From his new album Alice in Thunderdome out August 26th, we’re proud to premiere the new Rob Sonic video “Jesus Christ Supertramp.” Sonic, an elder-statesman of the New York hip-hop scene for almost two decades, has previously put out solo releases on Definitive Jux as well as part of Rhymesayers trio Hail Mary Mallon (With Aesop Rock and DJ Big Whiz) and, prior to that, in east coast cult classic duo Sonic Sum. Alice in Thunderdome is arriving on his own OK-47 Records imprint. We spoke to Sonic about the new album, where he’s sharing production duties for the first time with Aesop Rock and Edison, video and what makes the Bronx the Thunderdome.
Watch Rob Sonic’s new video after the jump.
What can you tell us about “Jesus Christ Supertramp?”
That song is about my realization, my assessment of the music business. It’s like, look man, you’re not gonna save shit. It’s a coming-of-age really late in life. That song is one of the first songs I recorded for the record and made it through all the trials and tribulations. It’s like “Calm down man, you don’t have to save anything. Just come to grips with who you are.” Music is about finding out what your comfort zone is. Your comfort zone could be disturbing the peace. Your comfort zone could be making Norah Jones-esqe jazz. Your comfort zone as a musician is to be who you are 100%, and that is the most religious experience I’ve ever had in music. And, I also like Supertramp. [Laughs] There’s no mountain you can’t conquer if you listen to Supertramp.
Your lyrics have a lot packed into them, with bits of humor found in the darker moments and vice versa, that really require and reward repeat listens. That in mind, have you ever had someone completely misinterpret a lyric of yours?
All the time. It does get scary when people misinterpret what you say. The Mallon stuff got the most exposure for me, and I have a line “Put ’em on the glass like Garfield.” People are like “What are you talking about? Are you throwing Garfield through a window? I don’t understand.” It’s all back to my childhood, Garfield was always stuck on the side of a car window. Garfield, the cat. It seems simple enough, I make a girl want to put ’em on the glass like Garfield. That line got so much weird response. Is there even a Garfield still on? At one point, someone was like “Did President Garfield do something on a glass table?” I’m actually talking about Garfield was a toy with suction cups on the feet that you could actually put on the glass. Some people thought it was a political reference like I’m James Garfield or I’m dissing James Garfield? Was there something wrong there? I wouldn’t know, man. Garfield and Sir Mix-A-Lot were obviously big parts of my childhood. (laughs) I hate Mondays, but I love lasagna.
In my selfishness, I know. The internet is an extremely fast moving ball of fire, and I understand that you’ll come into contact with people, but that particular line sort of polarized it for me. I’m obviously talking to people who may not know anything about the things that I’m talking about, but the people that do, that’s my core.
Alice in Thunderdome‘s been a long time coming. Announced a year after your 2007 album Sabotage Gigante, we’re just getting it now.
Yeah, in 2008 I announced the project and 2009 it started really taking shape. Then I took a little time in 2010 to work on Hail Mary Mallon’s first record. Then in about 2011/2012 I had a version of Alice in Thunderdome I wanted to send to people and it sort of got leaked. I don’t what it was, I didn’t use the most safe method of distributing it to people, I sent a few direct messages on Twitter and the next thing I know when I asked if anyone had any questions on Twitter, someone asked “who leaked the Mallon record?” It was an eye-opening experience. I was in the airport on the way to Soundset 2012. I sent it to maybe 10 or 12 people and wasn’t sure if I was going to release it at that point, but I was pretty close. I have no idea what happened to it, but whatever happened to it for better or worse I took it back. I reworked the whole thing and kind of made the record twice.
So it’s substantially different from how it leaked?
It’s pretty different, man. The record was about 65/75% done, and now songs have an entirely different feel. I guess, it is a totally different record at this point. If I think about what the songs were when that happened, a couple of them have the same name, but now they have an entirely different style. I had the beats and the content of Alice in Thunderdome. The songs I have now are fully realized, this is what they’re supposed to be.
Where did you get the concept for Alice in Thunderdome?
You know, it’s Alice in Wonderland obviously, but it’s like being in Thunderdome. It’s basically, to me, originally somebody going to a place where they’re falling from Alice in Wonderland. I’m not saying it’s me, but anybody who would move to a big city. I borrow a lot from my surroundings and The Bronx where I’ve lived forever has an influx of people once-in-a-while who come to the Bronx and say “Oh my gosh, I’m still in New York!” but you’re not really. It’s so high up and nobody really sees the bright lights of Manhattan. I think that was the one thing to me, living on Grand Concourse now as opposed to when my grandparents lived there, it’s sort of a Thunderdome kind of experience. If you look down that thing, it looks like Thunderdome, like you could just roll a giant marble down that thing and wind up in a rabbit hole somewhere. Any sort of innocence, New York has a way to rip that away from you. Now many how many hope and dreams, it can just rip that away.
Your fellow longtime New York underground cornerstone Breeze Brewin of The Juggaknots is also on the album. Do you recall your first time meeting him?
We connected because we’re both Bronx guys. I met Brewin in probably, I want to say, Wetlands? I feel like it was outside of The Wetlands or possibly Knitting Factory? It was a cypher, like how MCs used to meet cyphering and actually rapping in the street. I had heard of Brewin before I actually met him. Like with El too. I just happened to meet Mike Ladd at some point, he was on some poetry shit, and that’s how that whole thing kicked off. Man, it’s got to be 10 or 11 years ago. There used to be so many different places for dudes like us to go. It may have been Baby Jupiter. New York has got a different face in terms of the independent music scene right now. CB’s Gallery and Honeysuckle West, you could meet anybody. I met Guru outside of Honeysuckle West, that’s how it was. Dudes who came up before me I’m sure could say the same thing. That’s how that went.
When landmarks shut down in New York, it changes the face of the city. It changes the vibe and the feel and it’s a totally different place now. Not to old bone it, but you could go from the 86th street stop on the 1 to the 2nd avenue stop on the 2 and there were places along the way the entire time like The Cooler you could go as independent musicians and showcases would be popping up. And it’s New York so hip-hop was popping and there were more places to do it then.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 15, 2014