What do you say about the rapper who never runs out of things to say? Famous for delivering more words within a single song than most emcees can manage in an album (OK, not quite), Rock is the reigning king of the rap underground. His gravelly, spitfire voice and hyper-verbosity have garnered him praise from hip-hop heads and literati alike. His latest solo effort “Skelethon,” released in 2012 by Rhymesayers, is the most accomplished work of his career.
The real-life Ian Bavitz is touring with Bronx-bred rap virtuoso Rob Sonic, his longtime collaborator in the group Hail Mary Mallon. We caught up with Rock by phone ahead of his show Wednesday at First Avenue.
Q: You don't do a lot of phone interviews. Why is that?
A: I don't feel like I'm good at it. I just like to do the music. I don't always feel like doing it but I'm trying today.
Q: Well you're doing great so far.
A: [Laughs] Thank you.
Q: You're touring with Rob Sonic right now. What do you like about working with him?
A: We're like besties, you know. It's just easy. When I do solo material I definitely tend to overthink it. I make a lot of rules for myself that are a little bit arbitrary and ... it's just painful. So, working with Rob, it's just fun and it brings me back to why i was doing this in the first place. There's a lot less uncertainty and we're able to laugh a lot and that's a big deal for me these days.
Q: Well, I understand you went through a lot in 2008. Your best friend passed away and your label, Def Jux, went on hiatus. Did you take a lot of time off rapping after that?
A: I didn't take any time off rapping but I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't really care, as far as when my next album was gonna be. I was just making songs. I feel like, at the time, I just knew all I really had left was the music, which should be enough. So, yeah, I just holed up and made a bunch of songs and at some point it started taking shape of an album. But I wasn't actively looking for labels or anything; I just wanted to be away from everything for a while.
Q: Now that you've had some time to process it, how did all of that affect you creatively? Did it affect you creatively?
A: Yes, it did and it still does. Maybe this is all in my head, but I feel like I pulled back from the "scene" or just worrying about what the fuck was cool or what's not cool or what's acceptable. I just gave the fuck up and didn't care and still don't. So, I had to get back to the place that made me want to start doing this in the first place. I don't do anything else. I get up and I write raps regardless, but I did need to ask myself, "What the fuck am I here for?" I didn't want to be around anyone. I just wanted to see if I could still do this and it was a completely personal mission.
It's always been that way, but just the feeling of my best friend dying and the label falling apart for one reason or another, then here I am. I could slip out the side door pretty easily and no one would hear from me again, or I could not give a fuck if people are waiting for me or not and just take my time and do my thing. So, I think that's my attitude. Before I was very happy to be part of this cutting-edge crew and being around a lot of like-minded people and then I was like, "eh, I don't need to be around anybody.'
Q: Did you, even for a minute, think about quitting?
A: Yeah, but I do that at least once a day [laughs]. I've never thought about not writing anymore songs, I don't know if I'd be able to. I've been frustrated about songwriting but when I'm frustrated it's usually related to an aspect of the "industry." But no matter what, it's a job, so I'm going to complain. So, again, at this point all I have is the songs. It's all I really have, it's what I've been doing for a long time.
Q: I know you like to study dialogue of certain television shows and movies. What kind of entertainment are you absorbing these days?
A: Pretty much all sci-fi TV that's good or bad. I really like Game of Thrones. I just take it all in. I like to just hear people talking and TV is a quick way to hear different periods and genres. It's just interesting to me. I'm pretty easily amused with that kind of stuff.
Q: Who's your favorite talker on television?
A: Probably Tyrion Lannister, which might be cheating since "Game of Thrones" is like the biggest show of all time. I also like "Deadwood" a lot. I love that show because everyone is essentially saying "fuck you" to one another on every episode but in a billion and one different ways.
Q: Have you watched "Black Mirror"?
A: I love "Black Mirror." I've been telling all my friends to watch it while it's still on Netflix.
Q: There's a well-documented history of people reading too deep into your lyrics, but how literally can listeners take a song like "Gopher Guts?" Because it's pretty easy to interpret that one as autobiographical.
A: Yeah. It is pretty autobiographical for the most part. It had a lot to do with what happened in 2008 and a lot of other stuff that doesn't get mentioned in interviews – family-related things that I don't talk about too often. When you're thinking about these things that happened ... I think that there's never a neat enough conclusion where you can write a song with the hindsight being 20/20. One day you can wake up and be like, "Man, fuck, all these people did this to me." And then another day you'll wake up and be like, "You know what? I am the fucking asshole here." So, every day it's something different and I never totally figure it out. So, it's autobiographical but it's not necessarily how I feel every single second.
Q: You met A$AP Rocky earlier this year? What was that like?
A: Oh, he was great. It was funny because he came out when "Skelethon" came out, and it actually bugged me that people were bugged about the name thing. Everyone was asking me about it and I didn't want all my interviews to be about him. It's like, "Fuck all that, man. Let the guy do his thing." But yeah, I was at Rock the Bells and thought I'd introduce myself. And he was cool. Just a dude who's fucking going for it. I was with Brother Ali at the time and he knew his music, so, yeah, he was a good dude.