What’s Next For Bombastic Backpacker Rob Sonic?

Despite being a member of some of hip-hop’s greatest crews and delivering cult classics, Rob Sonic is a bit quiet these days and doesn’t get much love outside of loyal old heads and backpackers. That being said, hope for a late-career reinvention and collaboration with younger talent remains a dream for many fans who still crave the days of the Death Vendor.

Coming out of the Bronx in the late 90s as a member of Sonic Sum, Sonic was the force behind the surrealist masterpiece, Sanity Annex. With production from the likes of DJ Preservation, Sanity Annex introduced fans to a brand of lowkey, psychedelic soundscapes and abstract lyricism that remains one of a kind to this very day. Despite having such incomprehensible concepts, Sonic was still staunchly loyal to the spirit of old-school hip-hop, which would make him a perfect match for Definitive Jux and their forward thinking spin on the hardcore.

Under Def Jux, Sonic would of course make connections with Aesop Rock, El-P, and more, which define him to this day. Just as Aesop would over the years, Sonic took up the reigns of production for himself and took on a bombastic sound that was clearly influenced by El. On top of the more in-your-face, electronic tinged beats, his flow would also become faster, elevated in the mix, yet highly intentional and distinct. On top of features on other classics, Telicatessen and Sabotage Gigante – his most digestible and thematic work – remain cornerstones of the iconic label.

With the dissolution of Def Jux however, Sonic would team with Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz to form the group Hail Mary Mallon under Rhymesayers. Their albums Are You Gonna Eat That? and Bestiary are far more light hearted than his usual work given they’re the product of two friends, and feature some of his best verses ever (“Whales” is a standout). Hail Mary Mallon should arguably be on the level of acclaim that similar duos of the era, such as Run the Jewels and Armand Hammer, have reached today.

It was also in this era that Rob Sonic released the phenomenal Alice in Thunderdome, and later in 2018, Defriender under his own label, OK-47 records. To still be dropping music of that standard more than 20 years in is a great testament to his career, although the 2021 follow up Latrnialia leaves something to be desired in its mixing and flows.

That being said, one questionable release certainly doesn’t wipe Sonic’s legacy or mark an end to his potential; there are still clear niches in hip-hop where he could thrive today. For starters, more Hail Mary Mallon would be welcome with how long it’s been since Bestiary, and with Sonic and Aesop seemingly on good terms since Latrinalia and Garbology. While it might be a long shot, a reunion with Preservation would be earth-shattering for many fans; with Preservation riding collabs with Ka, billy woods, and more, his immersive production could inject some life in Sonic’s career.

The most interesting prospect of all, though, might be to work with Backwoodz Studios. Home to many young, innovative, and thoughtful artists surely inspired by Rob Sonic and on a hot streak of releases, he could find a new home full of hungry talent – especially given his feature on ShrapKnel’s last album, Metal Lung, and the occasional involvement of Breeze Brewin.

No matter what comes next for Rob Sonic, it will surely be another mind bender. One can only hope he has the drive to continue innovating even this deep in a storied career.

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