Beyond the Stage: From the Troubadour to Medieval Times with Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz

Typically, the idea of Medieval Times conjures images of wide-eyed girls dressed in bedazzled cone hats, waving scepters, at their princess party… that, or of a berserk Jim Carrey dragging Matthew Broderick onto the sandy tournament floor for some overly competitive, Cable Guy axe wielding. Medieval Times is probably the last place one would expect to see a crew of Def Jux’s finest rappers and deejays. But by the time you read this, several things may or may not have happened: Aesop Rock may or may not have triumphed over Yak Ballz in a joust of shield crushing force; Rob Sonic may or may not have overcome his fear of dragons; DJ Big Wiz may or may not dressed up like Merlin; and those crazy cats in Grey Skul may or may not have gone streaking through the banquet hall, wearing nothing but cardboard crowns and velvet capes.

“We're going to be doing Medieval Times tomorrow. A group trip. A little morale booster,” Aesop Rock smiled and told the L.A. Weekly this past Sunday. “I’m hoping to get heavily involved in the swordplay. Tomorrow night, that’s our one big fun outing other than work.”

Indeed, Aesop Rock and the artists on his current tour are some of the hardest working rhymesayers and beatmakers in hip-hop. On September 14, the evening prior to their Knights of the Realm-style invasion of Buena Park, I met up with Aesop at the Troubadour during sound check to catch up on the whirlwind year he’s had since the release of None Shall Pass, an album that quickly surpassed his previous four full-lengths to become the razor-sharp wordsmith’s biggest success.

Beyond the Stage: From the Troubadour to Medieval Times with Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz

L.A. Weekly: So how’s California treating you so far?

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Aesop Rock: Good. We’ve been to all the East Coast and we had, like, a week and a half off and now this is only our third show back. We did Pomona, then we played here last night, and now we’re playing here tonight. Everything’s been wonderful so far.

L.A. Weekly: How much has changed for you in the past year since None Shall Pass came out?

Aesop Rock: It's been a bit of a weird year of ups and down but us three – me, DJ Big Wiz and Rob Sonic -- have always been on the road a lot. We did that whole big U.S. tour right when my record and Rob’s record came out, then we did Australia and Europe, then a bunch of festivals and now we're doing this again. It’s just been one of those years where we're home for a month at a time or a week at a time … it’s definitely been pretty [busy]. Everyone's been moving around a lot, not a lot of rest.

L.A. Weekly: The way the album exploded, here in L.A. the songs are being played on hip-hop stations and rock stations. What do you think it is about the album, looking back now, that allows it to go in both [directions]?

Aesop Rock: I don't know. We keep getting pegged in this genre of alternative hip-hop. I think in the beginning that almost worked against us because people were scared to check us out for that reason. We just thought we were making hip-hop music like we liked to make, and people start putting little genres on it. Then we realized at SXSW six years ago we were the only rap group at an all-rock festival. That kind of worked for us. Now we get hit up by everybody because we can offer hip-hop crowds, which is what we're used to, but also other events that involve all sorts of genres. I feel like the stuff that boxed us up right in the beginning, all that stuff that’s cracking off, has worked for us as things pan out. People realize we're here to stay and we all have a few records under our belt and we're hopefully going to have some longevity with this.

L.A. Weekly: How has the crowd reception been here at the Troubadour?

Aesop Rock: Dope. It was packed. The last couple times we've been here we played the Henry Fonda and the El Rey, bigger places, so we tried to bring it back to the smaller places for a couple nights. I kinda like it better, to be honest. Playing for a smaller room, you can feel the energy better.

DJ Big Wiz: It’s definitely more personable.

L.A. Weekly: Aes, let’s talk about the EP that you and Rob are doing together.

Aesop Rock: Yeah. We've all been on tour so much it was just like, “Hey, wanna do a record?” [Laughs]

Rob Sonic: We’ve been working together on songs for each other’s records, for various projects, production… we're always talking, we're always in touch with each other in different creative ways. We were like, “What’s the next natural progression? Let’s do a record.” Who knows what it’s going to sound like? It’s going to sound like magic! Dragon magic breath.

Aesop Rock: We don’t really have a name yet, but we do officially have a song, a demo. But it’s not really done.

L.A. Weekly: So you officially have an undone demo?

Aesop Rock: Yeah. [Laughs] Exactly.

L.A. Weekly: Wiz, any comments from you on working with these two crazy guys?

Aesop Rock: Yeah, I'd like to hear that answer too.

DJ Big Wiz: I love it, and it’s not just because they have blackmail information on me. Working with these guys is amazing. I started out on Def Jux as El-P's DJ at the end of his Fantastic Damage album, so I didn’t have a lot to do…

Aesop Rock: I stole him.

DJ Big Wiz: He basically did. We did a lot of shows together and really hit it off. As a producer and an emcee, he's amazing. Rob is great… I went up to the Bronx and worked on his last album [Sabotage Gigante]. It really does make sense that we do something officially as the three of us. I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years and this is the most comfortable crew that I've ever been a part of.

Aesop Rock: I really feel like I could hug you right now.

DJ Big Wiz: [Laughs] I feel like I could cry right now.

Rob Sonic: I agree with Wiz.

L.A. Weekly: How much longer on this tour before you head back into the studio?

Aesop Rock: Seven or eight more after this. It’s pretty short. We're going to do that, go home, sleep, wake up, and rap. In that order.

For more information on these artists go to www.definitivejux.net.

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