With the upcoming release of his first solo album Relax, Relate, Release El Da Sensei has been a busy man touring the country with J-Live and People Under the Stairs. The former Artifacts member came through The Ottobar and I had a chance to catch up with him and cover a variety of topics from Rawkus to Eminem to the current state of hip hop.
Jbutters: How’s the tour been going?
El Da Sensei: We did the west coast. That was like my first time deep deep in the west coast and I have to tell you that was a real totally different experience. Once we got out of LA, we did Arizona and Albuquerque. I saw real Indian cats straight off the reservation so for them to be on some hip hop shit I was like aiight I have a definite fan base. I had never been to Colorado, Seattle or Vancouver none of that. Me and J been doing a lot of shows and for the first time going there with no video to be doing it with People Under The Stairs it was kinda weird for me because a lot of these cats is young and they remember everything from seeing me on TV. It was cats coming up to me saying I was nine years old when I bought your first record. I was like damn. Not that I felt old, but I was like yo these cats is following me. One dude walked up to me in Colorado and he was like what was that shit you was doing earlier in the show that “Come On with the Come On” and the “Wrong Side of the Tracks”? I was like I was in a group. He was like I’m gonna tell you right now I never heard that before I have never heard any of those songs I only know El Da Sensei. That wasn’t bad for me that was the first cat that stepped to me out of body as far as my group. That’s what I wanted to accomplish, I wanted to let the world know that I was solo. Me and tame did what we did and I wish him mad love, but I know that I was destined for a mission. When I first started I kept working with different people, but I told myself if me and tame stopped I wasn’t getting with nobody else as far as another mc ever. I knew that was the ultimate group for me just to do what we did. To this day doing that show tonight and doing this whole tour I kinda know what to expect as far as people saying things to me on the old stuff, but half the shit they say to me is bugging me out because you never think people are really thinking about you till they say shit to you. I’m glad that I still get a chance to say what I have to say and to do another album and I thank Seven Heads for that because dude didn’t have to take a chance on me. I wouldn’t say it’s a gamble, but in these days doing these records I told him to just give me a chance and Ill show you what I can do.
JB: At the show tonight you gave a preview of one of the new joints that kinda chronicles your whole career did you make that for the new cats or for your older fans?
El: It’s for both. It’s for cats that be coming up to me asking what’s up with you I tell them go buy the album it’s a song on there that’s gonna explain everything to a T. I knew I was gonna have to do that song, I knew cats were gonna want me to do that song. There are people back home that’s really down for this shit and when they see me they see 94 or 95, they see all the shit that they remember listening to when the shit was music. They like El man when the album coming out you doing your shit cuz we waiting. And as long as they waiting that’s what I want to hear. A lot of the stuff on the album came from that. Plus to me I’m by myself so I have a lot more shit to say, but I had to figure out how I was going to do it without boring everybody or making them feel like they waiting for that next voice to come in.
JB: It’s been a long time coming, why do you feel now is the best time to release the album instead of a little bit earlier or even waiting a few months?
El: I’m gonna tell you the truth something’s gotta happen. There are a lot of people in this club right now that we did this show in and a lot of people don’t know that they are in that club. There are a lot of uneducated fans out there that are American idoled up or wannabe’d up like I wanna be Ja Rule or I wanna be this cat, you watch that shit on TV and your like damn be yourself. That’s what’s wrong with the game with music as a whole, so what I’m trying to bring there really is no explanation for it. I know I’m going away from the question, but I really just felt in my heart this is what everybody wants to hear. They can’t escape it. If you’re in a club and they play an old school record everybody starts wilding. Why are wilding? Because you remember that shit when you heard it the first time, you knew what you were doing, who you was wit, and where you were at, so now we have to force feed everybody back into that. Music is dead right now. Kaos and I were watching on TV if it ain’t Nelly, it ain’t Eminem and Bruce Springstein it ain’t nothing.
