El Da Sensei conducted by Hugo Lunny  

El Da Sensei (The Artifacts) Interview

September 2002

These are the transcripts of an interview with El Da Sensei. The interview was conducted by Hugo Lunny on September 24th, 2002. El Da Sensei has been around for a good few years. As part of the Artifacts he gained worldwide expect for his showcasing of the multiple elements of Hip Hop. As a solo artist, El is preparing to release his debut solo album on October 8th.

MVRemix: For those unfamiliar with you, explain who you are and how you came to be where you are today?

El Da Sensei: For all those who don't know me, my name is El Da Sensei. I come from the group called Artifacts. I came out in the year of 1994, we came out with our first single called "Wrong Side Of The Tracks" and the album called "Between A Rock & A Hard Place." There were other singles that came; "C'mon Wit Da Git Down," and "Dynamite Soul" with a remix featuring Mad Skillz, also a remix featuring Busta Rhymes. Since then, we did another album in '96 called "That's Them." That was introducing Shawn J. Period. We worked with a lot of different producers on that album - Baby Paul, Mr. Walt, V.I.C., Lord Finesse and Showbiz. After that, I did about eight or nine singles on different independent labels. Today, I'm set to release an album in October on the 15th called "Relax, Relate and Release."

MVRemix: What can you tell me about "Relax, Relate and Release," how did you choose the producers and whatnot?

El Da Sensei: As far as the title, I think it's a form of therapy that's necessary right now because everybody seems real tight. With the producers that I picked - it was a reflection of the moods that I was in. As far as every track that I did, I wanted a different sound - something fresh. But, at the same time, I wanted something familiar. Not too far away from where I've been. But just polish it up a little bit. Producers, as far as names were P-Original, whom I've been working with for the last few years. I'm bringing out my new cat, Malito from New Jersey also. J. Rawls, Joe Money, my man Kool Aid from Croatia. I've got Kan Kick from LA. My man DJ Sev, from Switzerland, but he resides in the city. I wanted a sound that was me and reminiscent of what I've done in the past.

MVRemix: What will Artifacts fans get from this album apart from El Da Sensei?

El Da Sensei: I think Artifacts fans are gonna get pretty much what they hoped that we would do today if we was a group. For whatever I could offer to the table, what I'm bringing is what I brought when Artifacts existed anyway. It's gonna be strange for some people because they're gonna hear my words alone. It's scary because sometimes you're gonna expect to hear Tame jump in, but he's not there. I've got interludes on the album where I ask some fans (people in stores) how they felt about us. I could have done it myself, but I'd rather have the people speak because they're who are buying these records. I wanted to show that we did what we did and it was what it was, I'm trying to do that again. With this album, you'll get every reference of Hip Hop as Hip Hop that you need to hear. At the same time it's not freaky, you're gonna just have fun - head nod. Straight up Boom-Bap!

MVRemix: Are you and Tame gonna record together again any time soon?

El Da Sensei: I can't really say that right now because Tame's doing his own thing, I'm doing my thing. I think at the time, when we broke up we were burned out anyway. To try and survive on that label was hard because we were always working - trying to just keep our name out there. Because we really weren't doing too much anyway. In the future, I think it's time for me to earn something that I thought I'd never have. I don't know what I'm gonna get from out of this chance, but I'm gonna make the most of it.

MVRemix: Why did you leave off some of you recent underground releases such as 'Keep It Live' from the album?

El Da Sensei: Originally, me and P-Original were going to remix it. We're still gonna do it, we wanted to do it right because there are certain things about that record that we liked and didn't like. But we wanted to do it again, I changed the lyrics. At the time I was doing other songs, while we were doing them we were like "Aight, lets concentrate on this real quick." We had like a month to finish the album and so we thought we'd come back to it. We wanted to really do that. It was the only song out of all the singles that we did that we wanted to put on there. We're still gonna mess with it though.

MVRemix: I've heard you voice some profound opinions on backpackers, can you re-itterate your thoughts for our readers?

El Da Sensei: I don't know where this backpacker thing came from. I don't know where people started to think that because a dude comes to a club with a backpack on, it's all just def ears. I just don't know where it came from. I'm still trying to figure it out - where this tag came from. I carry book-bags to this day. What I carry in it is my jacket - when I'm standing in the club, I don't wanna carry my jacket, I put it in my bag. You know, if a dude comes to a club - it just so happens that everyone else might have one. That doesn't mean that all those dudes are seen, they've got shit in their bags. To me it's like a diss to me and "them" because they're clowning underground music. It's like they're saying "That's corny. You need to be listening to the radio." That's what's the shit. And that's not it. I'm a backpacker myself. I've been that since I was twelve years old. I support it, though there's nothing to support or go against. There's no such thing as a "backpacker," that's not some kind of rap style.

