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October 10, 2004

{     Rob Sonic - Telicatessen     }    


2004 has already proven to be quite an interesting year in hip-hop. Overall, there has been a rewarding wave of excellent 'comeback' records from past favorites, serving as shoulder-tappers to refresh our memories of why we liked these guys to begin with (OK's Prince Po, De La, Artifacts' Tame 1 & Cage, the Mighty Mos). Lex Records became this year's indie darling with each project released being among the year's best (plus their fancypants packaging actually makes you want to spend money on music again.) We heralded the birth of 'pen-pal' rap as Madvillian, Jaylib, and Foreign Exchange all demonstrated a startling new method of making incredible records through the US Postal Service. We saw the ever-prolific Madlib outline his plan for world domination with countless quality releases under just as many different monikers and heard Kanye West's sped-up Cartman-esque soul samples replace the Neptunes' 60s spy synth as the mainstream played-out production mode of choice. And finally, Def Jux unleashed its secret weapon, Rob Sonic, with an amazing solo debut that would single-handedly restore faith in the label and establish Sonic as one of hip-hop's most promising new talents.

While this year has been fruitful for hip-hop fans, it has not proven to be as generous for Definitive Jux as many of their key artists struggled to break new ground while attempting to grow artistically. While last year proved to be a quieter year in comparison to the label's amazing 2002, 2004 saw label czar El-P's High Water project be largely ignored by fans as the jazz departure proved a bit too-dustier-than-digital for most. Even the crowd favorite RJD2 saw his rock-orientated sophomore album met with mixed reviews (although his b-sides would later save the day). Add to this already troubling mix, a rash of Co Flow Junior Varsity replicant crews armed with Blade Runner sample starter kits seemingly coming out of nowhere, casting doubt upon the label's ability to find quality new artists. With all this happening, one could already see legions of fans throwing off their trucker hats, putting down their Philip K Dick novels in disgust. Enter Rob Sonic. While the name may be new to some, Rob has been a promising word-of-mouth artist for a while now, releasing only a precious handful of songs (as a solo artist and with his hugely-underrated group, Sonic Sum) to an already-developing cult following. With Telecatessen, Sonic has broken through with incredible production and lyrics that both sweeps the leg and shows no mercy.

While Telicatessen is a solid album throughout its 13 tracks, what makes it truly engaging is its uniqueness. This album sounds like nothing else out there. As others forcibly attempt to sound futuristic and different, Sonic seems comfortable in his unorthodox flow as he lets the future come to him. With so many MC's grabbing the mic to spit turbo-fast auctioneer rhymes like MC Micro Machine, Sonic's style is clear and confident without seeming plain. With careful consideration to intonation, breath control and clarity while armed with a science fiction persona and old school sensibilities, Sonic's delivery can be seen as the automated-cyborg incarnation of the ever-organic Gift of Gab. Sonic fits into the Jux infrastructure perfectly as the missing link between Cold Vein and Aesop Rock. While his topics are really not that out of the ordinary (braggadocio rhymes , broken language wordplay threads, bleak sci-fi-tinged perspective pieces), it is the true mark of a great MC when a style is flipped to make these topics seem brand new again. As my Mom would say, he has some real zingers.

With such an assured delivery, many times Sonic's amazing lyrics breeze right past you as one becomes lost in the beautiful abstraction working within each track. Other times, the sheer weight of Sonic's messages prove to be too much to fully appreciate with a casual listen. The Whodini-inspired title cut as well as 'Shoplift' will need to be repeated several times due to the sheer force of both production and lyrics overwhelming one's mental state.

While many Jukies, myself included, long for the day Aesop Rock reconnects with his Party Fun former partner, Blockhead, Sonic's production proves to be just as impressive as his lyrical content. Telicatessen's beats are obviously in the Jux tradition of Vangelis-meets-Bomb Squad, yet there is no heavy dependence on the chaos-pad stutters and cliche movie samples that have grown all too familiar for us over the years. The backbone of Sonic's production is his simple, hardhitting Boogie Down Bronx drum patterns and his moody sunth layering. While the production arrangements may appear to be more simplistic than other Jukie endeavors at first listen, further inspection reveals a deceptively wide range of instrumentation at work here (from Mini-Moogs and a Piano Bass to Technics and the MPC 2000 and everything in between). More importantly, the music serves to perfectly compliment the lyrics in order to form cohesive, hypnotic works. One needs to go no further than the Joe Bananas 'Super Balls', which marries an amazing headnodder beat with Sonic's own alternating, studder-step flow in a perfectly harmonious union.

My only complaint about Telicatessen (other than the inclusion of the unncecessarily awkward secret track) is that it seems to be a bit too short, but I guess we say that about all great hip-hop albums.

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By Eric in Music, Reviews

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