Interviewed by Darin Gloe
When you hear the name El Da Sensei, you automatically think “Wrong Side of the Tracks” and “The Ultimate”. Sure El was a part of the Artifacts, but since 1998 El has created quite a name for himself outside of that group and outside of major label status. Since 1998 he has grinded hard, continued to put out quality music, and hushes even the harshest critics. Now after nearly 15 years he’s still doing what he does best, good ole fashioned hip-hop. “The Unusual” is in stores now on Fat Beats Records and talking to one who has seen it all and been through it all was a breath of fresh air. El knows where he has been and knows where he is going and through this interview you will understand why.
HHS: What’s been going on?
El Da Sensai: I’m good, what’s good…. I’m aight right now.
The album is out in stores.
Yessir, another baby is born
(Laughs) I’ve never heard that analogy used, but that is so true.
(Laughs) You spend time putting it together, you nurture it and then you send out in the world and see what’s going to happen. You just hope that it’s going to take care of you, because that is what the babies are supposed to do.
Before we jump into the “The Unusual” I just have to know, any chance for an Artifacts reunion?
I don’t know man; I always leave room for it. Right now I can say no, because if people hear his (Tame One former Artifacts member) songs and hear what he’s saying, I would be no. It’s been 10 years that we haven’t been together and he is still griping about I don’t know what. It’s up to the rest of the world to pay attention about how both of our music has gone in two different directions. The chemistry would have to be there and a lot of things would have to come into play to make that happen.
So you signed with Fat Beats (the label) this past winter, why Fat Beats?
It made sense in a way because that is like my second family. They started when I started and I have been affiliated with Fat Beats my entire solo career since ’98, doing different records with different labels. It just made a perfect fit for what I’m trying to do right now. There are a lot of labels out there, but it’s all about sticking to what you know and the reputation, so I just put two and two together. They are picking up a lot of people that already have a following and already have a good reputation, so the deal was a perfect match.
“Crowd Pleasa” is the first single and is produced by Illmind, who also produces “Hold On” how did you guys hook up?
Honestly, I didn’t even know that he lived in Jersey for one and I didn’t even know who he was. I was in the radio station at Montclair State College the host and I am real cool and he knew Illmind. So he came to the studio and it was like a secret meeting in side room where they played all these beats that are already taken, they just wanted to give me a taste of what he could do. So I put the headphones on and from the first beat I’m like ok, the second beat was likeâ€¦hmm then the third I was like daaaamn!! I’m like who is this dude and I asked him where he’s from and he from right around the way. He slid me 2 beat cds and I ended up taking 4 beats and “Crowd Pleasa” happened to be one of those 4. There is so much going on in the track, I had to match it with the lyrics. I really took my time on that track and the scratches were an added bonus.
As I was looking through the credits I also noticed Lords of the Underground beat smith K-Def produced “Rock It Out” have you guys known each other for a while?
I have actually known K-Def a long time, since he was doing stuff with the Lords. We keep it Jersey – a lot of groups come out of Jersey. It’s crazy because like every Jersey emcee that came out had a hit record when they started. So K always knew what Tame and I was into and we always wanted to work together. I had to seek him out and see where he was at. Now, as we speak we are working on an album together, we have 7 joints done and I want people to know that he’s still here. I hope everybody likes it.
The album is called “The Unusual” and is out right now on Fat Beats, why “The Unusual” as a title? Do you feel that you stick out among the masses?
I think so, the new artists that are out as far as independent just think because they are independent it’s good. You have to think in another way, you want to think that you just want a lot of people to hear this record, no matter what kind of record you are doing. “The Unusual” is exactly that, for today is kind of rare to hear scratching on wax in the mainstream. I know I’m going to catch flack and people are going to call it nostalgic or 90′s hip-hop, but it’s just music, it was just hip-hop. When Artifacts, Smif N Wessun, Organized and Beatnuts came out it was just hip-hop, nowadays they call it backpacker music and I don’t understand that. Just because no one is doing it today that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. I thought that was what emceeing was all about, whether it is being conscious or showing skill it’s not really happening right now in hip-hop.
You really hit the nail on the head, there is a reason why the early 90′s are called the “Golden Era”, the music was timeless.
That’s the thing; there are so many people out there that are doing something, whether it be djing, emcees, breaking or whatever. So when you are looking for music you are looking for an artist that is like yourself. There are so many people out there like you and I and a perfect example is Kanye. Right now Kanye is doing exactly what we did in the early 90′s. People say his sound is so fresh and new, but it’s exactly what hip-hop is about and people have been without it for so long they think it’s new. There has to be more than one person doing it though.