MVRemix: Is the glass half full or half empty?

El Da Sensei: For me, personally, I think it's half full. You know, because all it really takes is for someone to say "Fuck it man, I'ma do me" I'm not gonna care what anybody's going to say about what I'm gonna do with this album, because I feel within my heart - this is what everybody really wants. You know what I'm sayin'? It's really like feeding a baby. Sometimes they won't eat, but you've got to force them to eat because they need it. You can refuse it but after a while you know you're gonna want to eat. That's how I look at this whole thing. I'm not gonna be bitter about what's going on because shit's gonna be how it's gonna be. I think with me being on an independent kind of major label. I'm showed that that's not what it's about. I never thought about it, that getting on a label we were gonna blow up. I knew that it was gonna be hard. I hope that we brought something causing people to say "Damn, lets recollect." At the time we dropped that album and the single that put "Wrong Side..." on. Nobody was talking about that. Nobody was talking about the four elements of hip-hop, the graf, deejaying, emceeing, b-boying. It wasn't touched upon. As soon as we did that, everybody was like "Okay, this is what Hip Hop's about." Come on man, how many functions did you start seeing after that? That came from that. I'm not trying to say that we started that, but we sparked it. When I listen to a lot of stuff today, I feel that we made it so that these little cats got brave. They thought, "If they could do it, I can do it too." They're talking about graffitti, breakdancing, b-boying, whatever. It's like that's what we do. I have not changed from the time I dropped that first album, it hasn't been that long ago from the second one. But because of the label and the circumstances we were in. Change just speaks upon itself. I'm happy because I want everybody to smile when they hear this record. That's what it's about. Fuck that money, the money's going to be made. It's like you interviewing me, you work to get paid, but you like what you do. That's what it's about.

MVRemix: Are you still active in the Graffitti scene?

El Da Sensei: Over here? I'll tell you now, it is shut down. You are not able to write on a thing. It's shut down, the cops are out there brah. If you're going to do it, get paid to do it. Get commissioned, shit is hectic.

MVRemix: In your opinion, is a freestyle, a freestyle - if it's written?

El Da Sensei: Yeah. Because even if you pop it at any time, you've still got to know it. It's how you know it and how you flip it, how you say it. But then too, a lot of cats out here freestyle and make no sense. But because the words fit, they match and it sounds good, it still doesn't matter to the person that's listening to it. But, there's a lot of cats that can do it and make sense. That shit is good, that's dope. I don't think there should be so much concentration on it. Just because you can do it, doesn't make you that much of an emcee. You've got to write songs. What counts is making that song. You can battle all day, but if a dude tells you lets go song for song, if I've got the crowd rocking more than with your shit. It don't matter. It's more than just spitting your rhymes in front of me off of no beat or off a beat. What counts is the "everything." If you can sit there and write a song in bars, and do it the way you have to format it. In terms of doing an album, some cats don't have enough room to write in-between those eight or sixteen bars. It feels like they're gettin' their shit off. But it's restricted, so it's hard to create in that little bit of space. Where they're just going, it's just happening. I don't think there should be that much emphasis on it because that's one-dimensional.

MVRemix: Why the decision to move to Seven heads? It's not a bad one but explain your choice, has there been any interest from some of the majors?

El Da Sensei: I hand my tapes in and I've had my thing going with singles for a while. I've gotten to see the difference as far as freedom. Doing certain songs, and doing certain things. In that way, I wanted to be signed to something and belong to a label. Until I'm working, and they're working and it's half and half. I don't feel like I'd ever want to sign to a major. But I know if I make an album and it's gonna sit there on the shelves like that then I'm gonna have to. I want to get the songs done, and people that I want to work with artists and producers. Like I told Wes (Seven Heads Entertainment), come on, lets do it ourselves. Lets show them how we're supposed to do it, and how they're supposed to do it. I tell cats that just because you're on an independent label, don't make it sound independent. Put your all into that shit like you're shit's coming out to the mass crowds. Like your shit's comin' out in Best Buy's, Virgin and Tower. Don't think about it like you're just gonna put it on a piece of vinyl, you're boys are gonna hear it and you're gonna get some partial love from DJ's or friends in college radio.

MVRemix: Hip hop 2002 - good or bad and why? Do we still have a long way to go before we can get back what's been lost in commercialism?