DJ Kaos: Them the top niggas on the charts right now. They know what’s going on oh y’all want to act a fool bet we are gonna sell a bunch of records on some bullshit that we been doing. Don’t get me wrong Eminem is a dope emcee. He knows how to take the media and use it right back against them.
El: That’s all he doing. Its like with the first “Fresh Fest” in New York a dude got stabbed and the first thing they say is hip hop causes violence. Hip hop is causing a billion dollar industry right now because of us and I feel right now people are stagnated and the world is like yo we waiting for something new to pop off. So in my own little way this is my two cents to put in, but not change it because we are never gonna change it. No matter how much we spit about underground, so it’s like you join the masses or stick to your guns and do it in a more advanced way.
JB: With commercialism of the music they are rhyming on lipstick commercials and all kinds of crap…
El: Everybody is in denial right now, it’s far past the ghetto influence, it’s so far gone that they can’t control it. There is no control over the laws of the game, so everyone is going all out. It’s like I’m gonna make this dough, milk it get as much as I can get and be out. Look how many people are gone that made loot. There is no discrimination to one MC to a pop MC or an underground MC its all about what people see on TV. We can spit all day, but if these cats don’t see our faces it’s almost a lost cause. If you not doing what we doing straight grinding this shit out like on some rock and roll shit. We not even jumping into a bus we on some regular shit. That’s another thing there are no regular niggas on the mic, for the regular cat that’s not a drug dealer that’s not a baller, that doesn’t have 23 inch rims, its like motherfuckers is chasing a dream.
JB: Why did you choose the title Relax, Relate, Release for the new album?
El: Lamonte (Seven Heads Dir. of Operations) came up with the title. I said relax because I think that’s what everybody needs to do right now. Shit is tight everybody got they ass cheeks tight as hell.
El: It’s like everybody got the hip hop wedgy, it’s like they scared to let hip hop go in they ass and open the shit up. Everybody is like I’m not trying to hear that on some girlie shit. I hate when I be in the club and the DJ is playing some early 90s shit and everybody is wildin’. Its like what the fuck are you dancing for now, but if you hear someone spit like that today you say he’s bores me he’s not spitting thug. It ain’t changed its just that everybody is ignorant to what we doing. So what I meant in relax was take it down. Everybody is pissed off making all this money, y’all are chillin’ I don’t want to hear that.
We have to make all these other motherfuckers get into the shit that we are doing. How do we do that, don’t change what you’re already doing because you’re gonna fuck up your shit. Every time we seen it happen its evident. How many people we seen stray away on the second album from what they did on the first album. People you will never do the first thing ever again. It’s like having sex. The first nut you bust you ain’t never going to have a nut like that again. For every album you get like that appreciate it, that’s the first heartfelt thought of an emcee that’s going to come out on his paper because that’s what he wants the world to hear. Second album is kinda him and the label. For me right now to say the shit that I’m saying I feel good in 2002 within all the bullshit that’s in this business today. I had to try and I knew I had to advance it because coming across all these people right now you gotta be on some therapy shit. It’s like potty training right now you have to go and tell everybody how to go listen to the music. Listen to how this beat sound, listen to how he rhyming on the beat, look how the flow is going, now we have re-educate everybody all over again.
JB: I peeped your release date and coincidentally it happens to be dropping right around the time Tame is releasing his album. You guys will basically be linked forever it seems, any competition there?
El: I really don’t care honestly. If people have been following me for the last three years and not asking about what we going to do as far as an Artifacts record it don’t matter to me. Tame it’s on record nigga good luck, fuck that. I ain’t say that shit but good luck. Do your thing cuz ima tell you nigga ima do me regardless what you do, your moms, Boom Skwad its on record quote me, on this fucking album I’m gonna do everything in my heart to do some ghetto gold shit.
That was the end of the organized interview, what follows is a hip hop roundtable of sorts featuring myself, El, DJ Kaos, and Thes One from People Under the Stairs.
