posted: 10-26-04
interview : tadah
Mr. Rob Smith. Can you please introduce yourself to the attentive readers?
I am Rob Sonic from what I can tell I'm feeling okay. I make music; I have a new record out on Definitive Jux. I hope everyone likes it
As you do, let's cut to the cake: What's a "Telicatessen" for you?
Well it's a combination of the words Television and Delicatessen. It's how I would
sum up the state of the world right now. Especially in NYC I see it as sort of being a steady diet of violence, sex and corruption. Fast Food and Faster Information, Delis are like little hubs in N.Y. that has something to do with it to. Some of the craziest shit goes on at these little spots, they are like the glue that holds the neighborhoods together… gives them that classic flavor.
What can you tell us about that album?
The album is in essence the most accurate reflection of my personality on record so far. I guess that's because I produced it all, but I kind of wanted to show people what my honest view was, the way I speak, what makes me different. A lot of these styles are taken right out of how I am on the daily, how I talk is different, my humor, cynicism all that. And the beats are what I would want to pump regularly. I made the record specifically for that purpose… going on the strength of being ones own worst critic I wouldn't want it any other way.
What has the response to your record been so far.
Great! I mean you get your people that don't like the style but that's to be expected. The thing with that is people want you to make a record that is exactly how they would make their favorite record. But I'm not really here to compete with what you already know you like. I'm here to introduce you to some new shit. That's how Rap has always been, not formula.
I've gotten a better response from this than any record before so that's fresh.
Okay, you must be old school that you actually wanna do something new. The money is now made with doing something that's already been done successfully. Whatever happened to don't bite'?
Well, nothing really happened to that, for a lot of us it's still in effect it is just a different time now. See it like this: there are certain aspects of this culture that have all but been removed from it and are now seen as fringe, like graff and breaking, where biting was just not permitted and you had actual evidence of biting to call people out. Like 'that's my letter' or 'you stole my move.' Rap was like that to. That law of the land helped keep a healthy balance of creativity; Rap is so big now that it has to be a blatant rip off for the majority to call it.
That's where I find fault in a lot of things about hip hop actually. People think this is just rap music; a lot of cats don't even use DJ's anymore. Crazy really.
Isn't sampling kinda biting? You're benefiting from a cool moment of music someone else came up with.
I knew you were going to ask that. To me, and this is debatable for days: looping a part of a song could be considered biting. If I take a snare or a note and I am not infringing on the actual composition of the original work, than no, I'd have to say I am making new music. This question at its base sort of undermines hip hop.
So what do you bite? And I'm not talking about hotdogs.
I bite chicks some time???
Was it a relief to work by and for yourself or a rather lonely ordeal?
A little of both, it wasn't really lonely per say but it did get boring sometimes. Nobody there to get drunk with if the stuff wasn't coming out right. It did give me the freedom of being naked though which shouldn't be slept on.
In your bio you mention a million machines you used to do the record. What did you need all this for?
To be more accurate: I put that in my liner notes then someone else put it in my bio. I fell the more equipment you have the more you can do; plain and simple. Also it was important for me to show that I don't strictly rely on sampling.
Did you mainly do the stuff at home?
Yep, all of it my neighbors can vouch for that.
Did you get outside input on stuff, while working? From who?
I got the people who I trust and respect like Fred, El-P and Mike Ladd, and a handful of others that make or work with music. But mostly it's friends who don't do music but just listen to it - so there's nothing attached to it.
What do you hope we'll get out of this record?
Hopefully people will enjoy it on whatever level they enjoy all the best things. Not like "oh that's cool", but actually check under the hood and have it be a reliable record that can be revisited time and time again. It's definitely important for me that people can move to it and into it at the same time.
Move to it? Are there club songs on there?
There are some definite grooves on there that are up tempo and are easy to move to. I have seen people get busy to them at shows, so maybe… A couple of people think "Behemoth" is on some Lil Jon shit, so tear the club up if you want. It won't bother me.
Rap on your level - and maybe of your style - seems to lack smash hits. What do you think is or was your smash hit?
Well, smash hits are normally determined by radio play. If you told me the Macarena had a style that was right for a 'smash hit', I would have laughed in your face. Obviously content has a lot to do with that but it's mainly about promotion. Indy stuff has to be so much more to be looked on that scale.
Do you think that may can change, considering that 9th Wonder of Little Brother now worked with Destiny's Child. Can 'underground' rap become so popular that it'll enter the charts?
No, because it's not underground anymore when that happens. Underground is my least favorite word in the English language. Like music that doesn't have the same promotional tools is stuck with that label. But surely it's comparable if not better in a lot of ways: 9th wonder is one example of that.
To me the best artists have paid their dues and that's all this so called underground is. We are all trying to be heard by as many people as possible and once the industry and radio starts looking at this as a talent pool - and even with the resurgence of Independent labels, as a self sustaining viable market as opposed to a just a subgenre of the 'Real Rappers' - we might get somewhere.
To you, thinking about the several albums you have put out now, how do they compare or not compare?
Well, Sonic Sum is a totally different entity. There were four of us producing and making the songs as a group. Things I did were specially designed to get the groups feel across.
This is me taking a more direct approach, it's still going to be out there but it's all me. I have to make the final decisions on what goes where, what lines stay or go or how to deliver things. All of the albums I've been involved work on the own respective levels.
Is there one you like the most?
This one I guess, but only for the fact that I feel like I do a better record every time.
Rhyme wise this is by far my best effort to date and it's edgier, I guess. You be the judge.
Do you ever listen to any of those records?
