Aesop Rock has been dope for years. A longtime Def Jux staple, fans of his catalog seek out even his earliest work, which can command prices on eBay of hundreds of dollars. The classically trained painter who doesn’t paint, Aesop Rock the individual is hard to pigeonhole. 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, a non-stop rap-to-your running project.
Aesop discusses production, his influences, early work and why he’s forever a fan of Camp Lo, even if others are sleeping.
AllHipHop.com: How did you get hooked up with this Nike commission?
Aesop Rock: 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, “Okay, let me try this.”
AllHipHop.com: Did you holler “Read These Nikes” somewhere in your mix?
Aesop Rock: I did not.
AllHipHop.com: Let’s go back a little bit, were you trying to write and record music when you were a freshman in high school?
Aesop Rock: Yeah. I was writing and recording rap on a four-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 s**t, we did a rap band once. It was all pretty awesome [sarcastically].
AllHipHop.com: What type groups were you listening to at that time?
Aesop Rock: Rap and Punk Rock. Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy, EPMD, Fugazi, BDP, blah blah. I was exposed to a lot and listened to a lot.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think the radio and the music industry in general are dismissive of the broadmindedness of the modern consumer?
Aesop Rock: I don’t know. 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-op” 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.
AllHipHop.com: Do you recall when all the “underground” acts were actually on major labels, just not on the radio?
Aesop Rock: 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.
AllHipHop.com: Did your school teachers treat you well?
Aesop Rock: 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.
AllHipHop.com: Back in school what type cats were you sitting with at the lunch table?
Aesop Rock: The skateboard kids.
AllHipHop.com: I saw you and El-P 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?
Aesop Rock: Well, what you probably saw on stage was just two dudes that hang out a lot offstage, 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 two guys in a room collabing. It’s two guys who are long time friends f**king around with some rap s**t till something interesting hopefully comes out.
AllHipHop.com: When was the last time you spoke with someone from Mush records?
Aesop Rock: Years.
AllHipHop.com: How did Float manage to get released through them?
Aesop Rock: 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 Dose One, who said this label Mush would put out one record, easy contract, no complicated s**t. I got the contract, it was about three 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.
AllHipHop.com: Still caking up off that release?
Aesop Rock: To be honest, I don’t even know if it’s still being pressed. 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.
AllHipHop.com: Are you still “scared as hell” of the music industry?
Aesop Rock: 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 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.
AllHipHop.com: You ever heard a record so good you just had to reach out to the cats that created it and introduce yourself?
Aesop Rock: I really hate doing that, but I guess when I heard Camp Lo’s second album I was like, “Man these guys are f**king 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.
AllHipHop.com: How many MCs must get dissed?
Aesop Rock: Probably like one million.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve been making beats for over a decade now, what are some of the newest tricks you’ve learned on the production side?
Aesop Rock: 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 don’t know if I really have any cool tricks, but I have been mixing a lot of samples with live instrumentation. It’s a new layer that I like f**king with.
AllHipHop.com: I heard your verse off El’s new record, well done, man. How long until your next release?
Aesop Rock: 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.