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Music / Aesop Rock

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"I don't really engage much in the creative community. I just kind of keep to myself and do my work."

Ian Matthias Bavitz (born June 5, 1976), better known by his stage name Aesop Rock, is an American rapper and producer. He is considered one of the most essential artists in the wave of underground and alternative hip hop acts that emerged between the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Aesop has been releasing music since 1997, when he released his self-financed debut album Music for Earthworms. He eventually signed to Mush Records and afterwards to El-P's Def Jux label, where he has since released a number of successful albums, including his most well-known album Labor Days. When Def Jux went on indefinite hiatus, Aesop transferred over to Rhymesayers, current home of such artists as Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Rob Sonic.

If there's one thing Aesop is known for, it's his incredibly dense lyricism, with verses regularly packed to the gills with absurdist metaphors, puns, imagery and references to pop culture and mythology all conveyed through complex internal rhymes. A study even declared that he has the single largest vocabulary in hip-hop with almost 8,000 unique words, surpassing 85 other major rappers as well as Moby-Dick and the works of Shakespeare.

Aesop has stated that he builds up his vocabulary through reading news and science articles and writing down all the words he finds interesting. In response to criticisms of his lyrical style being overly verbose, incomprehensible or pretentious, he acknowledged that his music is "not the most accessible music in the world" but strongly disagreed with the notion of his lyrics being gibberish. He stated that he thinks people who believe this haven't actually listened to his music, and that "you'd have to be an idiot to not at least grasp a few things from these songs. Or have had no interest in pulling anything from them in the first place."

In addition to his solo work, Aesop is a former member of underground hip hop supergroup The Weathermen. He was one half of Hail Mary Mallon alongside Rob Sonic, and he has released albums with Kimya Dawson and TOBACCO as The Uncluded and Malibu Ken respectively. As a producer, he's also well known for producing hip hop duo Felt's 3rd album Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez, as well as the soundtrack to the movie Bushwick. He also contributed three songs to the 2019 video game Freedom Finger which he released as an EP in 2020.

Not to be confused with Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky. And yes — they have met.

Primary discography:

  • 1997 — Music for Earthworms
  • 1999 — Appleseed EP
  • 2000 — Float
  • 2001 — Labor Days
  • 2002 — Daylight EP
  • 2003 — Bazooka Tooth
  • 2005 — Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP
  • 2007 — None Shall Pass
  • 2011 — Are You Gonna Eat That? (With Rob Sonic as Hail Mary Mallon)
  • 2012 — Skelethon
  • 2013 — Hokey Fright (With Kimya Dawson as The Uncluded)
  • 2014 — Bestiary (With Rob Sonic as Hail Mary Mallon)
  • 2016 — The Impossible Kid
  • 2019 — Malibu Ken (With TOBACCO as Malibu Ken)
  • 2020 — Freedom Finger: Music From The Game EP
  • 2020 — Spirit World Field Guide
  • 2021 — Garbology (With Blockhead)
  • 2023 — Integrated Tech Solutions

Non-album singles

  • 2004 — "Fishtales"
  • 2016 — "My Belly"
  • 2017 — "Hot Dogs"
  • 2018 — "Klutz"
  • 2020 — "Rogue Wave"
  • 2021 — "Long Legged Larry"
  • 2021 — "Barcade" (With Slug and MF DOOM, with the latter rapping from beyond the grave)
  • 2022 — "Pumpkin Seeds" (With Blockhead and Lupe Fiasco)

