idea for the project, the story, doing this concept EP and showed up at my door looking for beats. I produce constantly, but mostly for myself – so I never really play beats for outside rappers. But Print and I go back, and we secured some things we thought fit the project. Then I made some fresh ones to try to keep it all cohesive. He is a really great rapper and storyteller, and that was the meat of the project. I just needed to hit the vibe right, in a way that would hopefully elevate his idea.
STN: You appeared on B. Dolan’s album last summer, and he mentioned that he had to listen to your verse several times to understand some of your metaphors. Have you ever had to explain to a collaborator what your verse is about?
AR: Yeah sure, but I mean if Dolan and I had been sitting together during the recording of it, we may have had a conversation that just didn’t happen because we were emailing. So I’ve been doing these full-length collabs a lot: Rob Sonic, Kimya, Homeboy Sandman. And there’s a lot more “Oh i wrote about this,” explaining back and forth, etcetera. I had a concept for the Dolan track and he knew I was on target. I think he just said he didn’t totally get a punchline off the bat, but that’s what rap is.
STN: A couple of years back, a publication made a data chart of the amount of unique words used by popular rappers, and you used the most words of the artists listed, by a lot. What did you think about the chart, and does it surprise you that you have a much bigger vocabulary than other rappers?
AR: It was surprising, and for whatever reason the whole thing makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But I think the chart is interesting. It’s just weird for me to see that. Like I said then, I like songs from every single one of those rappers so it’s a little odd to compare rappers on something besides rapping. That said, I love me some words.
STN: As a rapper who heavily uses metaphors and dense wordplay, what do you think of websites like Rap Genius that pick apart lyrics and tries to explain them? Do you ever check out sites like that? Have you ever discovered someone’s take on your song to be totally off base and inaccurate?
AR: I really have never spent much time on Rap Genius although I know it’s popular. I think it’s all fine. Sure I’ve seen off-base interpretations, but you just start to tune it out at some point pretty early on. There is nobody, and I mean nobody, that will have my song mean to them what it means to me. Nobody has my connection with it, period. Once you get past that, then accepting something like a different angle or new interpretation becomes less surprising. I think in my early years it was almost like “how dare you misinterpret that?” whereas now I just don’t care at all. I promote whatever interpretation makes you feel good, but they all mean something specific to me.