Aesop Rock, independent hip-hop’s Thomas Pynchon, is returning with his seventh studio album, The Impossible Kid, his first in nearly four years. While all of his dense, metaphorically rich albums have been acutely personal, The Impossible Kid is his most exposed and diaristic, with the rapper opening up about depression, regrets and aging — he turns 40 on June 5th. “Somewhere between Grand Rapids and Pontiac, Michigan on the road,” he explains. “Exactly where I want to be.” The album was born from secluded work sessions in a rented barn in Washington State, with the bulk of the beats crafted by the MC himself.
He breaks it down a little in the beginning of his promotional clip for “Lazy Eye,” filmed at Portland’s infamous Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum. Rolling Stone talked to Aes about reflection, creativity and kittens.
Why did you decide to do such a personal, open record?
I don’t think I realized I was doing that until it was done, and then a couple people mentioned it and I was like, “Oh yeah!” [laughs]. But I think it’s really my sliding up to 40 record. I think the age of 40 is the thing that looms over our heads and it’s got all these kind of … things that we attach to it. I think it’s just a period of reflection for me in a lot of ways. So I guess that’s kind of the shape that a lot of the songs took.
The album seems like you’re taking stock in everything. Looking at what you’ve done and why you’ve done it.
Or trying to figure out.… When I first started putting out records, a lot of the vibe of what I was doing and the genre I was involved in was social. It was a lot of about being around your friends and what you guys could do together. As I’ve got older, that kind of mentality has sort of fallen by the wayside in my life. It’s just music has become about something else for me. I think it’s taken the place of what something like drawing and painting used to be for me, where it was just a thing that I enjoyed because of how private and intimate it was. It was just me versus me, to a large degree. I think these days, you know, being a braggadocious public figure is just not what I naturally gravitate towards, as much as I love rap and rapping.
It’s sort of like what the lyrics to 2001’s “No Regrets” were about — but you weren’t living it back then.
Yeah, in some ways I could see that. I feel like “No Regrets” was a bit of a fantasy, because it just seems to be this person that’s always happy — and that’s definitely not me.
You retreated to a barn to making this thing happen.
Yeah. It was basically just a year renting this place. That was where, I guess, a lot of the initial ideas were put down. It’s the part of the record that I just sort of romanticized because it does have the aspect of solitude and just kind of getting out and moving, and just kind of parsing through your thoughts. Really it was just I just wanted to work. I wasn’t being productive where I was [in San Francisco], so I was able to go to this place and just make a ton of beats and start a bunch of stuff. I didn’t create a whole record there or anything, but I was able to get up every day and make my life completely about that.
And then [I] eventually left and just kind of got my next apartment in the city. I’m in Portland right now.… I’ve always recorded at home. That’s been part of what it’s about to me. I’ve never been the kind of guy who rents a studio. My studios are always pretty janky. I mean I have a vocal booth at my house and stuff, but it’s somewhere between a terrible home studio and a nice studio that you pay for…. I just have always liked to be around my place and be at my leisure to just recording the song a hundred times if I want to. Or one time. And just not worry about anything else.
“Kirby” is about the therapeutic nature of cat ownership. Did a therapist actually recommend that you get a kitten?
Yeah, pretty much…. I don’t know if it was brought up by them or brought up by me, but it was definitely confirmed as a good idea [laughs]. Just how animals can give us, you know, a feeling of a purpose, to some degree, and just taking care of something can be a positive thing.
Kirby’s the actual name of your actual cat?
Is it named after Kirby Puckett or Kirby the video game character, or…?It’s funny. I was binge-watching some show and then some side character named Kirby came in and I just remember thinking, “That’s a good name for a cat.” And [laughs] then I found myself a good cat that didn’t have a name and just put one and one together. Kirby was the cat. But this Kirby is a female, so no Kirby Puckett.
Something that certainly wasn’t around in days you started making records is Rap Genius. As someone whose lyrics can be open to a lot of interpretation how do you feel about people, you know, picking apart your bars in this fashion?
I think I learned very quickly after I started putting out music … you just learn that people are going to take what they want and make it fit their agenda or make it fit their interpretation. And you make peace with that or you suffer forever. [Laughs.] It’s inevitable. The other thing that I’ve noticed, in regards to the new record, people have told me… I think some of the heavy-handed cryptic-ness that I’ve used as maybe a crutch in the past is sort of less prevalent this time around.
Maybe that’s going to make the Rap Genius part of the record less fun [laughs] for somebody?