The art of rhyme


POSTED: Friday, January 16, 2009

Call Aesop Rock a hero of the backpack rap scene, a veteran independent artist with five full-length albums and three EP releases to his credit.





        Featuring Aesop Rock with DJ Big Wiz and Rob Sonic, Cage and El-P with DJ Mr. Dibbs and TMQ

On stage: Pipeline Cafe


Time: 10 p.m. Friday


Tickets: $35 and $65


Call: 589-1999



Or, describe him as a painter and storyteller. He holds an art degree from Boston University and became a published author when “;The Next Best Thing”; arrived in bookstores last year.

Life for the artist born Ian Bavitz continues to evolve as the 32-year old celebrates four years of marriage and continues to push the boundaries of his own creativity.

This weekend, fans at Pipeline Cafe will call him the headlining act, as New York-based indie label Definitive Jux brings the “;Def Jux Hawaii Tour”; to Honolulu. The label marks its 10th anniversary in 2009, and co-founder Jaime “;El-P”; Meline will be in town with Chris “;Cage Kennylz”; Palko to open the night.

The Star-Bulletin wasn't able to get Aesop Rock on the phone before deadline this week, but he did respond to a few questions via e-mail with the same dense verbosity exhibited on wax.

QUESTION: It's a new year. Do you have a New Year's resolution?

ANSWER: Well, not necessarily an “;official”; resolution, but new years seem to be attached to a cleansing of sorts; 2008 was a ton of touring, (so) I'm trying to keep 2009 pretty studio heavy.

I think putting out a Weathermen album together is pretty high on everyone's list, (and) I really just wanna get some production out there more. Of course get a lot of writing done ... (and) I've needed shoulder surgery for years (so) I'm going to get that done, too.

Q: I read you were an art major at Boston University. How did an art student get into rhyming?

A: I graduated from the school for the arts at B.U. in 1998. I'd been making music since I was in junior high school, playing bass, learning to rhyme. I played piano for many years early on in life as well.

I learned to program drums on a couple of drum machines my brother had in the early '90s, so I had all the ingredients to make a little noise. As a fan of hip-hop I just started copying peoples rhymes, trying to sound like Erick Sermon, Redman (and) all the east coast rap heroes. I continued recording stuff through high school, and during college as well.

Music and art were both very important to me, but I didn't think I'd ever be able to live off either. In fact, I was pretty sure I had made some (bad) choices, but I'm not the kind of guy who would put himself through “;business school”; or study something “;useful”; just so I could get a job on the other side.

I get cranky when I'm not doing what I want.

Q: Are you happy with your career as an independent artist? Would you consider working with a larger label at some point?

A: I don't think there is a label out there that suits what I do better than (Def Jux) as far as the sounds they create, and I don't want to have to think about business at all. I have spoken to some majors and medium-sized labels over the years about everything from full-on contracts to licensing specific albums (and) one-offs, but I mostly entertain the meetings just to hear what they say.

I guess I (want to) keep the doors open, but it's hard to see myself jumping ship, as I haven't been offered anything that makes more sense to me than my current situation.

Q: How has the Internet affected your career?

A: The Internet has its ups and downs, I guess. It's hard to tell what outweighs what anymore.

It's an awesome way to get instant promotion and keep in touch with fans (and) update people on what's going on with my stuff ... but the illegal downloading is starting to outweigh any good that has come. I've heard people blame labels for not embracing the Internet as a viable medium sooner, but realistically, what can anyone do? You can pay for the song or get it free just as quickly and easily—it's kind of a no-brainer for most.

People say albums aren't as good, they can't trust the artists so they wanna “;check it out”; before buying, but nobody has ever addressed the problem straight up: How do you stop people from illegally downloading music?

There's no answer.

Q: How has living in San Francisco affected your creative process?

A: I do have a way more low-key life out here ... I keep to myself much more and I put many more hours each day into working. I feel pretty focused out here just because of how I've set myself up. I think I just put myself into a position where I can create more, (but) it could have been almost anywhere. I don't mind the cold, so I'm fine with the East Coast.

Realistically, I'm fine anywhere I can get my (work) done. I'm not really out at bars or trying to create some social circle or anything like that—I kind of just work and hang with my wife. That's what I enjoy.

Q: What is the songwriting process like for you? Do you come up with all those words off the top of your head?

A: (It) could be one word per day, (or it) could be a whole song. I always go back and revise everything many times, especially if I know its home will be one of my solo records. There are (tracks) on my records that have taken years to finish, and others that were done in one sitting.

I don't really use words I'm not familiar with, but I definitely don't mind reference materials, movies, magazines, whatever is inspiring or helpful at the time. If I hear something cool, (like) a cool word or thought that rings a bell in my head, I write it down. I consider anything any author/writer might use (as) fair game.

I'm trying to take lyric writing as seriously as a novelist would take writing a book. I don't really want any “;throwaway”; lyrics. What's the point of that?

Q: Are you still performing a “;None Shall Pass”; set when you get to Hawaii? Will you share any new material with fans?

A: It's going to be some old, some new. I don't think I'm doing anything unreleased; I'm just going to run through some of the older stuff and showcase a handful of “;None Shall Pass”; as well.

The newest stuff is the most fun for me, but I know people want to hear a little of everything, so I'm going to try to make everyone happy. Out of me, El, and Cage, Cage is the one sitting on a brand new album that was finished (and) being mixed (just) yesterday, so I'd imagine if you're looking for never-before-heard jams, he's the one to look at.

As for me, it'll be all over the place, mixed with some Rob Sonic songs.

Q: Ever performed in Hawaii before? What does it mean to you to arrive with the Def Jux crew in tow?

A: I've never performed in Hawaii. I was (there) once as a child, but never in my adult life.

Being with these guys means a lot. Since our releases are usually staggered these days, we don't get to go out all together nearly as much as we used to, (so) it'll be a good time.

Q: I heard you worked on/are working on a children's book. Can you talk a little bit about that?

A: I assume you're talking about 'The Next Best Thing,' which is a collaboration I did with Jeremy Fish last year.

It was sort of formatted like a children's book, but the content was probably aimed at older people, (and) it was packaged with a 7-inch (that) corresponded to the images Jeremy drew. It was basically an excuse for me and Fish to make something weird.

We've since collaborated many more times and will most likely continue to do so indefinitely.

Q: What's your favorite Aesop Fable?

A: Interestingly enough, I had never been asked this question until this year, and you are the second person to ask me. I guess I like 'The Eagle and the Arrow'.

He's got a few interesting ones, but eagles and arrows are both okay in my book.