No longer on a major, no longer selling six-figures, El Da Sensei will not quit. The New Jersey native takes sabbaticals, but constantly hones new fans with a successful solo career. With an entirely new objective, his just-released, The Unusual shows El rhyming over faster beats, with easily digestible messages.
With AllHipHop.com, El Da Sensei touches on his artistic changes. He sheds light on the youth in his neighborhood, production legend T-Ray, and Els feeling about a remake of The Warriors. Its always great to back-track with El Da Sensei
AllHipHop.com: Allegedly, you felt Relax, Release, and Relate was too intimate, and you wanted to take it back a notch. Why?
El Da Sensei: The speed of the record was the difference I wanted to make. I felt that [Relax, Release, Relate] was slower, more melodic. I wanted to get different [producers] to do it bring back the force, the aggression, the drive. That wasnt there for me on the last one.
AllHipHop.com: So it was more of a musical thing than a lyrical thing?
El Da Sensei: The music makes me express myself a little better I think thats with everybody. When you listen to the beats like Crowd Pleasa, which Illmind did, when I got that beat, I was sittin with it for weeks like, Damn. What the hell am I gonna do with this? It was ridiculous. I knew that I before I touched it, I had to step up my game.
AllHipHop.com: With Fat Beats putting the record out, were you your own A&R so to speak?
El Da Sensei: I would say so. Most of the album was done before we got the deal done. Gettin with certain dudes, like Saukrates, I just know his music. I wanted to definitely have a taste of that. I called him and said, Yo, I wanna f**k with you on some music. I know your work. I got all your records Kardinal Official s**t, Choclair s**t, I know what you do. So I met with him at New York at a studio. It just so happened Redman was there, and I hadnt seen him in a couple years. When he saw me there it was, Hey, whats up? He almost looked surprised like, What you here for? Sauk gave me four tracks, I did two, and put out one. He came to Jersey, and he came to the studio session. He liked it. If everybody likes it, thats what matters.
AllHipHop.com: Youve been labeled a headphone rapper. To me, that means somebody whos more inclined to rock your mind than rock a beat. How will that perception change with this albums different approach?
El Da Sensei: I hope its somethin that everybody want. Cause we dont have enough of it, right now. I dont mind bringin that. At least with the success Kanye and Common had, people dont realize that when you listen to their music thats what you really want. Thats why they do good. Everybodys headphoned up right now, it just depends what they put in it.
AllHipHop.com: You were part of the Best of the Underground Tour a decade ago. Your two guests are O.C. and Sean Price, both underground veterans. Was that intentional, to feature two prominent voices from yesteryear and today?
El Da Sensei: It wasnt a set up thing. But I have a list of people that I want to work with, that I havent yet. Im trying to complete it. Me and [O.C.] did a song that never really came out. I told him, Lets do another one. We already in the same family as far as Next-Mil [Records], so that was automatic. Sean, I had always talked to him since tourin with him when [Heltah Skeltahs] first album came out. It was a lot more people I want to work with, but Ill have a lot more chances from this record, I hope.
AllHipHop.com: On the song with Sean Price, No Matter, its very fun and lighthearted. But it also carries the message of two veterans who seek a check just like everybody wants one. As a 13 year vet, how hard is it to earn a living off of Hip-Hop without making a record, yearly?
El Da Sensei: Thats the whole thing about it. You have to keep yourself busy. Even taking that little break I took when me and Tame [as The Artifacts] broke up once 98 rolled around, I was sitting in my house like, I cant be like this no more. This is not just about one person. I started goin out and hookin up with people. Thats when me and Matt Fingaz from GuessWhyld [Productions] hooked up. Opportunities for me now are a lot more than when I first tried to re-establish myself as a solo artist. Without touring, without going overseas, I wont be able to do what I have to do. Going overseas five or six times a year is much better than stayin in the States.
AllHipHop.com: In the song, Course of My Life, you make reference to doing meet-and-greet functions. How helpful are things like that, or speaking on panels?
El Da Sensei: You gotta understand the people in the business when I started, they still in the business now. So I think they have a lot more respect for me to still be tryin to do it. We have listening parties just for the DJs. We order some pizza. If you wanna smoke, smoke. Open the window. They appreciate these things, cause its a party for them. Also, we also have parties for the writers. We had an open forum where everybody critiqued on what they liked and what they didnt.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel to have a writer critique your work like that?
El Da Sensei: If they dont do that, Im not gonna know if Im doin the right thing. What you write and [publish] is what some people [use to] decide as to whether to buy it or not buy it.
AllHopHop.com: Lets talk about Course of My Life some more. Its a very honest track a great way to the end the record. Why did you end it on a different note like that?
