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Line by Line: Aesop Rock’s None Shall Pass

    Forget for a second that None Shall Pass is Ian Bavitz’ sixth album under the Hip-Hop moniker Aesop Rock. Forget that 45-minute mix All Day that he was commissioned by Nike+ to create earlier in 2007 specifically to enhance an individual’s workout with changes in music tempo and instrumentation. Don’t even think about The Next Best Thing, a short story and children’s book Aesop Rock wrote alongside visual artist Jeremy Fish. There is also that record label, Definitive Jux, which you shouldn’t be associating with Aesop Rock at this point either. In fact, forget the name Aesop Rock. Just think about Ian Bavitz and his new album None Shall Pass.        Someone somewhere down the line is going to bring in the fact that Aesop sounds like a guy who uses too many words, metaphors and unnecessary “verbage” along with those moody and oddly constructed beats that he’s taking himself too seriously or depressing or simply “too conscious” to be listened to.        If Aesop Rock spoonfed you his lyrics so as not to leave anything to the imagination, used typical 16-bar verses, placed them neatly between his hooks, rode the kick and snare of the song, and clocked in the song at three minutes and change, Aesop Rock might not be at the creative pass he finds himself today.         With None Shall Pass, an album which took more than two years to create, Aesop Rock chose music that not only reflected the ideas he had swarming in his head for the album, but also sounded like songs unto themselves. “I was trying to pick beats that already head a mode, place and vision without me having to write anything,” says Aesop. “Take, for instance, the song ‘Fumes,’ which Blockhead produced. I felt like the music already told that story without me having to tell that story. And Blockhead has very moody music. But that song, as well as the rest of the album, I focused on complimenting my words with the music.”        It’s why when Aesop Rock is joined by Breezy Brewin and Cage on the song “Getaway Car,” you can picture the three MCs jumping into a vehicle, sputtering out of a parking lot, clipping the edge of the curb as they take the turn too quickly, flooring it down a busy street and weaving in and out of traffic, even though the song is about a life-changing experience in Aesop, Breezly and Cage’s lives.        Or when Aesop and El-P sputter out a flurry of lyrics over the staccato music for “Gun for the Whole Family,” with Aesop rhyming “It was a lazy day, it was ‘Amazing Grace,’ it was a half-a-dozen claymores daisy-chained,” that has one thinking this song has something to do with war and politics when in fact Aesop describes it as commentary about the hyper-visualized fascination with violence.        And it’s why “The Harbor is Yours” has a down-trodden feel to its music and monotony carved into its vocals, with Aesop drawling as listeners debate whether or not the music is too slow to nod their head to or not, despite the song being a children’s story about a pirate who swears he’s seen a mermaid.         If there is one thing Aesop has going for him, and it’s not the only thing, it’s his ability to utilize both his vocals and the musical accompaniment, to which there is more live instrumentation on this album then his previous works, on two separate planes, persuading the listener to try and figure out not only what the words mean, but what they mean in relation to the music they’re being spoken over. Of course, according to Aesop, there is an easy solution to all of this: “And then the album ends and you press replay,” he says half-heartedly.        It’s encouraging to see an artist such as Aesop exercise such careful wordplay while emphasizing the music that runs full-speed alongside the emcee. But then again, that’s the kind of attitude that makes a good album. Aesop Rock sat down with AllHipHop.com and broke down his songs, why he chose the music and what his thought process was behind the lyrics for None Shall Pass. Consider his responses liner notes so that you can have a little bit more incite into Ian Bavitz. “Keep Off the Lawn”Aesop Rock: I thought it was a general introduction song. And I was really trying to emphasis that I was cutting out all the braggadocio and arrogance on the album. I wanted to do more story-related material and paint pictures that way; I didn’t want to talk about me. So I’m setting up the fact that you’re going to hear a bunch of stories as opposed to anything else. “None Shall Pass”Aesop Rock: This is the title track to the album. And the main theme is people judging other people, whether it is you judging people or people judging you. It’s how you see people; the good people, the bad, the ugly, the a**holes. It’s a coming of age song without trying to be “corny” by saying that. It’s not only reflective of me to see where I stand. But it’s a theme for the rest of the record.“Catacomb Kids”Aesop Rock: It’s just about mischief on Long Island, New York. “Catacomb Kids” is real high school era stuff, back when I was driving along in my grandfather’s car or spraying people with Super Soakers. I mention one of my friends who killed himself. It’s up and down, warped memories. I wanted to set the tone for a “back in the day” track without saying anything about “rocking Pumas” or “being on the block.”