Exactly, if we had more than a few people doing it we might have another ’92-’94 and we could play “Who Got the Props” in the club.
You know it’s crazy, but ask yourself….why can’t we play it now? That’s the thing we do as a culture, we abandon the heroes in hip-hop. What are people going to do if you play that type of music, are they going to sit down? If the Rolling Stones can stay on the road for 3 decades, why can’t it be that way in hip-hop?
What is your favorite song on this album and why?
I have a couple, but I would have to say “Blow Shit Up” is the one that sticks out to me the most. It really reflects on how I really feel and it pretty much sums up the energy of the record. It’s not too fast it’s not too slow, its straight head nodding music. When J-Rawls sent me the beat the bass line got me from jump and I know if you play this loud it can instantly be looked at as “ok, homeboy ain’t playin”. “Gunblast” is another favorite, I don’t really write too many story rhymes and instead of being on some preachy shit it was just a song that I felt I had to write.
This might be a bit cliche, but is this your best work thus far?
Definitely, no doubt. For me to do what I’m doing right now is really impossible. For people to understand that the record could do well they just can’t fathom it. I’ve listened to all the singles I’ve done and especially the last album and I can see what I was going through. I knew that when I got a chance to do another record I wasn’t going to do that again. When I sit back and listen to this record I personally challenged myself to take it to another level. Now it’s up to everybody else and see if they can see the same thing. I know how far I have come as an emcee and what I have learned is that the music brings out the rhymes, not the other way around.
Despite a couple of guest spots you handle most of the work mic work yourself; do you think there is too much collaboration in hip-hop today?
Yep. We didn’t have any guests on the first album and very few on the second album. Redman was on a hook and we had Finesse and Lord Jamar but that was it. I don’t really feel it necessary to have a guest unless it’s somebody on my list. I have a list of emcees that I want to work with and OC and Sean Price are from era, so you know they are on the my list. I can’t see myself working with some new cat, no disrespect I just don’t think it would sound right. You have to have same type of attitude as me to sound good.
You have seen hip-hop in the golden era and beyond, where do you think hip-hop is heading?
Where it’s heading right now, hip-hop is sick and in the hospital. It seems to get worse and worse every year. Here is the thing how many records are we going to hear that’s talking about what’s wrong with hip-hop. Everybody has the question and they know the solution but are unwilling to do it because they are afraid it’s going to hurt their pockets. Until cats realize it’s cool to be a lyricist again and it’s not bad to do that, hip-hop is going to continue to get worse. Somebody will listen to my record and instead of talking about how lyrical it is they pass it to the side as “oh, this is some ole underground shit”. Perfect example is to all the people who didn’t know who Jay Dee (J-Dilla) was; they think it’s JD (Jermaine Dupri). It’s sad because Dilla did important records and wasn’t in the forefront in the mainstream. Is it his fault he wanted to work with cats that wanted to be nice? I’ll never forget I saw Buckshot on a DVD and said “Is it my fault I want to be dope, when I came out y’all thought I was dope and now I can do the same style and you guys don’t feel it” I was bugging because it’s crazy that we feel like we have to work so hard to write a song, to truly get something out of yourself and put it out there for the public. But, then also know that somebody is writing 2 lines and creaming off it. To know that people are out there not putting any effort or time into the song, not truly studying the track and making a good record; it makes you feel like your doing it for nothing. I hope there are people out there that pick this record up and are like “yo homeboy really gives a fuck”. I’m not even thinking about the money part, I’m trying to be a leader and if I have to suffer for that, so be it.
Do you see yourself staying on the mic or mentoring up and coming emcees and moving into a more corporate role as label head, etc?
I can’t do this forever and I know my limit. I’m having fun right now though and you talk to a lot of emcees, a lot of them are bitter (laughs)
I have gotten comfortable with the fact that I have to work at a certain pace or things won’t happen for me. I have done a lot more by myself then I ever did with that group or being on Big Beat. I can’t say I want to stop, because I know how easy it is. The secret is to just put a good record together, even if it’s just a single you can make a name for yourself. Once you have that name, you have to grind. You just have to stay current, work with current producers and make sure you sound is fresh. I have people come up to me and say they have been listening to me since they were 10 years old and now they are 20 something. People grew up with my sound, so I cater to that sound and I’m not going to abandon that. WE are going to try to get these people over here into what WE are doing, instead of me trying to go over there. We have to learn that, this shit isn’t just independent music.
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