Artist: El Da SenseiTitle: The UnusualRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Henry Adaso
New Jersey Hip-Hop has been in limbo lately. Redmans album will probably never see the light of day on Def Jam; Queen Latifah is on permanent Hollywood hiatus, and with Joe Buddens sophomore album, The Growth, pushed back to 2010, theres hardly any wordsmith left to restore faith in New Jerusalem. Well, El Da Sensei thinks youre dead wrong. The throwback emcee jumped into the rap league by dropping the backpack blueprint with Artifacts Between A Rock and A Hard Place with partner Tame One in 94. After debuting with the solid solo effort Relax, Relate, Release in 2002, El is back dressed in a Jersey sound superhero outfit labeled The Unusual (Fat Beats).
Blasting off with the cinematic Crowd Pleasa, El sounds like a kid excited to have re-discovered his intimate indulgence. Delivering wordy rhymes with unparalleled earnestness, its almost obvious that El rocks his b-boy roots on his sleeves. In the same vein, Blow S**t Up is dispensed with such harrowing intensity that its almost poised to scare away the pop audience. The albums spotlight is a tie between the Sean Price-featured bragfest, No Matter, and the Omar Credle (O.C.) assisted Nuttin To Lose. On the former, Sean Price tilts his AHH Indie Album of 2005 crown to the side and enters into a friendly competition with his host, while the latter sounds like a poignant theme song to an upliftment-themed movie. Lifting his listeners further off the ground and placing them down gently, El weaves the schmaltzy Natural Feel Good, over the backdrop of a splendid soul-tinged soundstripe.
More refulgent soundtracks abound on The Unusual. Like the premo-esque masterstroke, Lights, Camera, Action! which will definitely have heads nodding with its spluttering piano loops and thunderous bass; and the thudding Up In Da Spot, which is guaranteed to have hips gyrating. On the flipside, DJ Revolutions experimental mishap Whats My Name suffers from a dated sonic and irritating water-drips sound (the type youd hear when stepping out of a water-filled tub), but he quickly makes up for the missteps with plush cuts and scratches. Although intended to be a potent track, Rock It Out comes across as a shameless Neptunes forgery. Thankfully, its Els utterly original lyrical ferocity that carries the track at the end of day.
In an era when rappers are routinely propped up with big enchilada guests and gimmicky grooves, El Da Senseis The Unusual is a testament to music legacies that inspire rather than follow. Besides successfully awakening the New Jersey sound, El has also violated a timeless axiom: that the sum of the whole is always greater than the sum of the individual parts. Tame One, take note.