Forget that 45-minute mix All Day that he was commissioned by Nike+ to create earlier in 2007 specifically to enhance an individuals workout with changes in music tempo and instrumentation. Dont even think about The Next Best Thing, a short story and childrens book Aesop Rock wrote alongside visual artist Jeremy Fish. There is also that record label, Definitive Jux, which you shouldnt 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 hes 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. Its 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 Cages 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 its 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 childrens story about a pirate who swears hes seen a mermaid. If there is one thing Aesop has going for him, and its not the only thing, its 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 theyre 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. Its 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, thats 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 LawnAesop 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 didnt want to talk about me. So Im setting up the fact that youre going to hear a bunch of stories as opposed to anything else.
None Shall PassAesop 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. Its how you see people; the good people, the bad, the ugly, the a**holes. Its a coming of age song without trying to be corny by saying that. Its not only reflective of me to see where I stand. But its a theme for the rest of the record.
Catacomb KidsAesop Rock: Its just about mischief on Long Island, New York. Catacomb Kids is real high school era stuff, back when I was driving along in my grandfathers car or spraying people with Super Soakers. I mention one of my friends who killed himself. Its 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 PlutoAesop 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.
FumesAesop 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 wasnt based on anything about me specifically. Its a time-period piece. But as I get older, Im finding I pinpoint and become more aware of situations like what I talk about in Fumes.
Getaway CarAesop 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 Id 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 ThievesAesop Rock: As silly as it sounds, 39 Thieves is about hanging out in parking lots. And when I was growing up in Long Island thats what we did. Wed 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 YoursAesop Rock: This is a childrens story. I wanted to go for a folktale with this song. And its 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 hes found or seen a mermaid.
CitronellaAesop Rock: A lot of people blame television for their and other peoples problem. And Citronella looks at going back and forth about television, the pros and cons, and the fact that people cant really watch a television show of substantive nature behind it.
Gun for the Whole FamilyAesop Rock: El-P produced this one and hes 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. Its 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 FingersAesop 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 youre stealing samples. So I turned that whole concept of stealing cookies and transferring that notion into stealing s**t that isnt yours as you get older; music, money or whatever. But Im also trying to make it positive because now that youve stolen it, its yours.
No CityAesop Rock: No City is really my sad song of the [album]. In essence, Ive 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 NewsAesop Rock: Rob Sonic produced Dark Heart News and hes 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 were 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 cant identify with Fox News or your local newspaper, then you go to the Dark Heart News. Its a newspaper for all the fuckups and the depression kids. But again, the song plays to the underdog theme, much like Bring Back Pluto.
CoffeeAesop Rock: My friend John Darnielle, whos 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 doesnt necessarily mean I want to hang out with you. Its saying, Ill be nice to you when I see you, but f**k off. We dont 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. Its literally being a pig. But its also a metaphor. Its talking about pigs as animals but it relates pigs to human beings.