Thes One: Let me ask him a question. What do you think about a lot of motherfuckers who get old? Like fans the same age as us, but they not following it anymore. They not listening to it like they were, they like fuck I’m too old for this.
El: It’s because they don’t feel like there is a motherfucker that’s out here that’s on their level. Motherfuckers that are older know more so they know what to expect. So when they listening to all these cats on the radio they sitting there just like us like I can’t feel that shit. It’s rare when you see a cat like Kane. Motherfuckers is still doing shows ya’ll whether you know it on not. But I think it’s since the B-boy got older he don’t know what to turn to because he knows what he used to. He know he gotta sit up late night (to hear certain music) but at the time you older so you can’t sit up late nights you gotta go to work, you got kids, so he feels if its not direct its not what he want. So I think if a older b-boy cat had something to look forward to in the way like I’m hearing beats, I’m hearing scratching, I’m hearing other older cats that I like cuz I got Sadat on the album. This motherfucker is in my range, so I felt if I’m going to reach out to anybody that’s older it will be a cat that people can really relate to. You can see him walking down the street and you can step to him like yo dude I appreciate your shit without feeling like damn he gonna diss me he don’t want to talk to me. You have a music people think is for young kids, but it’s not young because the cats in the club now are 19 or 23-25 and they are searching for what the older cat had. The older cat can sit there and appreciate like any older cat in there tonight that saw me can say word that’s my era I can relate to that shit.
I be telling these little cats you don’t know shit you have not been on a train that had the graf on it, you were looking at it. You did not witness “Beat Street” in the movie theatre when cats was in the line battling before they even got inside the theatre. You had cats fucking battling in the aisle arguing that they could beat Lee in the movie You didn’t sit there and go to a show when Kane first dropped. They are never going to experience that shit. So they are not spoiled to that, we were spoiled to that as far as my era so now like trying to reeducate a younger cat is like Matrix when they load that shit up in his brain so he instantly knows. But how do you get a little cat who has so much energy and so much anger cuz the streets just got worse. So for every generation that comes there is a generation of hip hop that came with it. In the early eighties we had shit that’s like platinum now, but we had gold chains to represent that but the dude that was wearing it had a conscience mind to know this shit don’t rule me I’m still spitting and I still got these cats buying my records so I gotta know that. Then the shit went from that to like the conscience level. When KRS did “Blueprint” everybody followed. Along came X-Clan, Arrested Development, etc with black medallions and Africa and save everything hip hop i.e “Self Destruction” and “We All in the Same Gang.” After that they started seeing that they could make some dough, but it was still a level of respect for the game where we can’t go too far. But once that dollar started really coming in heads started seeing we could eat and not even be on no tradition shit. Fuck it lets rock and do whatever the label says to get this money. It started going away.
Kaos: MCS became CEOS
El: Niggas started getting business minded and when the business came in everything was like holdup, I can do this type of record without putting so much into it and still get this money.
Kaos: They realized they was getting fucked up. I can do this without you taking this much from me.
El: I can get more money, spit less and I’m gonna still get on TV.
Thes: The era I grew up in everyone I looked up to was on a major and at that time all I wanted to do was getting on a fucking label. And as soon as record labels figured out that they could make more than 100,000-200,000 record sales they flipped and dropped everyone I looked up to. Then I was like what the fuck can I do now cuz I can’t be on a label.
El: It’s just like now with the independent game. Look how slow it has gotten in the last three years. I remember when The Source put out a 3-4 page article on how to do independent hip hop, all the labels you can call to get your record put out. Motherfuckers ran with that shit but then the labels took on too much than they could hold. Example Rawkus, you got to pace yourself.
JB: I think the main thing with Rawkus is they ate off of Co Flow, Mos Def and all those cats and then they moved away from that.