El Da Sensei: 2002 right now is still leaking over from 2001. As far as drama, everyone's still argueing. There's enough money out there for everybody. I don't really understand what's going on. It's not like the mint's gonna stop pressing the dollars and coins and shit. There's enough out there, but there's another generation here which if we don't start talking to them it's not gonna be any better. If we're gonna keep this shit going, these little people, these little kids, these little thugs need to understand what they're listening to. There's way more influence now than there was ever before and it's all negative. Everybody sounds and looks the same. I remember back in the day you could watch videos and everybody would have their own shit. Own look, own personality. Everybody's the same now. It's sad.

MVRemix: Is there anyone you do look up to or admire?

El Da Sensei: Yeah, yeah. That's the thing, I have so many people I look up to that I want to see grow. I love Dilated they're my peoples. Slum Village, Jay Dee. Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def, Common - they're my peers. I'm bugging off the people in the streets and the world. What is it that we're not saying that's not making them get totally into the shit where you hear this shit on the radio and it's like "Ah man, what's going on?" You can't help but think that these emcees just want to be simple. Simplified. It's got to be laid out and plain. If it's too complicated, it seems the masses can't follow. Because they don't know, so it's hard for them to follow what we're trying to do. We have to build this shit up, get enough good players to make the team good. You trade and trade, you get down with cats and do songs with people, you work with this producer and that's how I want to do it. I wanna come out on top with everybody. That's what is gonna have to happen.

MVRemix: What are you currently working on or have soon to be released?

El Da Sensei: I just did a Ritchie Pitch EP, I did a song on there "Live At Home (Remix)." I've done a lot of guest appearances in the last couple of years, so the last couple of months I've been working hard on this album. Doing a song with Sadat (Brand Nubian) was like a dream come true for me. Because I've known Sadat since '90. This is like the first real song I did with him where it wasn't like I called him and said "I got this going on, why don't you come down to the studio and check it out." I'm like "X, look, lets do a song." I finally got a chance for us to do a real song and he was like "Aight, let's do it." That to me is more genuine than anything anyone could give me right now. It was in his interests to do the song with me, and that's how everybody treats me when I do get on their joints. From Rasco, to the Kreators joint, to Tommy Tee. I look at them the same way they might look at me. I'm getting the chance to do a song with someone I've never worked with before. I'm getting into doing work with artists I've never worked with before on the level of all the cats that I listen to. Jay Dee, and Slum, I wanna do songs with all of those cats. People that I know, and I know if I do a song with them, it's gonna sound good. It's not too late - everybody's making it seem like it is.

MVRemix: If you weren't making or involved with music, what would you be doing?

El Da Sensei: I think I'd be an artist. Like I'm doing right now. For those that don't know, I did the 'Frontline' single, I drew that. I did the cover for the Pacewon single 'Sunroof Top.' There's a lot of things that I want to do that maybe I couldn't do in the past because it was bad timing but I know that. I worked in hospitals for four or five years. I worked in Nuclear medicine for two and then X-Rays after that, so I have a lot of things that I could fall back on. But I think my one thing is art. I know if I had a company right now, which I hope to have one day soon. I would help everybody that's trying to do what I'm doing. I'd be like "Look man, I've got artwork here, I've got cats that's doing photography, I've got DJ's for hire. If you need producers for hire, I just want to have one strong company. You know where if you need everything, it's inside that building. There's one place for emcees that we can give a good package to. We've got to turn everybody on man. We've got to brainwash them. The way we know we're supposed to do. That's why I want to contribute my shit like that. I'm I'm gonna make dough, I'm gonna contribute back.

MVRemix: Who's your pick for 2003? Which emcee do you think is the one to watch?

El Da Sensei: Well, there's a lot. Aside from myself? Haha. I'd say look out for Common, I heard some things from him that I think everybody's gonna like. Also, Monch, I just saw him. Anybody that you've heard from me, as far as my era. Rakim will probably do a little damage, those are the things I'm rooting for. Big Daddy Kane, I'm rooting for Gang Starr. Anything that I know that's on my level, that I feel is not getting a chance. I want them to blow up. Underground artists or whatever.

MVRemix: Any last words you'd like to put to your fans and potential fans?

El Da Sensei: Hell yeah, definitely. To all my fans - if you have any thoughts of being afraid of this album, and how it's gonna sound. When you look in the stores, don't worry about it man, pick that record up. Go purchase it because it's gonna be something that you're going to want to have as a collectors item. Not for the money, but just for the feeling that you get. I hope you're gonna smile, you're gonna reminisce on all the shit you've heard. What I try to do, appreciate it, not analyze it. That's all I've got to say for the new fans too. Enjoy, step into my world and see what I'm doing. See what I learned. That's what I'm trying to offer. If you like it I'll keep doing more.

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