Aesop and his music provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Age-Progression Song:
    • "No Regrets" off of Labor Days, follows the life of "Lucy", at ages 7, 37, and 87. Possibly inspired by a true story.
    • The song "Lotta Years" off of The Impossible Kid follows his own disconnect with society as he grows older.
  • All Just a Dream: Implied by the last lines of "Button Masher", which previously narrated Aesop living out his days isolated in deep space in a small spacecraft:
    From packed in a menagerie to cheese and crackers at the apogee
    Add a little finding God and trying not to atrophy
    I know you're whispering about me at the corner store
    "We've seen the glowing light from under his apartment door!"
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Gets subverted in the lyrics to "Get Out of the Car", off of The Impossible Kid:
    Knowin' ain't half the battle, that's a bullshit quip written by some asshole
  • As the Good Book Says...: Himself a former Catholic, Aesop has referenced the Bible in a few of his songs.
    • None Shall Pass' "Pigs":
      If Noah had the benefit of hindsight on his ship
      He coulda snatched two unicorns and left behind the motherfuckin' pigs
    • Skelethon's "Tetra":
      I turn a staff to a snake and back, evade crack
      Shake a 5150 in shades and a fake stache
    • Spirit World Field Guide's "Fixed and Dilated":
      One, two, undo a divine act,
      They don't like it when I waltz in and turn wine back
  • Audience Participation Song:
    • The Megamix at the end of the Deluxe Edition of None Shall Pass starts with a group of people chanting "AE-SOP, AE-SOP", it takes up a good minute of the song.
    • Aes is quick to encourage audience participation at live shows.
  • Badass Boast: Off of None Shall Pass' "None Shall Pass":
    Anyone object, come stand in my way, you can be my little Snake River Canyon today
  • Batter Up!: The first half of "Blood Sandwich" describes a baseball coach beating a gopher to death with an aluminum baseball bat at one of Aesop's younger brother's Little League games, and the spectacle was so off-putting that the game was called off right then and there.
  • Blasphemous Boast: "Kill the Messenger" features this line:
    I will not bow to a God that I can't look in the face
  • Bookends: The first verse of "Tuesday" begins and ends with mention of a mushroom growing in his car:
    There's something you should probably know before we go too far—
    My neighbor found a mushroom growing inside of my car
    She called me up on tour sounding emotionally scarred,
    Although it may have scared her more that I wasn't really alarmed
    Kool-Aid ooze out his toothache,
    Mushroom growing in the car, it's just another Tuesday
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Many of his songs are peppered with short lists that fit this trope, an example being the opening lines to "Nickel Plated Pockets":
    Walk into the store with a pocket full of nickels
    In a city full of horns, jackhammers, and rape whistles
  • Celebrity Elegy: He teamed up with Homeboy Sandman to create "Ask Anyone", a tribute to the late MF DOOM.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The aforementioned Megamix has clips and random sound bites from Labor Days and Bazooka Tooth, most notably, the first minute or so of the mix is made out of them completely.
    • A good deal of his songs actually do this. A lot of them carry extra meaning if you listen for references to earlier songs.
    • Additionally, Daylight's "Alchemy", featuring him and Blueprint, calls out his first album's hard-to-find status:
      Blueprint: So why they blaming you for the cats that sleep while the earth turns?
      Aesop Rock: Yeah, I had 'em up all night prayin' I'd re-release Music for Earthworms
  • The End of the World as We Know It: "None Shall Pass" is about this, and it's mentioned in the earlier "Freeze" and a few other songs as well.
  • The Faceless: In the music video for "Jonathan", the titular mystery man's face is never seen.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Happens frequently throughout his albums.
  • Food Songs Are Funny: Skelethon's "Grace" follows a young Aesop Rock adamantly refusing to eat his peas, and his father's attempts to get him to chow down.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The second verse of Bazooka Tooth's "The Greatest Pac-Man Victory in History" takes this to a whole new level, for the whole thing is a sequence of words that begin with the letters L, S, and D, in that order.
    Late Show, Dave Letterman, shitty diner lip-slide dutch
    Low self-discipline leaders see dead lung self-destruct
  • The Hermit: Aes is well known for his solitary nature. For a period of time during the production of The Impossible Kid, he voluntarily lived in a barn, an experience he discusses on "Rabies".
  • Hikikomori: Discussed in "Teleprompters".
  • Heroic Dog: The song "Ruby '81" is about a dog that saves the titular Ruby from drowning.
  • Hey, Let's Put on a Show: Bestiary, his second album with Rob Sonic as Hail Mary Mallon, has interspersed bits of dialogue between songs telling of Aes and Rob putting on a fundraiser concert to raise enough dough to keep a bowling alley from shutting down. In the end, it turns out that the bowling alley was already closed, since 1995, and the two had unwittingly garnered $211 for false pretenses. Whoops.
  • I Have Many Names: Most are shootoffs of "Aesop Rock", Aes Rizzle, Aes Diesel, Aes Rock, Aes, the notable exception is Bazooka Tooth, who may or may not be a character he plays.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Aes himself. He wrote the song "Kirby" about his cat.
  • List Song: Float's "6B Panorama" lists off various New York City sights that Aesop sees from his apartment's fire escape.
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted he's not named after the philosopher (though he easily could be), his name is a character he played in an "art film" once, plus the suffix "Rock" because it's cool.
  • Mind Screw: Usually subverted, but "Water" definitely counts, it seems to be a political message, but even keeping in mind Aes' usual metaphors, it doesn't make much sense. The sampling of some sort of opera only serves to make it worse.
