Influential. Invigorated. Independent. All eyes will be on alternative hip-hop rejuvenator Aesop Rock as he takes the stage with some special friends on Wednesday night in Humboldt State University's Van Duzer Theatre.
Though the New York-born and Bay Area-based rhymer has made waves in recent years with the hip-hop trio Hail Mary Mallon and the folk-rap duo Uncluded, fans waited patiently until this summer for the tsunami that has been his first new solo LP in about half a decade, “Skelethon.”
The album debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 Albums Charts which is nutso impressive for an alternative hip-hop release.
”This is the product of a DIY inadequate home,” the rapper exclaims on the album's latest single, “Cycles to Gehenna.” The latest record from Rock marks his first solo release via Rhymesayers Entertainment. It's fairly safe to say that because CEO El-P's 'Jux was put on “hiatus” as a traditional music label, Rock found a good situation with Atmosphere's Sean Daley (Slug) and the rest of the Rhymesayers crew.
”I made an album and needed a label,” said Ian Bavitz, also known as Aesop Rock. “ (Rhymesayers) are old friends and have been extremely supportive of me for a lot of years. We worked together on the Hail Mary Mallon LP ('Are You Gonna Eat That?') and things were feeling pretty comfortable, so when time came for my project it seemed like the right way to go. They've been very nice to me... I'm really happy that the record seems to be getting some decent reception and that people are supporting what I and we do after all this time. I'm just happy to be here.”
The “special friends” mentioned earlier just so happen to be New York rhymer Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, the other two members who make up Hail Mary Mallon.
”We all met in NYC many moons ago,” Bavitz said. “Eventually me, Rob and Wiz were doing a ton of shows together and really developed a good working relationship and some great friendships. Hail Mary Mallon is just a byproduct of us being close friends and fans of one another. We had already been touring for years and doing each other's songs on stage, etc. and it just seemed like a really natural process to start recording a project. We've started on the next one and will probably focus more on it once the current touring slows down a bit.”
After working on some songs together, Bavitz said he also plans to reconnect with anti-folk star Kimya Dawson for a full-length LP.
”Me and Kimya have a full length under the name the Uncluded coming out next year some time,” he said. “I'm excited about that.”
First known for re-energizing alternative hip-hop in the late 1990s and early 2000s alongside the likes of Atmosphere, Blackstar, Outkast and Jurassic 5, Bavitz attributes much of what he knows and does to his history as a skateboarder.
”(As a skater) you end up meeting all types of people, hearing all types of music, traveling around at all hours and meeting up with strange new people all the time,” he said. “I don't know that it directly led me to be a musician but it just was all I did for a lot of years and it played a giant role in shaping who I am. I think super closed-minded attitudes about other types of people is something that I see a lot within different genres of music -- but having grown up skating allowed me to be somewhat open to all types of humans, all types of music, etcetera. It was a great way to realize that it really does take all types.”
And when listening to any type of track Bavitz rhymes on, one can't help but notice how much confidence and composure the rhymesmith exudes. When asked if he could remember the moment when he knew he “had it nailed,” he modestly said he doesn't feel he has anything refined or nailed.
”I motivate myself because I genuinely love music and the self-exploration it allows, but it's all a journey of learning and figuring out what I can do,” he said. “ I try to put a lot of time into it and sort of 'respect the craft', if you will, but I don't think I'll ever hit a point where I walk around thinking: 'I got this.' That seems like the kinda thing one might say to themselves just before plateauing forever.”
The rapper and his friends will take on hits from “Are You Gonna Eat That?”, “Skelethon” and Rob Sonic's new album “Alice in the Thunderdome” on Wednesday night, as well as some oldies from the Aesop Rock catalog.
Washington hip-hop duo Dark Time Sunshine (DTS) and LA art-rapper Open Mic Eagle will also perform. Advance passes are available online at humboldt.edu/centerarts.
”I'm honored to share a stage with all these people,” Bavitz said. “Onry (Ozzborn) from DTS is a really old friend and we've toured together for a lot of years. (Alex) Zavala from DTS is one of my favorite current producers -- he actually did a remix for a song off 'Skelethon' that will be coming out soon. Great dude. Open Mike Eagle is a super-talented rapper that I asked to join us and we are lucky to have him. All just great people and hard workers... See you soon!”
If you go
What: Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, more
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: HSU Van Duzer Theatre
Admission: $25 general, $20 HSU students, all ages