What Doesn't Kill Aesop Rock Doesn't Necessarily Make Him Stronger.
San Franciso-based producer and emcee Aesop Rock has had a turbulent ride over the last several years. After emerging as one of the preeminent artists in the world of underground alternative hip-hop in the late '90s, signing with El-P's Def Jux label in the early '00s and releasing his breakthrough album Labor Days in '01, his life began to unravel.
In the five years since Aesop Rock released his last solo album, Def Jux went on hiatus, he and his wife went through a divorce, and he experienced the death of a close friend — all of which played into the creation of his latest effort, the recently-released Skelethon.
The timing of the so-called comeback album's release is somewhat interesting too. Earlier this year, Aesop Rock's former label head, El-P, released his Cancer For Cure after a five-year break as well.
What's more, in the time since his last solo release, the similarly-monikered A$AP Rocky has emerged as one of the hot up-and-coming hip-hop artists going. This all plays into the idea of endless adversity hinted at in the Skelethon title.
So, in advance of his performance on Thursday night at Granada Theater we caught up with Aesop Rock to find out how the hardships he's faced over the last five years have played out in the production of this latest record.
In the five-years since your last solo record you've gone through a lot — a divorce, the death of a close friend, your label going on hiatus. Do you feel like you've come out of the other side stronger?
No, not really. I feel pretty lost these days. I can't really tell what's next, where I'm headed, what I even have to call mine. It's a strange feeling that I don't anticipate going away any time soon.
I'm kind of just floating in this weird space where I'm hoping one foot lands in front of the other on a regular basis enough to keep going with everything.
Does that kind of describe the title and/or theme of the record? I imagine Skelethon to mean like a marathon of death, right
Yeah, that's pretty much what I meant. Just kind of non-stop death and attempting to navigate it.
Some of the songs deal with specific events from the last few years; others are about things from my childhood that were triggered by other events from the last few years.
[I was] just trying to dissect it all and write about it, so hopefully something creative can be born of the mess.
Do you feel you write lyrics in such a way that they are abstract enough that they are relatable to almost anyone? For instance, could you could be writing about divorce and a listener might interpret it as something else entirely?
Sometimes. It really depends on the song.
Sometimes I spoon-feed the subject matter to the listener, whereas other times it makes more sense for me to just go off on some tangent in my brain that people may or may not catch all of.
I think each of the songs demands something different of me, which is how I can end up with one song being super linear, like say “Ruby '81.” Then others are more scattered and tantrum-y, like “1,000 O'clock.”
For whatever reason, the subject matter tends to dictate how I will approach the writing. Sometimes, things make more sense by seeming to make less sense.
What is the process of working on a solo record as opposed to, say, the Hail Mary Mallon stuff? Which is more enjoyable?
I'd say Hail Mary Mallon is enjoyable in a specific way because it's me and a couple friends making our version of shit talk-y rap music. Me and Rob [Sonic] did a lot of bouncing ideas off one another and writing together. We'd listen and decide with [DJ Big] Wiz what cuts would be appropriate.
It was a real group effort, something that previously I had never been a part of. The solo stuff is less enjoyable in the textbook sense, but it feels like I really accomplished something once I am able to wrap up a project I wrote and produced all of. Sometimes, the songs are about things I wouldn't bother trying with a group, and it can get a little more taxing on the brain.
Ultimately, I love both, but they do have their differences, and right now I couldn't see doing one without the other.
In what ways would the quote-unquote industry have to change before a person like Aesop Rock felt like it was something he'd want to be in any way associated with?
I think I'm automatically associated with it because I am a musician for a living. That said, I just want to make songs. I let the business-minded folks do the business stuff because that's not a world I care to be involved in, nor is it something I even understand most of the time. I never wanted to start a label or anything like that.
I just want to make songs and then turn them in to someone who knows more than me about whatever the current state of the industry is and how best to promote a record.
Aesop Rock performs Thursday, August 9, at the Granada Theater.