EXCLUSIVE: Aesop Rock Tells it Like He Sees It

Aesop Rock (real name Ian Bavitz) is as enigmatic as his lyrics. And he likes it that way. His particular style of hip-hop is far from the norm, but it's oddly perfect in its imperfection. With his tricky word play and content seeped in metaphor, trying to figure out the meaning behind an Aesop Rock track is nearly impossible. His lyrics are representative of the abstract approach he takes to songwriting. Much like a visual artist, he constructs his words in a way that's complex, intricate and completely subjective. It's a process that can be both arduous and tedious, but one that has served him well over the years.   "I usually write notes all day, every day or when I think of something I just write it down," Bavitz explains. "Sometimes I make a voice memo. I usually need a beat to actually construct the rhyme, then I decide what I will write about and see if I have any thoughts or phrases I wanted to use that would fit what I’m working on." 
"Then I’ll go through my notes," he continues. "It can be slow and sometimes leads to writing more than one song at a time, but it's the way I do it. After I get the bulk of the writing done, I'll demo it up and then fill out the beat around the lyrics. In the end, I'll do a more energized 'real' vocal take so I'm not reading it off paper." As weird and intricate as his music can be, not everyone finds it palatable, but those that do, find Aesop to be some sort of undercover genius. "Some people enjoy what I do, some hate it.  I feel like I write in a way that makes the most sense to me - not that it's always crystal clear, but just that the tone and style and substance and word choices help me to make a poetic piece about whatever I'm thinking of.  I don't find it 'almost impossible to understand,' but I get that it's not as straight forward as some other things. I try to keep myself interested, and I don't really write with a mass of listeners in mind.  I just do what means the most to me, and over the years some people have latched onto it and identify with how I approach this stuff. Others not so much, and that's fine." Raised in Long Island, New York, Bavitz fell in love with hip-hop early on as a result of his family regularly commuting to New York City in the '80s and '90s. Groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, in particular, made a huge impact on the young Bavitz. "Those are two of the most original groups there were, especially for a young kid who was getting into rap music. I enjoyed the beats and rhymes, and that guys like Chuck and KRS could deliver a message that was both in-your-face and thoughtful, while remaining charismatic enough to carry a group," he says. "It was new and awesome, and I guess when I heard that stuff when I was younger, it was just right place right time. I was the right age, and that shit spoke to me on several levels." He felt the same way about punk rock, too. Bands like Fugazi, Dead Kennedys and Ministry had a similar effect on him. "I found a lot of punk rock music had similar characteristics as rap. It was in your face, by any means necessary music. You got a guitar with 3 strings and your dad's old drum kit? Cool. We have a punk band," he says. "I just like that both of these genres were built by people that needed to make music so badly that they found a way to do it, often against all odds. I think growing up skateboarding really helped me to appreciate a lot of different genres, and draw conclusions about their similarities and differences.  So much of what I was exposed to musically is a direct result of hanging out with skateboarders who all had different musical tastes." That diversity is evident within his musical catalog. After graduating from Boston University in 1998 with a degree in fine arts, he quickly broke into the underground scene with 1999's Appleseed EP. He then signed with Mush Records that same year, but later joined the Definitive Jux roster in 2001. His debut, Labor Days, produced the single, "Daylight," which proved to be his breakthrough track. The rapper's acclaim exploded from there. While never realizing much commercial success, 2007's None Shall Pass, cemented his reputation as a cryptic indie-rapper with lyrics that were harder to decipher than on previous efforts. Even with the 88-page lyric booklet that accompanied the 2005 Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP or the transcription of the track "Citronella," it didn’t make understanding him any easier. In 2011, Bavitz signed with the infamous Minneapolis indie rap label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, and released 2012's Skelethon under its imprint. Since then, his notoriety has grown exponentially, yet despite his success, his ego has remained grounded, which is refreshing these days considering the inflated opinions rappers tend to have about themselves. "I guess I'm known in certain pockets by some people, but I definitely don't feel "famous.”  My general preference is to not be around that many people.  In general I find people increasingly cruel the older I get - not to me, just in general," he says. "Humanity saddens me. There's so much shallowness and posturing and judgment. It just feels cold and ridiculous sometimes." Perhaps seeking some warmth, Bavitz relocated to San Francisco after 30 years of living on the East Coast. Around 2011, he teamed up with indie darling Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches, which is proving to be his most interesting collaboration to date. Bavitz appears to be half-asleep, but at the same time, he seems to have the capability to deliver a thousand brilliant thoughts at any given moment. Dawson, meanwhile, is like the Mt. Vesuvius of information. Their shared ability to vacillate from winky irony to blunt anger in two sentences or less, while executed differently, is eerily similar. Their first full-length record, Hokey Fright, is due sometime this year. "Working with Kimya is awesome.  I'm a huge and long-time fan of what she does, and we are great friends.  I feel totally honored to have this project with her.  I think Hokey Fright has some of our absolute best writing on it," he says. "I'm sure a lot of the purist rap heads may not get it or like it, and I'm sure there are some Dawson fans that wonder what the hell the big oaf is babbling about, but fuck all that noise.  I feel confident that we did something pretty cool, and I couldn't be happier about the final product."   If it's true that birds of a feather flock together then Dawson and Bavitz are clearly from the same nest. Their inventiveness, knack for descriptive details and unrelenting passion for their crafts shine through with everything they do. And this mutual endeavor, while unexpected, just may be their most brilliant move yet. "We've been doing a decent amount off Skelethon, some Hail Mary Mallon, debuting some new Rob Sonic material, and dipping into some older stuff," he reveals. "You'll basically find me, Rob, and DJ Big Wiz enjoying ourselves on stage and doing our best to show and prove. It's up to you if we do a good job." By Kyle Eustice for RAPstation.com