El Da Sensei: It was actually the first song I recorded for the whole album. People ask me everyday that live in Jersey, that dont even live in the world we live in, How you still doin it? They dont understand, Im really doin it, for real! But its on a different level. For me, to keep doin that, Im tryin to talk to people who dont know me to like [my music].
AllHipHop.com: Youve got another song, Gun Blast. Youre passing down an opinion on the generation ten years behind yours. What prompted you to write that?
El Da Sensei: I live in East Orange, New Jersey. Out here, its just lil young dudes and they Blooded out. On my block, right here on Amhurst Street is a road blocks, cause last year, they shut the whole block down. It was too crazy. They slingin, they wylin, and they killin people. Two of my cars got broken into since I been out here, so I know, personally. I didnt want to make a song to be preachy, but I wanted to show them what I see. A lot of cats I know either just came home from jail the older dudes, are gettin killed by the younger dudes by the younger dudes who are like, Yo, I dont care who you are, I know who you was in the past. I was a little kid. I aint know you like that. Bang. I done seen it. With that song, if you see where Im comin from, youd understand why a lot of cats my age might look at you like, Calm down.
AllHipHop.com: Do these young street dudes on your block, who maybe want to rap, have any idea that they live in the vicinity of a successful MC?
El Da Sensei: I have one producer on my album, Nomadic. Hes not too far from me in age, but hes never done anything [in Hip-Hop]. I told him, for all the times he gave me a beat-tape and I told him, Keep hittin me, eventually, somebody gonna like something. [That finally came]. Everything I do, is good for [him] now. Every producer we ever worked with Buckwild, Shawn J. Period, everybody went on to do somethin good after workin with [The Artifacts]. I try to pass it on.
AllHipHop.com: Between this interview, I revisited Between a Rock and a Hard Place – truly a classic album. It was on Atlantic Records, and I was surprised to see it only sold 200,000 copies. I think theres a similarity to what happened to Little Brother this year with This Minstrel Show, another Atlantic Records slept-on underground classic
El Da Sensei: [laughs] Everybody got a vision on what they might thinkll happen. It dont mean that [itll come true]. When you messin with a label like Atlantic, you messin with different music its not just a Hip-Hop label. Everybody that might be workin there arent as Hip-Hop as maybe the group is. Its not their fault. I always felt like we were thrown against the wall to see if it would stick. That was with a lot of majors then too Warner, Priority, Def Jam with Onyx, and Redman, and Meth. It makes me sad that theres no Hip-Hop groups out anymore. Every year, they get erased like the ozone layer.
AllHipHop.com: MF DOOM is the success story. Elektra could never work KMD. Now, hes in his upper 30s, killin it through working with Madlib and The Cartoon Network.
El Da Sensei: Everybody wont be able to do it. Thats something he been doing for years now. Thats a character that he made up for himself to get back in the game. It worked for him. Nobody should do it [either]. Thats his thing. Hes eating with that.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of elusive figures, T-Ray produced the first Artifacts album. Another classic finale is Whassup Now Mothafu-ka? How did he come to pilot the production of The Artifacts first album?
El Da Sensei: Well, when we got signed to Big Beat, he was already workin with Shawn J. Period and that group Down South. He came to the studio, played a few beats. Wed go to his crib every weekend, and just make beats. Dynamite Soul, Wrong Side of Da Tracks we just pulled that record out, and did it. We knew Chubb Rock, 3rd Bass, N-Tyce, had used it, but f**k it. [Evil Dee] had used the drums for How Many MCs too. We just put it together. Whassup Now Mothafu-ka? me and T-Ray did. Tame didnt come to his crib that day. [Later on, Tame heard it, and we argued about it]. Thats why, were so angry at the beginning of the track. We were listening to G Raps On the Run before recording it.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about battle DJs using it so often today?
El Da Sensei: Mista Sinista killed it! When I first heard it, I was like, Howd he get that out of that?
AllHipHop.com: So many people associate you as a graf writer. That said, how do you feel about The Warriors video game?
El Da Sensei: Actually, like one time. I been meanin to get it. But Im stuck on Dark Watch/ Its crazy! Its somethin you get into, I tell you that! [laughs] I liked stompin dudes and body-slammin.
AllHipHop.com: Its pretty authentic too.
El Da Sensei: Absolutely. If they I hope nobody dont ever, ever try to do that movie again.
AllHipHop.com: Tony Scott, of Top Gun fame is already in production. Heartbreaking.
El Da Sensei: Aww! No, man! You cant replace James Remar [Ajax] like that! James did the damn thing.