Aesop Rock has seen it all over the past 20 years. While the music industry has drastically morphed and changed over time, the veteran independent emcee has managed to weather the storm, releasing 16 projects and building a name for himself in the underground—before that meant chucking your songs up on SoundCloud and hoping for traction.
For Aesop, this also meant a shitload of poorly-attended live shows, foregoing the extravagances of life to finance his dreams, and trying to make a buck or two back through releasing his music to a tediously amassed fan base.
The New York native has sold the majority of his solo work, and for him, that approach has always been fruitful, but when it came time to release his recent collaborative project with Homeboy Sandman, the two offered up the 5-track EP for free, a move that’s being made much more often these days and is working to the benefit of artists like Run The Jewels, Chance The Rapper and countless others.
In a recent interview with Never Nervous, Aesop was asked about what the benefits of dropping music for free, to which he gave the following response:
Hmmm. I don’t know? It just feels nice. I do a solo album and turn it in, and we spend many months figuring out how it’s gonna be presented. I do these free EPs with my guy and we can say “let’s drop this next week”. There’s a freedom to the whole thing that doesn’t exist when you’re worried about selling something. Plus people like free shit.
His sentiment is simple, and it may work best for an artist like Aesop who has charged fans for most of his discography, but that doesn’t make it any less true. To keep up in the digital era, it’s almost required to enjoy the freedom Aesop mentioned in his answer. There are countless instances of good tunes sitting on digital shelves for one too many days past their prime and, sadly, losing their relevance in the process.
In addition to being a talented emcee, Aesop pours himself into everything he does, so giving away a free project is no less calculated and inspired than selling his solo work, a trait all artists should wish to hone in on. Plus, as Aesop pointed out, people do like free shit.
Ultimately, by keeping a fan base happy with the occasional free release, assuming the material is of the same quality that would be sold, there's a good chance they'll be much more supportive when it does come time to pony up.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Art Credit: Cole Mitchell