El: They abandoned it. Its no different than I first said, motherfuckers start seeing some money come into play they start thinking they can do certain shit then you abandon what you got there with. How can you do that then you got everybody that you started with gone now. So how do you work with cats you never worked with before and try to establish a business relationship with them when all they’re looking at is you going in your pocket. So all the cats they were working with are gone or doing something better. You can’t shit in the hand that’s making your fucking money because whether you know it or not you can move on but you can’t move away. People are expecting you to do something and you aren’t doing it those people are looking at you and asking questions like what the fuck are you doing. That’s anybody not just them if I was to come out and start spitting some shit that was on the radio I would lose because I wasn’t there from the beginning. Obviously they gonna say El is trying to get that money. I’m not trying to stay broke so I have to figure out how do I do this, make some money and still be me and do the things I like. It’s like proving yourself and how do you do that? It’s so much different with these cats then when I was younger. Cats want to be an emcee now for some money shit, I wanted to be an emcee just for motherfuckers to clap for me and scream my name and say he’s dope. Now I have to think of that and how I’m going to pay my bills. It’s more than just the underground and backpackers. How do you sit there and talk to this cat who wants to be a Blood, a Crypt, a Baller, or a Thug about how you gotta be on some tradition of beats and scratching and he don’t even know about that shit.
Thes: The young cats are gonna be the ones keeping it going. The backpack motherfuckers can’t keep it going. The reason the whole shit came together was from things other than just the music, like the environment etc. All that shit comes into play from whatever source. You hear these young cats, the shit is changing, and it’s making it more and more difficult for those younger cats or thug cats to get into it.
El: They only see the TV and the radio so when we in New York cats listen to the radio and they hear what they hear they think that’s it like there are really only eight mcs on the mic and a whole bunch of mixtape cats.
JB: See that’s crazy to me cuz I grew up in NY and it was bugged because on the radio they wouldn’t play anybody out of state. Now you listen to the radio there and it’s just like everywhere else.
Kaos: Now you can’t stop NY from playing an out of state record.
El: They feel like they gotta be like all the other radio stations that are playing everything. If any Jersey motherfucker went up to NY and say you from Jersey all you hear is boos. We couldn’t go up there and do that shit. This is no disrespect to any coast or city but New York was like the fucking Mecca of being an emcee. For European mcs it’s like their goal to make it to NY. Once you make it in NY you’re a hit your good. But to get into NY you felt like you had to have a pass. The first cat out of NY that I remember to come into the Apollo was Ice Cube. When that motherfucker came to NY shit was off the hook. It was him, Kool G Rap and somebody else. But when he came NY was on fire because they got to hear nigga, bitch, pussy, fuck you, just straight out anger. We saw “Straight Out of Compton” on Yo! MTV Raps and it was the first out of state shit to come into NY so we was like oh shit! But when you heard it other than the TV we was like what’s that. That showed you NY was missing a lot, we were so used to traditional beats and scratching. Then it was like oh we can curse then that’s when you started seeing all of the other east coast mcs start to curse more. Kane started to curse more, Kool G Rap was already raw but he went out of control. The influence started just happening but that’s what everybody missing, influence and being convinced that you can take shit to another level. So once NY let that shit happen then it was like we’ll let shit inch out here and there.
Kaos: Nas is trying to save hip hop, that’s what I say.
El: Word me too. Just for him to take a step up and say I don’t care about this bullshit that’s happening on the radio around me I’m gonna say what the fuck I gotta say. I’m sick of it I can’t take it no more. He came from where we came from. Who he come out with, Large Pro. He is like let me stop bullshitting, I got these niggas on my ass.
Kaos: I got this clown ass nigga and his crew talking shit haha
El: Nas my nigga keep talking that shit I’m with you I got your back. I ain’t gonna take ya’ll to school we can go all day with this shit we running out of tape. Look though when we come to the show though we can’t have too many penide parties. Gotta be some ladies in the house.
Kaos: We got songs for the ladies too it’s in our type of forum
El: That shit’s gotta happen cuz we gotta have them say Ow!
