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Fables With Rhythm 

Aesop Rock speaks in tongues

Derived as it is from "Master of Ceremonies," "MC" implies more than words--it includes elements of humor, charisma and playing host, plus probably a good move or two. But these are all secondary to the lyrics themselves. The flow, the rhymes, the spittin'--these are of paramount importance to any MC.

Aesop Rock, a lifelong New Yorker who records for the Definitive Jux label, got involved in hip-hop the usual way: "Hip hop seems to be one of those musical forms where no one can just be a fan and shut up. Everyone sort of gets (their) hands involved in it somehow," Aesop, aka Ian Bavitz, tells me over the phone recently.

But to distinguish himself, Aes Rock puts the "word" in "word up," going nearly to the point of logorrhea. "Yo ... put one up to shackle me, not clean logic procreation / I did not invent the wheel I was the crooked spoke adjacent / While the triple sixers lassos keep angels roped in the basement / I walk the block with a halo and a stick poking your patience," he raps in staccato fashion on one of his best songs, "Daylight," from 2002's EP of the same name. He intones, in the song's chorus, "All I ever wanted / was to pick apart the day / put the pieces back together my way," which is, as it happens, an encapsulation of his lyrical modus operandi.

"I take little things that I hear people say or on a commercial or something and kind of end up with this little patchwork-y mess of shit that I thought sounded interesting and that I could apply to my life in my raps," Aesop says. For as much as his meaty rhymes are replete with cultural references and verbose wordplay, Aesop's style is more informed by what he hears than what he reads. "I read a lot of trashy magazines, celebrity gossip and shit. I'd probably be more keen on books on tape than reading a novel," he explains. "I always had to hear something said out loud for it to catch my ear. ... I like to hear how words fit together more than read how they fit together. I could read a poem or a book and not get anything from it, but to hear someone speak it, it would reach me."

Perhaps in recognition of the fact that not everyone processes information in this fashion, Aesop has recently released a book that collects his entire lyrical output through his most recent release. "I was working on (Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives), and some fans and people at the label were always telling me to put the lyrics in with the albums as I released them, and for some reason, that never appealed to me," he says. "These days, people seem to want some massive multimedia package with interactive DVDs and this and that ...

"But I decided to kill two birds with one stone and put out the book with the EP and just release all my lyrics, and (Definitive Jux) was open to that. I immediately regretted it when I sat down and tried to transcribe everything--it was a massive pain in the ass," Aesop laughs. Entitled The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow, the book is perfect-bound and 88 pages long, which is yet another testament to Aesop's verbosity. If, for instance, Li'l Jon released a book of his lyrics, it'd be 10 pages, in crayon, with whole chapters devoted to "WHAT?!?" and "YEAYAH!!"

As for the beats component of Aesop's music, he's got a go-to producer (Blockhead), has worked with a variety of labelmates and other players in underground hip-hop (Rob Sonic and Def Jux label head El-P) and creates a lot of the beats himself. The style ranges from a laid-back, keyboard-driven vibe (East Coast underground G-Funk?), as on his breakthrough Daylight EP; to the harsher, grittier soundscapes (somewhat similar to El-P's trademark nightmarish urbanity) of 2003's Bazooka Tooth.

Aes Rock is about to move from New York City to San Francisco, and will get married in the fall, and so is biding his time for the moment. "I'm waiting because I have to move all my shit and I don't want to start anything and then start it up again," he says. Whatever direction he takes with new material, he'll be looking to shake things up a bit for himself and try different approaches. As he says, completing the Living Human Curiosity Sideshow "... enabled me to kind of close a chapter and start fresh, like this is everything up to this point, and you can shit on it or love it or dissect it how you want; now I get to go on and do other shit."

More by Curtis McCrary

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