Interviews

Meet the Rapper Who Woke Up Deaf, Then Signed a Record Deal

The worst year of Sor's life led to his biggest break yet.

by Wouter van Dijk; photos by Raymond van Mil
25 December 2019, 5:20pm

All photos by Raymond van Mil

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Black Acid are hands down my favourite live act of the past few years – the five kids from Amsterdam's suburbs wreak havoc wherever they go, in a very good way.

This past summer the group seemed poised to make the jump from promising act to bonafide success – but that didn't happen. It wasn't for a lack of attention or bookings; it was something even more integral to the group's success: member Ros developed serious issues with his balance and subsequently lost part of his hearing. For a long time, it wasn't clear if the rapper would be able to function again as he had before, let alone be the superstar people had predicted.

Aside from family and friends, not many people knew what Ros was going through. To anyone outside of that circle, he was just another young talent who hadn't quite made it. But a few months ago, word got out that Ros had signed a record deal with Dutch label Noah's Ark – a solo deal. Also, Ros is now Sor.

I spoke to Sor about the toughest year of his life.

VICE: It must be rough to be known as a "deaf rapper", but I'm afraid I do have to bring it up.
Sor: Facts. In 2017, light started to bother me. Not just bright lights, but all light: on my phone, lamps, daylight. I went to the eye doctor about 20 times, but they couldn’t really help me, because the best way to look into someone's eye is with light. That wasn't an option. I was poked and prodded, went back again and again, did all kinds of tests, and they couldn't find anything. I was fine, and yet I couldn’t deal with light. And then I developed tinnitus [persistent noise or ringing in the ears] in early 2018.

Sor voor VICE

After a show?
Not even. I had a few busy, stressful weeks, and suddenly there it was. That in itself was awful, but then I woke up one day in February and couldn’t walk. My inner-ear balance mechanism was completely fucked up. I couldn’t even sit up straight. When I tried to get up I vomited immediately. To make matters worse, I'd also lost part of my hearing. All in one night.

Do you know what happened that night?
I have no idea. I was stressed that week, and maybe that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spent three full days in the dark. Blinds drawn, hat on, hoodie on top of that, sunglasses, After about three weeks I started to find my balance again and was able to slowly walk around my house.

Moving was fine, but by that time my hearing was almost entirely gone. When I found out, I went nuts. I played something on my phone, but couldn’t hear anything, not even when I held it up to my ear – some crackling, that was it. I thought my phone was busted again. Then I held it up to my left ear and heard something. And I realised: 'Fuck, I’m deaf.' It was a nightmare.

And then?
I went back and forth to the hospital for three months, and they still had no idea what was wrong. Meanwhile, walking still wasn't going so well. After the third month, I wanted to give up. Quit making music, give up being an artist forever. Do you know how awful that is? Meanwhile, the tinnitus got much worse, because your brain feeds you all sorts of sounds when you lose your hearing.

I must have seen every corner of the hospital during that period. They stuck so many needles in me, pumped me full of different medications. Weird shit: sticky patches on my body, rinsing my ears with water at different temperatures. But they never found out what was going on. Eye doctors, rheumatologists, ear specialists, doctors in other hospitals. Because they couldn’t figure anything else out, they now suspect I have Cogan syndrome – an auto-immune disease that causes my cells to attack my own body.


Sor once claimed that Ed Sheeran borrowed his dog Pablo before a show in Amsterdam:


You're one of the Netherlands' most sought-after rappers, and suddenly you don’t know if you’ll ever perform again. How did that feel?
You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy. Having music disappear from your life is awful. One day I sat at my friend’s organ and played something in C-minor. It’s this little thing I always play. I know exactly what it sounds like and how beautiful it can be, but to my ears it sounded like garbage. If I pressed a key eight times, it sounded different each time. And still, when I think back to that moment, I think that of all people to go deaf, I’m probably the best person this could have happened to.

What do you mean?
Because I’ve been training my ears my entire life. So the moment I got my hearing aids, I knew exactly how to tune it and which frequencies to boost. I don’t think a lawyer could have done that. The first time I played a song and the notes sounded the way they are supposed to sound, I burst into tears. I’ll be honest with you: until that moment I thought I was going to die. My dad’s brother died of an auto-immune disease when he was about my age.

How do you deal with that?
With fear, but mostly sadness. The thought of life ending just as it's beginning, of not really having seen anything yet, is terrible. For a whole year, I didn’t participate in life. I actually still don’t know how I managed. But as soon as I could suddenly hear notes again, I thought: 'I can also make music, be myself, talk to people.'

Look how far away we’re sitting from each other right now, and we can still carry on a conversation. So honestly, all I can do now is smile. I’ll never sit around and wait again.

SOR voor VICE

Black Acid was doing well before all that happened. Now after a year you’re suddenly back – with a contract with Noah’s Ark. How’s that possible?
That contract had been sitting there for me. We did have some conversations with Black Acid, but didn't feel like this was the right time to sign. And when they came back later for me as a solo act, I said no. Then I went deaf, which put the contract on hold, but once I got better, I signed it.

How are your shows going now?
At first, they were fucked up. I couldn’t hear the speakers and monitors properly. After my first show I sat down and drank for three hours straight, because I hadn’t been able to deliver at my level. But people came up to me and told me it went well. One person even said it was better.

That might be one of the biggest insults I’ve ever heard. You’re deaf, and now you can actually perform.
Haha, yes, that really sucked. But by now I’ve figured out several tricks. Special hearing aids, and I have a SubPac – a special backpack that lets you feel the bass in your back. It helps for both making beats and rapping to them. You can barely tell I have hearing issues. Often artists don’t realise I’m deaf until they’re in the studio with me.

It sounds like you’re optimistic about the future.
I definitely am. I listened to some big names in rap before my hearing went away, and now that I’m back the same rappers are on my EP. I made a track with [Dutch rapper] Hef, it’s amazing. I’m not scared of getting sick again because my medication works and so do my hearing aids. I won’t let anything hold me back again.

Listen to Sor's new EP here: