Although he was still recording, for the past few years Aesop Rock shied away from headlining his own albums. But with the 2012 release of Skelethon and a recent appearance at Coachella, Aesop has returned full-force. The tenor of his furious rhymes and flow is a throwback to the rap of '90s groups like Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples, and his early influences Public Enemy and Run DMC. Backed with dark rock and thundering bass, these tracks also are a throwback to '80s post-punk; as a teenager growing up in Long Island, he has explained that his older brother introduced him to bands like Dead Kennedys, Fugazi and Ministry.
We caught up with the now-San Francisco-based, towering (6 foot 4!) 36-year-old Aesop Rock—born Ian Bavitz—and asked about his action-packed "ZZZ Top" film, directed by Peter Lee, and his boy-next-door senior yearbook picture.
TS: On the surface your senior yearbook picture makes you look very straitlaced.
Aesop: While I'm sure your senior year book picture is a direct reflection of who you truly were and would become, my school pics tended to be a reflection of what my mom wanted me to look like on school pic day. My youth was spent skating, drawing and painting, working on music, and fucking up in school.
I really like the video for "ZZZ Top." It's like something scooped off the cutting room floor of a Kill Bill movie. How much input did you have into its direction and vision?
I met the director, Pete Lee, on a previous shoot. We came up with the idea to make a short film, and have the music be the score. Pete had this particular plotline in his head for some time, and once it was on paper we sculpted it into something that we could all pull off.
Did you ever get in there and mix it up with those stunt fighters?
I spent long hours with them every day. They had to teach me the proper way to fake getting smacked with a bat.
The real star of the video is Patti Li. She is remarkable. In the video, she fends off an attack from a group of thugs attempting to beat information out of her character. Li picks off her assailants one by one, leading to the final duel, where she slings daggers at a bat-toting villain played by MC Zumbi of the rap duo Zion 1. I had to look her up. Her real name is Hao Zhihua. She has won six gold medals in Chinese national championships! Now she lives in Berkeley. That's wild.
She's absolutely inspiring beyond words. Her entire story is fascinating. She has many accolades in the martial arts world from her time competing in Beijing.
Do you see a big difference between club/gangsta rap and your brand of hip-hop?
Yes and no. Ultimately it's all just people doing the songs that make them happy. I guess I could pick apart the differences, but a lot of that seems to be something people do for the sake of arguing. I like a lot of different styles of rap, and I know what I do isn't for everyone.
Were you inspired by artists further away from your generation or people who were big when you were a teenager?
I'd say both. You obviously wanna stay up on what's new and underground and cutting-edge, but at the same time I liked dipping back into a generation before me to see the groundwork laid by the pioneers of the genre and incorporate some of that into what I do.
9 pm Saturday, April 27
The Domino Room
51 NW Greenwood Ave.
Tickets $20 at www.bendticket.com or Ranch Records