It’s been three years since New York-bred emcee Aesop Rock (real name Ian Bavitz) has released a solo album, an excruciatingly long wait for those enthralled with his signature brand of independent hip-hop. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t keeping us entertained with one of his many other projects—Hail Mary Mallon with Rob Sonic, The Uncluded with Kimya Dawson and Lice with Homeboy Sandman—but he had to wait until the timing was right to unleash another one into the world. That all changed April 29, when Bavitz released The Impossible Kid, his seventh solo album.
“My solo records became a thing where I really wanted to handle as much of the work as I could, all production and all lyrics,” Bavitz explains. “I started having no real vocal features and no outside beats. I got help here and there, but in order for me to feel my vision was fully realized, I wanted it to be a true solo endeavor. The side effect of that is that it takes a long time.”
Bavitz became more selective about what would and wouldn’t be an appropriate fit for his solo record, almost to the point where it was an all-consuming challenge, but a good challenge nonetheless. He had to find a way to remain active, but protect the integrity of his own work.
“I still wanted to collaborate with some friends, but didn’t always have a home for those collaborations on my solo work,” he says. “The idea of doing full albums and EPs with people came about. It felt way more real than just grabbing a random verse from someone and hoping it fit the concept right because now all parties were equally invested. It wasn’t my album or their album—it was ours. So things like Hail Mary Mallon, The Uncluded, and the Lice project came out of that; a desire to make these collaborative, and often more enjoyable projects while still chipping away at my solo stuff.”
The end result is a 15-track sonic assault peppered with Bavtiz’s most tangible lyrics to date, a strange departure for the often enigmatic emcee.
“It wasn’t really a conscious decision, “ he admits. “So much of what has happened over the years is that I’ll go make a bunch of songs, and not many people will hear them. I’ll just kinda do my thing, not really think too much about how it’s taking shape. I just try to let it just come out. Then I’ll finally play it for someone and they’ll say something like, ‘This is the most _____ music you’ve ever made.’ And it’s always surprising—not because it’s not true, more because I’m too close to it to even notice that kinda thing. I just kinda go and go and go, and then one day someone tells me what I did. I really like it all—the super cryptic stuff, super straight-forward stuff; any of it can be fly to me if done well.”
Lead single “Rings” came with a stunning visual that depicts Bavitz as a corpse, as he raps about the death of his art career. “I used to draw/hard to admit I used to draw,” he starts, a quick insight into who Bavitz once was at a certain period in his life before his music career blossomed into what it is today.
“After college, I moved back to New York and was still making these large oil paintings in my tiny apartment, working full time and recording rap,” he says. “I started getting some positive feedback in and around New York for what I had been doing musically and it felt good. I think I just started focusing on that because it felt like I was making some headway. Art was something I always worked hard at from a young age, but ultimately I think I just didn’t really have what it takes to be successful at it. I loved it. I still love it, but music was emerging in my life in a way where I saw a clearer path between what I wanted to do and how I could get there. In a lot of ways, it came more naturally to me. The passion for both was always there, but the successes and positive reinforcement became more prevalent with my music, so it sorta won out.”
As The Impossible Kid begins to burrow its way into the ears of its listeners, Bavitz is already on the road like the warrior he is, carrying his weight for hip-hop culture. At almost 40-years-old, the new album is, in a way, a look back on everything he’s gone through up until now as he stares down his own mortality.
“The Impossible Kid is me closing in on 40 and just going over it all,” he says. “It feels sorta reflective in the sense of going through some childhood memories, family stuff, friend stuff, music stuff, moments of being baffled by the youth of today, and just coping with getting older. I kinda feel like turning 40 is a very specific thing in our society. It somehow holds more weight than any other age, even though in some ways it’s pretty arbitrary. For whatever reason, it’s the age we are officially old. Maybe because if we’re lucky, it’s the halfway point. In your 30s, you can kinda still pretend to be young, but there’s not much pretending at 40. It’s the age that looms more than any other. So yeah, this is the sound of me sliding into 40.”
Aesop Rock with Homeboy Sandman, Rob Sonic, DJ Zone and Special Guests, May 24, at Aggie Theatre, 9 p.m. Tickets are $20/$25. Visit www.aggietheatre.com for more information.