Yes, I listen to my records sometimes; not much. Usually only for about the 1st two weeks after finishing them. It's just so hard not to criticize what you do after the fact. You can really break your self down doing that shit so I stay away from it.
Now, what's the current status of Sonic Sum?
Hiatus. We have a lot of distance between us. That's the main issue. We all are still great friends and have a ton of respect for each other. We just agreed to get our own respective shit together and if things are meant to be, we'll get down then.
You do have the album "Films" out. But only in Japan so far, right? Why, and will that ever change?
Cause Japan were the only ones to pick it up. We tried to secure a deal on all fronts for that record. It was right at the time that people just weren't looking for that record. I guess we hope to release it here in the states and in Europe probably sooner or later.
So where can we get it if we need it now?
It was released by Tri-Eight Music Supplies and can be found online.
Do you think the situation with Sonic Sum would be different if "Films" would not have struggled to come out outside of Japan?
Well, when you have a member of the group that is from a different country then your situation has unique circumstances. So to have everyone in the same place and state of mind at the same time for a long time is just hard. Now if we have money we can handle that. So the real question is: if we blow up then will our situation be different? Fuck yes. For now our situation is the same as it has ever been.
With you and Fred having albums out, will this music change the music of Sonic Sum whenever you're doing something again?
Nah. Like I said: Sonic Sum is a meeting of four individuals working for the sound of a group. Our individual ideas already effect the music of Sonic Sum no matter what we do outside of the group. None of us are tied down to one idea or one sound, thank god.
You produce yourself: how about doing a beat for someone and not even saying a single word on it? Would that interest you?
I just did something for Aesop's new record. I'm working on something for C-Rayz right now. I did a joint on my man Creatures record. So I don't mind it at all although I don't really consider myself that kind of producer. I like to keep it close, like to Definitive Jux or family. But who knows, if cats like my stuff they can get at me.
Is there someone you would think would sound really good over your beats?
Probably someone amped like C-Rayz Walz, maybe Ludacris or Redman. I think Jean Grae would sound good over some my beats too.
On whose beats do you sound really good on, besides your own?
Well just from freestyles and shit: I'd have to say El-P, Just Blaze and Timbaland.
Now, listening to your music, lemme ask you this: do you get influenced by other music?
Yes, by all types. Mainly the harder stuff out of any particular genre; Rock, Electronic, Funk, Blues, whatever. As long as it has a slightly unfriendly groove, I'm influenced by it by nature. I've just always been that way.
Can you be more precise, though.
Well, I guess 70's stuff mostly. When I was kid it was all music, all the time. Having an older brother didn't hurt either. George Clinton was big for me as a kid. The Beatles are probably the biggest, followed by Kraftwerk. Then there was a little Punk Rock and early shit you could break to like "Rocket" and "Apache."
And what do you listen to right now?
Shit, mostly really obscure hard to find stuff. I listen to a ton of hip hop of course but my taste really is starting to lend itselves to the composers like Lalo Schifrin and David Axlerod. I go through phases though. Next week might be Surf Rock. Who knows?
Moving on, what do we need to know about you?
That's on a need to know bases. I guess people should know that I'm really not that bad. And once you get to know me I'm almost tolerable.
Any fun facts about you?
My first rhyme ever was about Bomber Jackets and Adidas and I also told people to watch their necks. I think that is the first evidence ever on record that vampires can be B-Boys too.
How does your work fit into the entertainment-boom bap-car-women and booze type rap?
I like booze and women! In fact I've been known to be quite the womanizing alcoholic (laughs).
I guess it fits in where it gets. I talk about that shit just in a different way and being that I'm not able to afford that stuff it doesn't really enter into my psyche as an important part of my rap.
That may be one of the worst things about the video explosion: you see artist indulge in things that may not necessarily be in their means. It's a mixed message directed at the kids. It's fucked up.
Do you ever explain your lyrics to someone that has troubles understanding them?
Yeah. It's actually pretty simple once you get my flow down. The references are usually New York based and a lot of times I say "don't fuck around" just in my own way, which throws people off. Like this line:
"Projects Yucatan mommas Bottle cool it and/ Throgs neck Motorcade jumper got a few demands"
That's about the kid of an alcoholic getting ready to end it: You going to help him or you going to rubberneck on the way by?
Whenever I talk to you, I get the vibe of someone that has seen a lot, done a lot, and has been around for a while. Am I in any way right?
Yes, your right, I've been around the world and I yi yi. It's only right that a person who writes songs have as many experiences as possible, really.
So let me ask you this: is rap better today than ten years ago?
Well no. Subject matter changes with the times. Flows are just variations of what earlier cats did, It starts at somewhere before: now that's what's interesting. You have eighteen year olds now who had rap on the radio from birth but was Melle Mel or Run DMC or Cold Crush played at their homes in the way my mom played the Beatles or the Commodores? That's the real question.
What's the answer?
Well, "No." It's different: not better, not worse.
Would your rap be possible ten years ago?
Don't know. I've been rhyming since I was like 12. The only thing is: I wouldn't have written this shit ten years ago, that's for sure. But if you take into account when Ultra Magnetic dropped, yeah probably.
If you weren't an artist, what other job would you like to have?
Shell Game dude or cook.
What's the type of food you like to cook the most?
Italian or Barbeque/Southern stuff.
You must have a website, right? What is it?
Any shout outs and or last comments?
Please check out my record. If you like it, please don't download it.
Buy it and share it that way.
Bush Out Now!
"Telicatessen" is out on Definitive Jux records and available everywhere.
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