In the video for Aesop Rock's single "None Shall Pass," human cartoon characters pass through everyday life in the city. Each is dressed according to how he or she wishes to be perceived: a rhinoceros, an alligator, an ostrich. They walk by each other on the street and interact, silently sizing each other up: Think you're a tiger? Ah, hell no. You're a poodle, boy.
This pretty much sums up how Aesop who is dressed as a lion wearing a Yankees cap at one point in the video is living his life. He's done with being sized up and being expected to behave accordingly.
He began recording in 1997 eventually releasing acclaimed albums like Float and Labor Days and his latest full-length, None Shall Pass, showcases the changes in his life. He's no longer a bachelor; he married guitarist Allyson Baker in 2005. Also, he's no longer a Brooklyn-based rapper, but a San Francisco-based one, after moving to the West Coast to be with his wife.
"It's much quieter," he says, speaking from backstage in Burlington, Vt. "Actually, my whole life is quieter, which I love. It's very low-key."
It was a big move, considering how Aesop's lyrics have always reflected the gritty urban dystopia around him. But Aesop feels that the decision has actually helped his music.
"I guess the older I get, I seem to need to find new subject matter to rap about," he says. "I've been doing my best to travel into uncharted waters, and spend more actual hours on the music and writing than ever before."
Don't worry that all the sunshine has gotten to him. While None Shall Pass does feature lighter lyrical themes than Aesop's fans might be used to, the beats still give you plenty to chew on. Aesop's delivery actually sounds harder, and the grooves on this disc are far deeper. But it is a change of pace, nonetheless.
"I'm just predisposed to making darker music," he says. "This record actually probably isn't as dark as I normally go. But I'll get back to it."
In 2007, Aesop made another unexpected move when he was commissioned to make a 45-minute instrumental mix for the iTunes-only Nike+ Original Run series, designed to be played while jogging. He says he kept an open mind as Nike pitched its idea, and signed on once the company agreed to let him maintain complete creative freedom.
Of course, this brought on confusion and cries of "sellout" from some fans, but Aesop dismisses all that.
"The deal Nike struck with me was more artist-friendly not monetarily, just in terms of who owns what for how long than any deal any indie label has ever offered me," he says. "My only qualms were whether or not I could do what I wanted musically, which would therefore make it impossible to "sell out,' at least by my definition."
He wonders how fans would feel about that track had it not had been covered up with Nike's logo. Better? Worse? It's tough to say, he says. It'd be better, he says, if the fans let the music in all instances speak for itself.
"I make it, you listen," he says. "Let the vehicle be whatever it's gonna be."
Aesop Rock with Black Moth Super Rainbow and Blockhead
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Wednesday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 day-of-show, all ages; visit ticketweb.com or call 866/468-7621.