Sensational – “Heavyweighter” (2000)

I’ve been infatuated with Sensational since I first heard him bust some rhymes on Ghostigital’s In Cod We Trust about five or six years ago.  His flow is like nothing I’ve heard before or since, a sort of stream of consciousness wrapped in a haze of weed smoke, with some trippy beats that are more trip hop than hip hop.

We pick up his CDs whenever we find them, which frankly isn’t all that often.  To be fair, I rarely find myself in a hip hop speciality store… but Sensational wasn’t getting a lot of gold records either.  I hear you may even be able to still buy CD-Rs from him on the streets of New York City.  He’s faced homelessness and addiction, but he’s still pursuing his personal, singular musical vision.  You should check out the documentary on him – The Rise and Fall of Sensational.  It’s an amazing look at the man, his life, and his art.

sensationalheavyweighterI finally found a copy of one of his albums on vinyl about a month ago over at Amoeba Music – 2000s Heavyweigther.  All the classic Sensational topics are covered in his rhymes – blunts, money, the awesomeness of Sensational, and more blunts.  The songs feel a bit short to me – with 15 tracks on the album, almost all of them come in at around three minutes apiece.  Just when I’m getting into Sensational’s flow the song comes to an end.  I probably got spoiled in that the first of his “albums” I heard was actually a mix, DJ KLos Presents:  The Best of Sensational, which basically takes 30 songs and makes them into one long, amazing track.  DJ KLos does a fantastic job of capturing Sensational’s flow style and keeping with it as the rapper transitions from piece to piece.

“Paper Chase” is the big winner here, with it’s catchy “chorus” (This is dedicated to the paper chase… This is dedicated to the paper chase…) and quick rhymes.  On “For the Playa Haterz” Sensational takes his voice up to a high pitch on the “playa haterz” part of the rhyme that is both a dig a the haters and pretty damn funny at the same time, showing that he’s got a sense of humor.  “Every Freak Desire” rounds out my Heavyweighter Top 3, with a more techno musical approach and a catchy refrain.

You can find Heavyweighter on iTunes, with some pretty healthy 90 second clips of most of the songs, so you can check it out there to get the flavor of Sensational.

Sensational

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, which are generally focused on punk, grunge and new wave.  I didn’t listen to a lot of rap or hip hop as a teen in the 80s, though I had some of the classics – Run DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A…. and of course, living in Seattle, Sir Mix-A-Lot was mandatory (Posse up!).  But for about the next oh, I don’t know, 20 years or so I didn’t really listen to any hip hop.  Maybe a little Eminem… but that was it.  Until we saw XXX Rottweiler Hundar at Iceland Airwaves in 2009, and on the same card an insane industrial band called Ghostigital.

I’ve written about Ghostigital’s molten industrial outpouring before.  It took me a while to get into their sound, but once I did I was hooked.  One thing that Ghostigital does is work with other artists they respect.  And one of those artists is New York rapper Sensational, who appears on all three Ghostigital albums… and invariably on the best tracks.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.  His style is perfect for Ghostigital, being so different than that of lead singer Einar Orn.  The two compliment each other perfectly.  Unfortunately Sensational hasn’t appeared with Ghostigital at an of the four live shows I’ve seen.  I can only hope… maybe someday.

I’m not sure why, but I never got around to looking into Sensational’s solo work.  Until Holly found a CD.  At the library.  The library.  Now first of all, I’m all about libraries.  I love to read, and I think that libraries are an important part of our communities.  But I don’t really think of them as places to find music (despite the fact that Holly regularly finds stuff there). And I certainly don’t think of it as a place to find Sensational.  But there he was, and now DJ Klos Presents the Best of Sensational resides in our iTunes library.  Good work King County Library System!  I may have to start checking out their online music catalog…

There’s a whole lot of stuff here.  With 30 tracks it feels like a double album, but a lot of the songs are really short – 13 clock in at under two minutes, and only four are more than three minutes long.  The beats are funky, the reverb is spacey, and the rapping itself is all over the place, with timing that sometimes goes with the beats, sometimes not.  I’m not sure what, if anything, to compare him to since I really don’t know hip hop.  It’s certainly not the stuff I grew up with, but instead a much rawer and electronic experience.  The timing Sensational uses makes many of his songs feel disjointed to me, generating an emotional response almost forcing me to stop what I’m doing and listen.  This isn’t background music.  It’s music that gets in your faces and challenges you to get some.

There’s a documentary about Sensational out, and after listening to this album I’m going to have to check it out once it comes out on DVD.  And I think I’m going to need to check the library for some of his back catalog…