Thes: That’s another thing that underground/backpack hip hop fucked up they don’t want to dance no more. Throw some Rob Bass on, some stupid shit I don’t give a fuck man where the bitches at? We’re gonna play Def Jux all night long so no girls can dance Fuck that man. I like them motherfuckers I’m just saying when you go to a club you want to have fun and part of my having fun (is dancing and girls). Even though I’m underground hip hop I never front on Jay-Z or Nas when I’m up in the club throw that shit on.
Kaos: That’s something that’s part of the DJ and even the DJ is fucked up in the head now too. Don’t get me wrong I love everything from 95 back. I love to play that shit in any club everyday all day but when you in a spot where 94-95 records ain’t working, when you in a spot when there is like 1000 people and they want to hear some shit you’re like wait they don’t know Co Flow, they don’t know J-Live, they don’t know El.
Thes: It will work if you present it to them in the right way. The thing about it is that shit for a variety of reasons has excluded the females. A lot of them motherfuckers can’t dance so they start making shit that you can’t dance to. Now I don’t want to dance all day long but at the same time there is a lot of shit you can rock that would work in that situation.
Kaos: Prime example Slum Village’s record Tainted Love. We all know they been out for a minute all of a sudden now they getting burn. Chicks is screaming slum village oh what’s that record. Go get the first album and then come talk to me. They been out.
Thes: If you were to categorize what an underground dude likes the easiest way to do that is to say music girls won’t dance to. That’s how it works I don’t classify myself with them but to a certain extent that’s how it works. Anything these dudes love girls won’t appreciate or girls won’t go to the show and if they do they are some weird college girls on an agenda. The only way around that is to go out to London or England or any places like that they don’t care who come to the show they don’t care whose there they drink, dance and have a good time. (They are like) El Da Sensei’s in town and we gonna wild the fuck out. Some of them know about it some of them don’t.
El: They just there they like we want to see this motherfucker what is he going to do?
Kaos: The women there are more hip hop orientated I give it to them. They come up to you and be like I have your CD. Definitely you’re more of a star over there, when you come home they be like who? When you get off the plane over there they be like we’ve been waiting for you!
El: We was in Amsterdam we got out the airport and we were going to the car and we had all these bags and these girls was like oh shit Wu Tang, LL Cool J!! We was running. They was like their black they look like rappers.
Thes: They pulled that shit on us in Japan man. We were coming through customs dude was like what are you doing. He opened the bag and it was a bunch of records, he was like Oh!!!
El: You gotta look at it like this we are influencing their children on some culture shit that’s a shock to the parents. Just as much as it is a culture shock to us with this japanamation shit. Every cartoon is japanimation now. We get over there all they know is TV they don’t get to see this shit so when they see you no matter what ethnic background you are you are not Japanese. So they are like you are gonna do some shit that ain’t got nothing to do with what we do out here. You got records so that means you are doing some TV shit or some music shit go ahead man you gonna do something for our people. They on it yo and really its up to us to make these motherfuckers to feel what we doing, its up to us like Thes One said to make the music so cats can dance to it and get into it. We gonna end this tape before it run out, my man Double K just walked into the room and we gonna end it on this Ya’ll stop being some bitch ass motherfucking listeners and understand what you need to be listening to. We are out here we are alive and motherfuckers better stop fronting cuz you know what you want. Ya’ll heard the same records, same movies, same dances, same clothes stop fronting go back to what you know is for real.
Thes: Cuz the young cats need it
El: Yea cuz ya’ll going to them clubs and getting robbed. Y’all scared to go to the spot cuz the cats there is on some grimy you got some shit I ain’t got I want that, so lets make the music like we supposed to. Open your ears and your mind don’t be scared shit is out there for ya’ll. If you don’t take the chance to listen to it you’re going to miss out on a lot of shit.
Thes: Punk ass old motherfuckers
El: All the old cats we out here for ya’ll but you gotta open up too El Da Sensei People Under the Stairs, One.