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October 10, 2004

{     Rob Sonic - Telicatessen     }    

sonic.jpg 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). 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 cliché 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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Comments

Brilliant job of dissecting and laying this one out. You bring scholarly knowledge and tasty language to bear on a subject that's usually much less-seriously considered. Kudos.

On the subject of hidden tracks-

When will the madness end? Often we're treated to less-than-B-side material, or some crappy half-assed skit that is so contrary to the flow of the album the artist/producer decided to wait 13:33 minutes into the last track to drop the hidden piece in there.

Occasionally, you do get something really brilliant following minute after minute of silence, but in those cases it seems doubly stupid to not have just included the piece as a regular album track, forcing me to wade through the intervening quietude for something worth listening to.

And that silence always pops up in a random 5-disc changer mix to stop a party dead, or keeps me from burning that last track onto a mix because I don't want to bother editing out the turd tacked on to the end at 15 minutes in.

I'd like this shit to stop.

Posted by: Adam at October 11, 2004 8:26 PM

so so so soooo fucking good

Posted by: upso at October 11, 2004 8:36 PM

I always thought that they were a marketing ploy for cds over cassettes, but since the phenomenon continues, I'm at a loss. Hidden tracks are cool when you're 14... but you're correct in that most are a waste of time. However, I do remember two that were actually pretty cool.
1) Aesop Rock - "1 in 4", off the daylight ep, seems really heartfelt and kinda makes sense for it to be hidden like that due to its personal/depressing manner.
2) De La Soul "Brainwashed Follower"... This is strictly due to how it was packaged. The "Me Myself and I" 12-inch technically had three sides (A, B, and C) where the B-Side actually had two parallel grooves with different programs within each. I never really cared for "follower" but it still made for a memorable/confusing experience.

Posted by: Eric at October 13, 2004 4:35 AM

swish, i think i see the beginnings of a nice Twelve ;)

Posted by: Shane at October 14, 2004 12:47 AM

I was already thinking about it as well. B-Sides/non-album tracks would be a good one also.

Shane, I was thinking about our infamous "Mo Wax" conversation from 96 when I saw DJ Krush play up here the other day. I forgot how good he was, and hearing it live, his shit is bonkers! It's just reassuring to know that this music still stands up, and we weren't completely full of shit back then.

Posted by: Eric at October 14, 2004 9:32 AM

see.. i have no problem with hidden tracks. my brain doesnt consider them part of the album.. its just like.. something i may on occaision listen to

Posted by: upso at October 18, 2004 6:33 AM

Quick Note:
An earlier draft of this article had Mos Def's new album mentioned as part of the great comeback records of the year. I put that in there after only listening to a few (evidently the only good ones) tracks off of the New Danger, and assumed that Mos being Mos, the rest of the album would be good. I was wrong. While I've been down with Dante since his days on the Cosby Mysteries, that new album ranks among the biggest disappointments of the year.

Posted by: Eric at October 23, 2004 2:10 AM

The Clash - London Calling -- Stand By Me

A Hidden Track that ended up being their second-most-popular single....???

Posted by: Alan at May 20, 2005 2:53 PM
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