    • "Mars Attacks" could arguably be worse, the basic plotnote  is pretty understandable after a few listens, but what it means, and what the second part are about is anyone's guess.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Float, which is just Aes's face in a corner over a black and red backdrop with the album's title near the middle
  • Mook Horror Show: "Play Dead," off of the Freedom Finger: Music From The Game EP, comes off as this, narrating Aesop laying waste to scores of enemy spacecraft, as a player playing the game would.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "Fryerstarter" basically equates going to a donut shop (a specific one, San Francisco's Bob's Donuts) to a religious experience.
  • No Tech but High Tech: Averted in "Mindful Solutionism", which openly includes a caveman with a sharpened stone as an example of early technology, among other things:
    2.5 million years ago, a friend of mine
    Made a tool from a stone and defended his tribe
    It's technology, sorry for the technical term
    It's a wheel, then a fire and the rest is a blur
  • Perspective Flip: "Nightlight" is a kind of an Evil Counterpart meets The Rashomon to "Daylight", featuring roughly the same lyrical structure but with every line changed to reverse it's meaning, usually for the Darker and Edgier.
    • "Daylight":
    Life's not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman
    You only call her a bitch cause she wouldn't let you get that pussy
    Maybe she didn't feel y'all shared any similar interests,
    Or maybe you're just an asshole who couldn't sweet talk the princess
    • "Nightlight":
    Life's not a bitch, life is a BEE-YOTCH
    Who keeps the villagers circling the marketplace out searching for the G-spot
    Maybe she didn't feel y'all shared any similar interests
    Or maybe you're just an asshole! Or maybe I'm just an asshole!
  • Performance Video: "No Jumper Cables"
    • "Zero Dark Thirty" comes pretty close, but not quite.
    • "Lotta Years" doubles as this and a Concept Video showing the events of the song as they transpire.
  • Rage Quit: After the titular Jonathan beats the Devil at poker for the umpteenth time in the music video for "Jonathan", the Devil angrily sweeps the cards off of the table and storms away.
  • Reclusive Artist: In-Universe - in the song "Leisureforce", he exults in being one.
  • Sampling: Done fairly often on his tracks, it's often inconspicuous and from obscure sources. To catalogue a list of all of them would be many times longer than this very page.
  • Satanic Panic: Since Aes was raised in The '80s and The '90s, some of his songs feature this theme.
    • The second verse of "Blood Sandwich" discusses an incident when Aes' older brother was prohibited from attending a Ministry concert out of fears that the band was a "cult".
    • "Acid King" is about the Ricky Kasso murder case, which was closely connected to the Satanic Panic.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Present in almost every line of every song. His vocabulary is incredibly wide, and a hallmark of his lyrical style is adding layers of meaning into his lyrics while obscuring said meaning through phrasing.
    • A data science study showed that he has the largest vocabulary out of a sample of 150 hip hop artists. The study used the first 35,000 words of each artist, along with the first 35,000 words of Moby-Dick and works of William Shakespeare, and analyzed the unique words used. Aesop came out on top with a whopping 7,879 unique words, even beating Moby-Dick (6,022 unique words) and Shakespeare's works (5,170 unique words), as well as being a massive 555 words higher than even the second placed hip hop artist in the study, Busdriver. Here's just one example from Garbology's "Jazz Hands":
    Ring around the king of pain, bring acetaminophen,
    You either see the vision or dinner with demolition men, boom!
  • Shaped Like Itself: "I twist characters like Twist characters," referring to San Francisco graffiti artist Twist.
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • Space Isolation Horror: Two of his songs delve into this, the Freedom Finger: Music From The Game EP's "Drums on the Wheel" and Spirit World Field Guide's "Button Masher". Both of them narrate Aesop living his days out in deep space with dwindling supplies and nobody to communicate with, but Button Masher appears to subvert it by implying that it's a drug-fueled trip that his apartment-neighbors are privy to.
  • Stealth Pun: Skelethon's "Homemade Mummy" discusses mummifying a cat, and the refrain mentions "take the brain out, leave the heart in", something that a specific curved tool was used for by ancient Egyptians mummifying their dead. The name of that tool? A hook.
  • Story Arc: There are a couple, most notably the saga of Bazooka Tooth, a bumbling lowlife.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: From The Impossible Kid's "Shrunk", a song about going to see a psychiatrist:
  • Take That!: Quite a few, but they're usually hidden among as many layers of metaphor as everything else, making it hard to tell just who it is that he's applying this trope to.
    • "We're Famous" featuring El-P is one against rapper Esoteric.
    • "Facemelter" is an epic bitchslap against people who have accused him of just spitting gibberish, it's capped off with one of the simplest lines of Aesop's entire career.
    If you hate me you can eat a bag of dicks.
    • "Shrunk" is a rather harsh take at psychological counselors and therapists.
    • The last verse of "Gopher Guts" is a devastating Take That against himself.
  • Vacation Episode: Spirit World Field Guide's "Pizza Alley" is about a trip Aesop took to Peru.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: His lyrics can come off as this to the uninitiated, due to Aesop's playfulness when it comes to prose and diction; if there's a more roundabout or extravagant way of saying something relatively simply, he'll go that route. However, he insists that his lyrics always have a meaning and that he's not just stringing together nonsense.