Aesop Rock is that dude. It took a while for everyone to catch on and catch up (pardon the pun), but after more than a decade of speaking truth to power—picking apart his adversaries in lamestream hip-hop and capitalism writ large—the rapper and motormouthed muckraker is as popular as he’s ever been, with fans including Danny Brown and Pitchfork.
Being knighted by the indie elite is cool and all, but between a nationwide tour and a nasty spill that broke his ribs, Aesop has had a grueling 2013. Paste caught up with him to see where his head’s at.
: So often your work is pegged as “esoteric.” What do you make of that descriptor? Is it wrong?
Aesop: It’s difficult for me to attach adjectives to my stuff without just pressing play on the music and saying “that.” It kinda is what it is for me, without a neat word to file it under. Sure, I’ve been called esoteric. If that works for the listener, then I am esoteric.
: Your music is also legendarily dystopian. Are you cynical in your day-to-day life?
Aesop: I think so. I think that’s just my way. I think in general I find humans to be a cruel species and that feeds into looking out at things in a cynical light. I don’t wanna believe anything or trust anyone, or even have the conversation to figure out if I should trust someone. I end up pushing myself into a reclusive corner a lot.
: Hip-hop’s mainstream more or less doesn’t exist anymore; guys who were selling millions a decade ago have since migrated to much smaller indies (Freeway comes to mind). Is that a healthy sea change for the industry?
Aesop: Fuck if I know! [laughs] I seriously know nothing about this industry, what’s good, how to succeed, etc. I really just play it all by ear. Indies felt natural and less stressful when I started putting out records. Nowadays a lot of the playing field is evened, I guess—but honestly I don’t even know, that’s not my job. In fact that’s exactly why I never started my own label—because I wouldn’t know how. I just like to rap and attempt to live a creative life. I fumble my way through some business stuff, and hand the rest off to those I pay to understand how the industry part works.
: There was a pretty pronounced rock influence on your last two albums, particularly Skelethon. In general, “rock-rap hybrids” have a terrible stigma attached to them. Have you found it challenging to overcome that?
Aesop: I don’t think I’ve ever made a rock-rap hybrid. Well, the closest I’ve come is my Uncluded project with folksinger Kimya Dawson, but I don’t see my solo records that way at all. I mean, rap as I know it is a mishmash of many other genres and time periods all put into one big crockpot and cooked for 20 hours. I think we are in a synth-heavy time in rap, and that can occasionally lead me towards guitars and basses and other things—but I do love a good synthesizer too, so shit…I sample all genres, rock, funk, soul, psych, etc., and for me—it’s all in there. If it’s not coming across that way for others—well, that’s OK. But no, I don’t find any challenge there to overcome. I just grab the sounds I like and put them together.
: Have you ever checked for Death Grips or Oddisee or Antwon? Those are all rappers obviously indebted to current indie rock.
Aesop: Admittedly not as much as I probably should have, but a bunch of that Death Grips stuff sounded really nice.
: Do you still live in San Francisco? Does anyone stick out to you in the Bay Area hip-hop scene? It’s insanely fertile at the moment.
Aesop: I do. I am pretty off the radar though, so I don’t know much about what’s going on in the scene right now. The Bay has always been fertile with music and art. I love it there and I find the city really inspires creativity across the board.
: Are you at work on a new Dirty Ghosts album? You mentioned it in passing on Facebook earlier this year.
Aesop: They are writing it now and we have talked about doing some work together. I’m not sure if I’ll end up on there or not, but I’m sure whatever they do will be fantastic regardless.