Aesop's Riddles

The indie hip-hop legend of Aesop Rock grows as his rhymes become more mystifying

For the rest of us, language flows on a nonlinear yet generally straightforward neural pathway before it reaches our tongues, picking up a few personal significances and even trace bits of wit -- if we're lucky. Every so often, though, a few people receive Valis-like transmissions from somewhere, which act possibly as a skeleton key to the mysteries of existence itself. Sometimes, like James Joyce or Philip K. Dick, they write books, or like Bob Dylan, they write folk songs. And if they're Ian Bavitz, they spit rhymes under the name Aesop Rock.

It all outlines a puzzle, one with many answers.

But Aesop does not sound like one to play around outside his beloved Xbox and PlayStation games. For after 10 years of slaving away in New York City with a million other MCs looking for cheese, Aesop has now become enshrined as an independent hero. His connection with taste-maker hip-hop label Definitive Jux and his cryptic and poetic lyrical flow have earned him critical acclaim and a worldwide following that debates and critiques and listens very closely to where he might go next.

Long in the Bazooka Tooth: Aesop Rock rocks the mike in startling fashion.
Long in the Bazooka Tooth: Aesop Rock rocks the mike in startling fashion.
Apartment 6B must have a really nice view. Aesop Rock calls it as he sees it.
Apartment 6B must have a really nice view. Aesop Rock calls it as he sees it.


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According to Aesop, it's all reality. It's just his reality.

"I went to [art] school for painting, and I was painting for a few years after I graduated," he begins. "I was just doing really large, pretty realistic portraits, basically dead-on symmetrical portraits of people -- pretty big, like six feet square. I do a lot of ultra-realistic shit when I'm painting, and that's exactly what I think I do in music."

Certainly enough, if hip-hop is "the Black CNN" -- as Chuck D said -- Aesop has delivered some stellar reporting from the front line, from 1999's "6B Panorama," which exhaustively documents New York from the perspective of Aesop's fire escape, to this year's "11:35," which describes several scenarios all taking place at the same place during January 21 of this year. But over the years, Aesop has also proved himself far too willful and eccentric to be read like some newspaper article.

"Diamond cutter spine/Armadillo armor that bends around the plates/Bugs in a beard/Ebony in the lung piece/Bricks in the tin/Bazooka in the tooth that he's flashing at your friends." That's the line that kicks off the title track from Aesop's latest joint, Bazooka Tooth. And reality becomes further obscured from there, with references to circus lore, pop culture and whatever pieces of information happen to be in Aesop's way. It's bizarre enough not to yield to any readily discernible interpretation, yet intriguing enough to keep people listening -- and guessing at what it means.

So for the intrepid, here are a few clues:

1) Taking a page from Eminem, Aesop has developed the character Bazooka Tooth to deal with a few personal demons brought on by underground fame. "Bazooka Tooth is . . . just kind of an alter ego superhero kind of character who just gets stressed out and has a gun in his mouth," the rapper says. "That's about it. And there's all these other superpowers involved." As Aesop says on "Freeze," "They say, What's up with the name?'/I say, You all made Bazooka Tooth/I was about to ask the same.'" Aesop explains, "So when I say, yo, about Bazooka Tooth, I was about to ask you the same, [I mean] you're the motherfuckers that stressed me out."

Throughout Bazooka Tooth, Aesop chafes at the pressures placed upon him by the media and the public, both of which project agendas and expectations on him that he as a person might not be able to fulfill. He sounds resigned, if slightly uncomfortable, with the changes it has brought to his life. "It's a strange position to be in, as far as, like, not only the fact that I'm trying to live off the artwork or work that is personal, and at the same time, how you get the money for that is racing around and smiling for people and then going all over the country and all over other countries and selling the record, you know what I mean? You think of, like, Justin Timberlake. He does a three-hour performance every night, and it's like, wow, I don't know how that guy does it? Cause I couldn't do that shit. I'm not a celebrity or anything. But it is getting bigger each time, so it gets a little more stressful and weird every time."

2) As most who have seen the Definitive Jux DVD Revenge of the Robots know, many of the people around Aesop believe we will see the end of the world within our lifetimes -- if not in this decade. Seeing two airplanes crash into the Twin Towers can have that effect on people, apparently. "Breaker 1-9/9-11-0-1 witness/Maybe you don't get this," Aesop declares on "N.Y. Electric."

He explains the situation further. "I wanted to directly reflect the New York environment in the last two years, which has been a little bit weird, and just directly reflect some of the things that I've been going through in combination with the grittiness of the city itself."

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