Unlike that dusty can of coffee grounds sitting in your pantry, the rapper Aesop Rock has only gotten better with age. Though his apocalyptic and often impenetrable lyrics once cemented him as a stalwart of the mighty New York hip-hop label Definitive (née Def) Jux, as time has passed the MC has opened his songwriting up and distinguished himself as a raconteur and commentator par excellence. He is perhaps the only MC capable of dropping tracks about haircuts, therapy, and his relationship with his cat that drip with the same wit, energy, and urgency of his lyrical exercises. His seventh album, The Impossible Kid, may very well be his finest. He tours constantly and gets coffee and green juice at Whole Foods every chance he gets.
By his own admission, Rock is not the most social guy. He doesn’t like to traffic in the same circles as other rappers, and his preferred method of conducting interviews is via email. I had the privilege of sending Rock some questions about breakfast. He answered them gamely.
Extra Crispy: Where are you right now? What did you have for breakfast today?
Aesop Rock: I am in a hotel in St. Louis. On tour we go to Whole Foods every day upon waking, but oftentimes arrive too late for their actual breakfast, which saddens me. I had a coffee and a green vegetable juice, and then I ate some tortellini salad––a fairly lunch-y breakfast. The only silver lining to the days we need to be up way early is that Whole Foods is still serving eggs and such.
What do you usually eat for breakfast on tour? How important is diet when it comes to being able to rap every night?
Wake and go to Whole Foods. If breakfast is around I get coffee, green vegetable juice, eggs, sausage, and then I go to the salad bar and put raw onions, black olives, and mushrooms on the eggs. If breakfast is no longer available I still get the coffee and juice, but it’s really a toss up at that point. I try to keep it generally in the ballpark of healthy, but admittedly I am not a perfect man. Some days it’s salad bar, some days I walk out with a giant pretzel. I just figure as long as I get my green juice in I can afford a few iffy items.
Do you find that maintaining a regular eating schedule and a semi-healthy diet helps with maintaining mental health?
I have not found out how to maintain my mental health, BUT I will say I generally feel better when I am eating decently and getting some regular exercise in––which I’ve been way better about in recent years. That said, I still don’t always eat the healthiest breakfast at home. I usually wake up and go to the coffee shop, get coffee and either eggs on toast, or a slice of coffee cake.
You begin "My Belly" by rapping, "6 a.m. and I'm dying for breakfast." On Soundcloud, you wrote that the track was your attempt at writing a children's song for a project that never materialized. What was the project? And did you do any research into the diets of otters when you wrote the track?
It for an episode of my friend’s web show called Boating with Clyde––which had some content but never really grew into its final form. It was gonna be children’s content mixed with cool music and bands. There were gonna be puppets acting out the song, but it just didn’t happen. I did a report on otters as a child and did my best to remember their habits, although I also did some research. However I should admit that I probably mixed together river otters and sea otters to form the ultimate otter, thereby occasionally sidestepping science. It would probably have been bad for children, as I assume it’s got some misinformation in there.
What did you eat for breakfast back when you were living in New York and recording for Def Jux? Related, do you have a favorite breakfast spot in NYC?
NYC has amazing diners and food pretty much everywhere––I can’t really say I have a favorite breakfast spot. I lived in a few different locations during the Def Jux years. It was always coffee, and something pretty unhealthy like a muffin or some other bread product. Every bodega has muffins and danishes and shit, so I ate a lot of that crap. I kinda used to sleep way late in those days, so I was well into lunch hour by then, and normal breakfast wasn’t always on the radar, besides coffee, which is always on the radar.
Do you feed your cat Kirby in the mornings or the evenings?
Do you prefer a first meal as a social experience or something more meditative?
I avoid social experiences at all costs. But I DO like to be a regular at the spots near where I live, so I get to know the people and am considered a valued customer. But yeah, I’ll go and get my coffee and food and do my emails in the morning.
How do you take your coffee?
Cream and Splenda.
Do you find your delivery is affected by how much caffeine is in your system?
Hmmm… I don’t think I’ve ever noticed. I have felt bad after like having a couple cold brews back to back or something like that, but I don’t know that I’ve noticed it affecting my delivery specifically. Usually if I feel bad, I won’t rap.
How did you initially connect with John Darnielle to record "Coffee," off None Shall Pass?
I used to go to Mountains Goats shows a lot. Then one year he put Bazooka Tooth on his year-end list and I was beyond stoked––I wouldn’t of guessed I was even on his radar, and he is a hero to me. So the next show I attended I introduced myself at the end, and we’ve been friends since.
Is the juice order you placed in "Lotta Years" the same as your typical juice order? More generally, the track seems to speak to a gap your narrator perceives between you and young people. Is this something you feel in the real world as well?
It’s a true story about me watching this interaction between a customer and a young employee, but I no longer live where I did at the time. I do feel my age, and that funny confusion with young people. But it’s also a cool age because I get to see people older than me interacting with people younger than me––which is what happens in the song. That’s where the magic is. As for my juice order, I like a few things, but generally I’ll go for something green that is largely vegetables, with one apple just so it doesn’t taste awful. But I will occasionally switch it up. If I’m getting pressed juice in a bottle I’m more likely to venture out into beet territory, or try something new.
You've spoken about how you began working on The Impossible Kid while living in a barn. What was your schedule like during that period, and what were you eating every morning?
That was actually when juice really entered my life. I started doing it everyday and now I try to get it in as much as possible. I’ve always hated eating vegetables since I was a child, but as I get older I do consider my health more. I find I can drink any vegetable juice there is if I put in one fruit––so if that’s what it takes, that’s what it’s gonna be. My schedule was just get up and work. I was probably sleeping until 11 or so. Get up, get my coffee and juice, go home and work, go to yoga at like 4:30, grab dinner on the way back, and work more at night. Sometimes hit the grocery store late for sugar.
What are some tracks that you listen to to get pumped to take on the day?
I don’t know, that’s tough. I can’t remember the last time I felt pumped to take on the day. Maybe the Mountain Goats’ “Love Cuts the Strings.” Actually for the last few years that Nas song “Locomotive” from Life Is Good has not left my daily playlist––that one gets me hyped.
What are the two most interesting breakfasts you've ever eaten? One for the food, one for the conversation?
Oh man, I have no idea. I’m sure the best was some giant hotel buffet scenario. Fuck the conversation.
When you were paying $275 per session to do therapy with a cartoon bear in the woods, did you have to scrimp on fancy breakfasts?
The forest provides for all.