Aesop Rock - Biography
New York hip-hop artist Aesop Rock is among the most well-known rappers to emerge from the underground scene in the late '90s, and 2000s garnering worldwide fans with his elliptical wordplay and detailed tales of urban underclass struggle amid America's twilight. Though the longtime artist and skateboarder self-released his first album - a CDr called Music For Earthworms (1997 No label) - Aesop debuted properly with Float (2000 Mush) before signing to highly influential Definitive Jux and releasing Labor Days (2001 Definitive Jux). Aesop's biggest hit to date "Daylight" came as a single for Bazooka Tooth (2003 Definitive Jux), followed by Fast Cars, Danger, Fire And Knives (2005 Definitive Jux). Jogging was the inspiration for Aesop's All Day: Nike+ Original Run (2007 Nike) a 47-minute, continuous workout track. In 2007, Rock moved to San Francisco with his wife and released None Shall Pass (2007 Definitive Jux).
Aesop Rock's real name is Matthias Bavitz. He was born on May 11, 1976 in Huntington, Long Island, New York. Bavitz grew up in Northport, New York and attended Northport High School, spending his time skateboarding listening to political punk like Dead Kennedy's and conscious rap like Public Enemy. Bavitz's older brother highly influenced early tastes, and Bavitz was also interested in art, both visual and musical, learning to play bass guitar and rap over his brother's productions on a Casio.
Bavitz started taking visual art classes at night, learning proportion, and diverse mediums, while delving further in hip-hop and graffiti culture. Bavitz's art took him to Boston University where he received a traditional education emphasizing Rembrandt and Vermeer, which he incorporated into his own street aesthetic. He holds an art degree from B.U.
At age twenty-one Aesop recorded and released vanity projects, Music For Earthworms (1997 No Label) with underground rap legend Percee P on two tracks, followed by EP Appleseed (1999 No Label). At the time, Bavitz worked as a waiter. In 1998, Aesop Rock pops up on the "Coward Of The Year" twelve-inch promo (1998 Sm:)e Communications). Two years later appeared Float (2000 Mush) a double LP on the highly regarded experimental hip-hop label, with guest appearances by Slug, and Dose One with a production assist by Blockhead . Soon he signed to Manhattan-based label darling Definitive Jux after linking up with label CEO El-P and signed to Definitive Jux, Rock released singles "Boombox" (2001 Definitive Jux) "Coma / Maintenance" (2001 Definitive Jux and then hit paydirt with single "Daylight" (2001 Definitive Jux), which went viral and introduced the world to a potent new style.
Indebted to accomplished, lyrical, sometimes bizarre wordsmiths like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Kool Keith, Aesop Rock's flow comes hard and heavy, dense with metaphor, illusion and non-linear jumps of thought that can put off some people while enthralling others. He states that he learned to always show his personality through Del and Kool Keith, and consequently, he packs more lyrics into a stanza than many rappers pack into a song, while still turning a catchy chorus. He says his go-to backdrop for his stories is an exaggerated wasteland version New York City that helps highlight the themes in his work.
Moreover Aesop Rock found class warfare to be of massive import in America at the time and zeroed in on the working poor "wage slaves" of the nation, plumbing their flaws and exploitation for material.
Labor Days (2001 Definitive Jux) established Rock as an MC to be reckoned with. Again producer Blockhead contributes, including the evocative, highly known horns on "Daylight." The thrilling time had a downside for Aesop and a second "Daylight" EP released in 2002 contains a hidden track where Aesop talks about a severe depression in 2001. He dedicates the EP to people who helped assist him in this time. The seven-track EP, includes an new version of the song, "Night Light."
Next came Bazooka Tooth (2003 Definitive Jux), with Bavitz handling most production augmented by Blockhead and label CEO El-P, with guest appearances by Party Fun Action Committee, \Mr. Lif and Camp Lo. Singles "No Jumper Cables" and "Freeze" met with a warm critical reception in many places.
Fast Cars, Danger, Fire And Knives (2005 Definitive Jux), Bavitz's next EP, came out with an 88-page booklet of his lyrics from every release from Float forward, counteracting allegations that he was writing about nonsense with page after page of near-poetry. Later versions of the EP lacked the booklet, but came with an additional bonus track, "Facemelter." Also, a limited edition of the EP came with Aesop's graffiti tag on them. Aesop toned down production on the record, again employing Blockhead, who had come into his own fame with Music By Cavelight (2004 Ninja Tune).
In 2005, Bavitz married girlfriend Allyson Baker, guitarist for San Francisco rock band Parchman Farm. He moved out to San Francisco, angering his New York contingent but enjoying the City. In 2007, Nike petitioned Aesop Rock for a continuous, 45-minute instrumental track for joggers, resulting in digital release All Day: Nike+ Original Run (2007 Nike), featuring wife Baker on guitar and scratches from DJ Big Wiz. In 2007, None Shall Pass (2007 Definitive Jux) saw daylight, containing artwork from notable skateboard culture artist Jeremy Fish. Bavitz said he tried to focus on imagery over preaching on the record, telling detailed stories that lacked hip-hop's braggadocio. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle collaborated on the record, and El-P weighed in as well.
Bavitz continues to tour and record, and has quit smoking after a three pack a day habit (he said he would do so on his 30th birthday). Also notable, Aesop has tattoos on each forearm of the chorus to his song "Commencement at the Obedience Academy." His left arm reads "Must Not Sleep," and the right reads "Must Warn Others," quoting a ostensible interpolation of a line from the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 2012 Bavitz recorded and released a solo record under the name Aesop Rock's Rhymesayers, titled Skelethon.
Aesop Rock remains a role model and success story from the world of underground rap at a time when mainstream rap was fracturing into camps characterized by 50 Cent and Kanye West. He did so by bringing his artistic upbringing, skateboarding and punk roots to bear on a resilient career, charging through two self releases before achieving ever-higher levels of success with each album. Known for his integrity, his fans await his next vivid, densely packed interpretation of our life and times.