Episode #25: Aesop Rock, Anxiety, and Moving (Back) to NYC

June 15, 2015 · 1:07:24
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Aesop Rock (with a cameo by Open Mike Eagle in the background), circa 2012. (Photo credit: Flickr/Vince Wilcox)

On this episode of Secret Skin, Open Mike Eagle checks in with Aesop Rock from the “magical rap forest” of Portland, Oregon, which Aesop calls home (for now).

In a wide-ranging interview, the self-described “very private” rapper opens up about his bouts with depression and anxiety, moving back to New York City, the artists who have influenced him, what “success” looks like for a working rapper in 2015 and his forthcoming solo record.

The former Boston University art student, who still considers himself a failed artist, has released six albums in 15 years, plus numerous collaborative projects, EPs, and singles.

Aesop reveals that he quit his day job in 2001 so he could go on tour, only to bow out of the gig due to an anxiety attack. This meant staying behind in New York City and getting a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, which he filled on September 11, 2001. In downtown Manhattan.

He spent the next 14 years on various medications, but has weaned himself off everything over the last six months.

“It doesn’t matter because I don’t feel good anyway,” Aesop says of the decision. “I can at least go back to see who the fuck I am when I’m normal for a second. And if six months go by and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s why I’m on this shit,’ then fine, so be it.”


On the forthcoming record: “Probably closer to finished than started.”

On his lyrics: “Write about something specific, drench it in metaphors … if I can’t get my rhyme out and let it stand alone, what the fuck am I doing?”

On his job: “When I get up and people I know are going to work and everyone’s out doing their thing, it’s like, ‘I guess I gotta write rap.'”

On his relatively positive Twitter account versus his darker lyrics: “Because as much as I tend to go [dark], I can’t be around that shit. I try to project positivity, and I like to be around people that do that. Because when I’m around people that are really negative or just have a tendency to be like me, maybe, it’s worse for me.”

On medication/touring: “The one thing that the pills did help was make it so the anxiety wasn’t overwhelming. I was still depressed, I was still freaking out, but I wasn’t having a physical reaction to being anxious, which was really what would cripple me a lot.”

On moving back to New York City: “My whole family’s over there … I’m single now … maybe I need to go back to fucking square one. I’m about to be 39, my hair’s fucking gray, I should probably figure this shit out.”

On suggestions that the historically verbose rapper should write a book: “That shit is some other shit.”

On his place in rap music: “It’s work. I have this job, I didn’t get fired and I haven’t quit yet. I guess I’m successful, but it’s not like I’m successful like I’m sitting on houses and cars.”

Please join Open Mike Eagle, Aesop Rock, and special guest Aesop Rock’s cat for a fantastic installment of Secret Skin.