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Aesop Of Living Legends Playing Back Bar SoFA

In Music
Derrick McElroy, who goes by Aesop, Black Aesop and Aesop’s Fables, has a full-length 'opus' on the way.

Derrick McElroy, who goes by Aesop, Black Aesop and Aesop’s Fables, has a full-length 'opus' on the way.

Much like the Aesop of antiquity, it isn’t particularly easy to get a bead on Aesop, the emcee of the Bay Area and Los Angeles hip-hop crew, Living Legends. A Wikipedia search of the Aesop of Aesop’s Fables will inform you that scholars are undecided as to whether Aesop ever really existed or if folk tales were simply attributed to him. Similarly, Google searches for Aesop of the Living Legends crew turn up websites that haven’t been updated for years and YouTube clips from the late aughts.

This is due to many factors. First and foremost, any online query featuring the words “Aesop” and “hip-hop” will return an avalanche of hits pertaining to Aesop Rock, a similarly named rapper with a larger online footprint and a free-associative, tongue-twisting style quite different from that of the Aesop in question.

Second, for the past few years the man known to his close friends and family as Derrick McElroy has been on a bit of a hiatus from making music. Reached by phone from his current home in his native Fresno, he says he made the conscious decision to retreat from hip-hop a few years back to focus on his family and take up some lower-profile work as a promoter and sound engineer.

Beyond that, McElroy says that he isn’t a very easy person to get a hold of. “If you hadn’t caught me today, you might not have gotten this interview,” he says with a chuckle. It’s easy enough to believe. Over the course of the interview, the multi-instrumentalist, producer and lyricist frequently walks away from the phone—his voice growing faint as he walks across the room to tend to some other more-pressing business than talking to a local paper. (He later confesses that he is making a sandwich.)

“I’ve always been about doing things underground,” McElroy says, explaining that he’s never had a publicist, that he doesn’t often give interviews except informal ones to fans after shows, and that he has always booked his own tours—including his forthcoming tour of the West Coast, which includes a stop at the Back Bar SoFA this Wednesday, Oct. 22.

McElroy, who sometimes goes as Black Aesop or Aesop’s Fables, says he is preparing to come out of hibernation—both to push his recently released a mixtape, Seeds of Hip Hop, which McElroy made with DJ Hecktik and features remixed versions of some of the duo’s favorite hip-hop classics from the ’80s and ’90s, overdubbed with new verses and slightly modified choruses.

The spooky boom-bap beat of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit,” becomes “LL Crew Ain’t Nuthin to Fux Wit!!!,” with Black Aesop spitting verses from his catalog in place of the verses from RZA, Inspectah Deck and Method Man. The sparse creeping electric piano of Nas’ “One Love” becomes “Love One.”

“It was a really weird thing I did,” McElroy says of the Seeds of Hip Hop project. “It was using beats from the past, in the future, but with lyrics from the past.”

Weird or not, it would seem that making the mixtape helped to inspire the emcee—reminding him of why he got into rapping in the first place. McElroy had played in bands and written poetry all before he finally decided to pursue hip-hop full time. Asked why he chose that path, he says it’s hard to say, though he recalls being moved by the likes of KRS-One.

“Listening to a lot of KRS one made me want to be good at rapping,” he recalls, adding that he was inspired by many rap groups from that era. “Old school hip-hop—real rappers from the ’80s and the ’90s, inspired me to be the real intelligent rapper that I am.”

Now, McElroy says he is in the midst of putting together what he hopes will be the best album he’s ever made. “For the last couple years that’s what I’ve been doing—making this magnum opus,” he says. “This album won’t be released until it’s perfect.”

Until then McElroy says he is looking forward to getting back on the road and touring—noting that he is especially excited to be playing at Back Bar SoFA, the former space that housed the Cactus Club, which as he recalls was the first place Living Legends ever performed.

“San Jose is where I started my career—was the first time I played with real sound, a real stage, real lights, real artists,” he says. “It’s a big deal anytime I walk into that place. The memories are crazy.”

Aesop is performing at Back Bar SoFA on Oct. 22 at 9pm. More info.

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