Blockhead‘s new album has been years in the making – and some of his die-hard fans might not be ready for it.
“Literally, this idea is something I’ve wanted to do since the nineties. I just never had the chance to really do it,” Blockhead tells Us Weekly exclusively while discussing The Aux, arriving on Friday, November 17. “Even six years ago, I tried to do it, and even [then] I could only gather up so many rappers because specifically, I want it to be with rappers who I’m actually fans of. I wanted to make sure [The Aux] is something I stand by as a fan.”
That first attempt was 2019’s Free Sweatpants, an album that featured appearances from some of the most renowned alternative rappers: the revered Billy Woods and his hip-hop duo, Armand Hammer, comedian/rapper Open Mike Eagle and Blockhead’s longtime friend and frequent collaborator Aesop Rock. “It was half rappers and half instrumentals, and it had a lot of good rappers on it,” says Blockhead. “But this is the first where I was just like — it’s all me, all rappers, no instrumental songs, and I kind of got to a really expansive group of MCs.”
These pillars of the underground are back on The Aux, with Woods on as a co-executive producer and releasing it via his Backwoodz Studioz label. The album also features Danny Brown (who earned acclaim earlier in the year for Scaring the Hoes, his collaborative album with JPEGMafia), Casual, Breezly Brewin, the incomparable Bruiser Wolf, RXK Nephew and rising star Fatboi Sharif (who released the remarkable Decay earlier in the year on Backwoodz Studioz).
Blockhead tells Us that he spoke with Woods about putting together an ensemble album, adding, “We just took it from there. He helped me wrangle some rappers – I wrangled some myself. We both did our work for this.”
The Aux marks a rare time that Blockhead shared control. “The only other time that I had an executive producer was this side project I did a long time ago on Def Jokes called Party Fun Action Committee,” he says, referring to the duo with Jeremy “Jer” Gibson that resulted in 2003’s Let’s Get Serious. “It was a comedy album that me and my friend did, and El-P executive produced it. But, all he did was just allow it to exist [laughs] much to his dismay, when it’s all said and done.”
However, Woods was more involved on The Aux than the Run The Jewels rapper was on Let’s Get Serious. “[Woods’] whole thing was to throw ideas at me,” says Blockhead. “He was like, ‘What if we put these two guys together?’ He’s a rapper who tours and has contemporaries; he has a wide net to take from because he’s worked with so many artists. And I know my people – I’m not a producer that socializes that much with musicians. I’m not out there pounding the pavement and shaking hands and s—t like that. So I know who I know.”
While he has plenty of his own connections, Woods introduced Blockhead to a different crew. “There are artists who are just an inch out of my reach, and Woods helped me gather those guys,” he says. “And the other ones, I could just text and be like, ‘Hey, will you do a song?’ And they’d be like, ‘Yeah.’”
Theoretically, Blockhead shouldn’t be out of reach of anyone. He’s been involved in the hip-hop world since he was a teenager, and his instrumental albums – from 2004’s Music By Cavelight and 2009’s The Music Scene to 2021’s Space Werewolves Will Be The End of Us All – have earned him respect from his peers, critics and fans. However, while some producers of Blockhead’s caliber would hustle to get an A-list name artist to rap over his beats, he’s found that creative success doesn’t require his name to be all over the Billboard Hot 100.
“At this point, I’m past the point where I’m going to be out all the time talking to rappers,” he tells Us, saying that the window for that closed back in the early 2000s. “I just don’t like networking. I like natural friendships that happen over the course of time. I’ll hang out with anybody – and I’ve hung out with a lot of rappers who I later became friends with, but it always happened naturally. I’m just not that guy [to schmooze].”
Those natural relationships have produced a diverse guest list for The Aux, with each featured rapper bringing their distinctive rapping style to the project. “I purposely chose artists of all different levels,” Blockhead tells Us. “You’re going to have Aesop on there, you’re going to have Woods on there. Those are guaranteed because those are my friends who I’ve done stuff with. And then there’s the people who are Danny Brown. I’ve never met Danny Brown, but we’ve texted a couple of times or Quelle Chris or Casual. All these people who are, their stature is bigger to me.”
He continues: “And then there’s the new artists. I wanted to shine a light on all these different aspects of my taste. Like, Casual is one of my favorite rappers of all time. I’ve been a fan since I was in high school, and a guy like Brian Ennals, I’ve discovered in the last two years, and I’m a huge fan. So it’s like, if nothing else, I want to expose fans to what I like, but under the umbrella of my own beats.”
The Aux might have a spectrum of MCs, but the album is cohesive from start to finish, thanks to Blockhead’s production. There are some “speed bumps,” he acknowledges. Bruiser Wolf’s rap style is as cool and suave as a Dolemite movie, and RXK Nephew’s turn on “Pink Lemonade” might rub longtime Blockhead fans the wrong way at first.
“But that’s kind of why I put it there,” explains Blockhead. “I love [RXK Nephew’s] stuff, and I kind of want to challenge my fans at times. There are so many different styles, and there’s not a lot of normal rapping on this album. Every [rapper on The Aux] has a style that is kind of their own for the most part. So, it can be challenging for someone not open-minded about stuff. And that can go both ways.”
He tells Us: “That could be someone who’s an underground head, who’s like, ‘What is this RXK nephew s—t?’ Or a more pop-minded person who’s like, ‘What is this? Bruiser Wolf, why does he rap like that?’ It could go either way, but I kind of love that idea. It’s kind of making people listen to all this different stuff.”
Such will happen when listeners hand The Aux over to Blockhead on Friday, November 17. The album will be available on streaming platforms, with the CD and double-vinyl available for preorder here.