If you’ve ever wanted proof that life is art, just listen to the methodical beats of Aesop Rock. Born Ian Matthias Bavitz in Northport, New York, this musician has set off a new wave of the alternative hip-hop movement that first emerged in the late 1990s.
Little known to many of his followers, Aesop Rock’s stylistic renderings stem from his background in classical visual art. A graduate of Boston University, where he studied painting, Bavitz spent his formative years masterfully maneuvering through an inner-conflict between instinct and establishment. In a recent interview with Guernica magazine, he explained how his classical training as a painter ultimately inspired him to redefine the boundaries between expression and pure art.
“When I was young I was always drawing and doing art. Then I started taking classes at night, drawing figures with perfect proportions, painting, that sort of stuff. I was also into hip-hop music and pretty into graffiti – the idea of it. I’d go from Long Island to the city just to snap pictures. It was very technical and hard to get good at because it was illegal.
I ended up going to BU for the arts, which was a pretty traditional training, the kind where they’ll completely break you down just to rebuild you. Nowadays you’ll see this new breed of artist shown in galleries and their work has elements of both, the traditional and the streets. I’m a fan of both sides.
At school, it’s beat into your head that unless it’s a Rembrandt or a Vermeer, it’s crap. But at the same time, I was looking at graffiti and really kind of admiring it.”
Beneath each of Aesop Rock’s smooth downbeats lies a near-impenetrable set of lyrics. Often passed off as streams of consciousness, signature tracks such as Daylight and None Shall Pass leave a listener dizzy both in mind and body.
It is his puzzling wordplay and homespun production that has earned Aesop Rock legions of followers. Though detractors claim his songs resemble “Dadaist randomness,” listeners can rest assured there is both a rhyme and a reason to Aesop Rock’s music.
“It’s probably because it’s not the most accessible music in the world. It may pose a slight challenge to the listener beyond your average pop song. I’m no genius by a long shot, but these songs are not nonsensical, that’s pretty preposterous.
I’d have to be a genius to pull this many nonsensical records over people’s eyes. It’s not exactly fast food but when people pretend I’m just spewing non-sequiturs and gibberish, I can’t help but think they simply haven’t listened and are regurgitating some rumor they’ve heard about me.
Even if it’s not laid out in perfect sentences—is any rap?—you’d have to be an idiot to not at least grasp a few things from these songs. Or have had no interest in pulling anything from them in the first place.”
On the brink of a movement that is steadily gaining popularity, Aesop Rock remains committed to creating art on the fringes of the mainstream. Insistent that cultural impact is organic rather than imposed, Ian Bavitz drives change within his broadly-defined industry by simply living his life as art.
“Artists should stick to art. Cultures don’t begin because people sit around and say, “let’s start a culture”. They begin because intelligent people and the true artists feel a need to think outside every box in existence at the time. It’s one thing when media outlets begin critiquing and labeling these cultural pockets, but it’s totally different when artists themselves get involved in this.
The only true answer to any problem you find with a culture you’re a part of is to use your craft to make art in a manner you consider ‘right’ or ‘true’. It seems people would rather talk about the culture, the music, its problems, its influences on society, than actually stick to the one thing that made this all fun and interesting in the first place: the actual art. Let the media bash it all they want, but as an artist, don’t become a part of it.”