“Bring Back Pluto”Aesop Rock: If you remember, they [scientists from the International Astronomical Union] denounced Pluto as not being a planet anymore. So I used Pluto as my base for a song about rooting for the underdog. And that theme of being the underdog pops up again throughout the album.“Fumes”Aesop Rock: “Fumes” is both a love and drug story where everyone dies in the end. I wanted to be able to paint a picture and have a story that wasn’t based on anything about me specifically. It’s a time-period piece. But as I get older, I’m finding I pinpoint and become more aware of situations like what I talk about in “Fumes.” “Getaway Car”Aesop Rock: I had Cage and Breezy Brewin, both Weathermen artists…and this song goes back to right around late 2000 and early 2001 where I wanted to quit my day job and get into music. So I said I’d give myself a year and see if rapping would get me somewhere. But I told Cage and Breeze that I wanted “Getaway Car” to be about a major life-change experience. So Breeze wrote about a job situation he was in before he started rhyming, and Cage wrote about being in a mental institution and wanting to get out and do music. “39 Thieves”Aesop Rock: As silly as it sounds, “39 Thieves” is about hanging out in parking lots. And when I was growing up in Long Island that’s what we did. We’d hang out in groups, talk, kick bottles and cans, broke s**t, and wrote graffiti. And if we got kicked out of the parking lot, we went on to the next one. But now that I think about it, I did think about my high school years a lot with this record.“The Harbor is Yours”Aesop Rock: This is a children’s story. I wanted to go for a folktale with this song. And it’s told in a “once upon a time” attitude. “The Harbor is Yours” is literally about a pirate who finds a mermaid out in the ocean, but no one he knows believes that he’s found or seen a mermaid.“Citronella”Aesop Rock: A lot of people blame television for their and other people’s problem. And “Citronella” looks at going back and forth about television, the pros and cons, and the fact that people can’t really watch a television show of substantive nature behind it.“Gun for the Whole Family”Aesop Rock: El-P produced this one and he’s on the song as well. But when we were discussing what to do for a song, we wanted something based on how amused we are as a society with violence. It’s almost funny, and El-P and I laughed at this, because everyone should be watching the news with a bucket of popcorn. So the visual for “Gun for the Whole Family” that we saw was El-P and I sitting out on the street in lawn chairs, bucket of popcorn in hand, watching the city go to s**t; and the pervasiveness in both reality and movies with violence. “Five Fingers”Aesop Rock: I wanted a song about stealing s**t. So “Five Fingers” goes back to when you were a child and stealing; taking anything when you were young, whether it was a pack of gum or whatever. But as you get older, now you’re stealing samples. So I turned that whole concept of stealing cookies and transferring that notion into stealing s**t that isn’t yours as you get older; music, money or whatever. But I’m also trying to make it positive because now that you’ve stolen it, it’s yours. “No City”Aesop Rock: “No City” is really my sad song of the [album]. In essence, I’ve had a couple of people I know in the hospital over the past year. But I wanted “No City” to say that everyone should be civil to one another on a human level because there is so much at stake in life. And I felt that “No City” really points to the fragility of human beings. “Dark Heart News”Aesop Rock: Rob Sonic produced “Dark Heart News” and he’s also on the song. And the idea behind it was that Rob and I were selling copies of the Dark Heart News, our newspaper. So we’re out there yelling “extra, extra,” on the corner. But the Dark Heart News is the paper for scumbags, the lowlifes, the bums and the gritty and grimy people. If you can’t identify with Fox News or your local newspaper, then you go to the Dark Heart News. It’s a newspaper for all the fuckups and the depression kids. But again, the song plays to the underdog theme, much like “Bring Back Pluto.” “Coffee”Aesop Rock: My friend John Darnielle, who’s in a band called Mountain Goats, came in to help me with this song. And “Coffee” talks about being peaceful with each other, but that that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to hang out with you. It’s saying, “I’ll be nice to you when I see you, but f**k off. We don’t need to hang out.” And if you let “Coffee” play through, after that song there is a hidden track called “Pigs.” And this song is funny in a number of ways. I was trying to describe the typical fat guy in a suit, smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking. It’s literally being a pig. But it’s also a metaphor. It’s talking about pigs as animals but it relates pigs to human beings.

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