El Da Sensei of Artifacts: No Expiration Date

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Photo courtesy of Kat McBride

2022 saw the New Jersey Hip-Hop group Artifacts reunite for their first album since 1997 called “No Expiration Date.” The group worked with past collaborator Buckwild from Diggin’ in the Crates to provide the head nodding sound of No Expiration Date. Buck made sure that the Artifacts comeback album was modern, but steeped in nostalgia. It was as if Artifacts never left.

No Expiration Date is produced entirely by Buckwild and comes courtesy of Smoke On Records. The 10-track album features appearances by Ras Kass, DJ Eclipse, A-F-R-O, DJ Hush, and Big Joker.

The 25 years in between Artifacts albums saw emcees Tame One and El Da Sensei release solo projects and group material with other artists, while performing together sporadically. In 2019 Artifacts member DJ Kaos passed away, making a new Artifacts project that much more meaningful. Mere months after the release of No Expiration Date Tame One would pass away unexpectedly due to heart failure.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to El Da Sensei about the loss of Tame One, the Artifacts’ place in Hip-Hop history, and working with Buckwild on the No Expiration Date album.

TRHH: How did we get a new Artifacts album after 25 years?

El Da Sensei: Man, 25 years. It took a guy from Germany, my man Joey — Smoke On Records. He was actually working with Buckwild on a bunch of records Buck was doing through the years – a bunch of remixes and stuff, CD’s here and there. He knew that we knew Buck. He knew that we had a relationship with him, so he pretty much was like, “How about y’all do a record with Buck?” I was pretty much like, “Well, why not?” You know we knew Buck just from being a fan of Buck and starting off with him. That pretty much just solidified it.

So, Buck came through the crib, me and Tame sat there, and pretty much what you hear on the record is what we got from him. Just put everything together, it could have been put together faster but with a lot of stuff me and Tame did I never wanted to rush a lot of things when it came to putting the music together. I always felt being solo we was dope, but when we were together we was great.

TRHH: What was it like working with Buckwild?

El Da Sensei: Well, from the gate when we met Buck when we got the deal on the first album, we tried to get a couple of other guys. We were trying to get Pete Rock, Preemo and Large Professor, but the label was like, “Y’all ain’t got money for that, so y’all going to get T-Ray.” “Okay, so let’s get the dude that did the ‘Can’t Front’ joint.” So, my A&R Reef, Rob Tewlow, he was like, “Yo, I know him.” So, he called him up, we met Buck at the studio, and the same day we met Roc Raida. Raida used to be with Buck as far as in the studio, so I guess whatever songs they would do he would get him to do the cuts. That’s how Raida got to do cuts on a lot of the album back then, especially the ones that Buck had recorded.

So, it was like he made “C’Mon Wit Da Git Down” beat the original in front of us. Right there in the studio. We was like, “Damn, yeah.” His sound was very New York, very D.I.T.C. This was very early when Buck was just doing mixtape stuff and we caught him in his early stages. So, it was good to see the progression. Working with Buck is real easy. Seeing how we work, it went back right back to the same thing. He turned the beat on and we just go.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album No Expiration Date?

El Da Sensei: Pretty much everything we do, everything that we pretty much stand for, you can’t put a date on this sound that we do or the style we use as far as in 2023. This music we still do, even ‘till this day is a formula from our past. That is not something that we tried to ever escape. So, with the title itself it’s pretty much about being timeless as well, in the same breath as far as having longevity. The ingredients that we still use to this day, whether it be the beats we choose, scratching in the songs, all of these are things that a lot of people, I won’t say don’t do today, but not as prevalent. So, we’re really pretty much saying you can’t put an expiration date on anything that we’re saying and pretty much mostly what we represent far as in the culture.

TRHH: On the single “The Way I Feel” you say “what you call heat, we call trash.” Why do you believe the standards for what’s considered dope has changed in Hip-Hop?

El Da Sensei: With a lot of saturation of the music itself, where it’s like now when there was a select few that were actually good at it, would be the ones that would get the deals or be the ones that’s putting out the records. Which was a pretty much the standard, like, you had to be good. Today good is from a lot of different people the same sound, the same video, same look, same. So, it wasn’t so much like that for us. You had to elevate yourself to say you are good even for people to run out and buy your record. This is the thing I always say, the hardest thing you can probably do — you’re getting paid for your thoughts but at the same time you’re getting paid to entertain a certain crowd that’s following you. Where today anybody could do this they feel.

There’s no skilled trade into doing this today, there’s no time taken, no care. So, when you see certain artists like say J. Cole or Kendrick, for a brother like me, emcee wise where I come from those guys pretty much resemble that today. It’s even the standard for them to not want to be like what they hear or what they see, especially who their competition is. So, I think today with a lot of people who feel they got a home studio, their boys in there with them hyping them up, all these records you start to seeing and hearing. Whether they get famous off of YouTube, everybody trying to get paid off of mediums, but at the same time it’s a lot of people who think they could do this. So, you don’t have nobody checking people. Nobody saying, “Nah, I think you can do that again or do something different.” So, that’s why I said in that line people jump on bandwagons really fast for a lot of this stuff.

No matter how much you paint me and Tame as underground dudes, it is what it is. So, when we put the music out people see the write-ups and they’re like, “Oh, this sound like the 90s.” It’s going to sound like that because it’s where we’re from, it’s what we do, it’s how it’s gonna come out, it’s the formula. It’s a thing we can’t not do, I would say. So, today certain artists there’s no thing that they care about where they’re saying how they want to sound as they make the money. So, that’s what I’m saying, you got a lot of followers, a lot of yes men, so they’re like, “Yo, that’s hot!” There’s gotta be somebody in the room that’s like, “He’s aight.” It ain’t enough of that.

TRHH: The song “Raw Garden State” pays homage to New Jersey. It made me think of acts like Redman, Lauryn Hill, Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Naughty. Does Jersey get the props that it deserves in Hip-Hop?

El Da Sensei: In some sense yes and in some no. Because when you think about Jersey artist there’s a lot of us. But it’s also where you have to understand why there’s some being paid more attention to than others. Even though our artists are kind of accessible in the hood, we gotta always also remember Naughty got platinum records and Grammys. Redman got platinum records, DoItAll and them – platinum, gold. That’s what makes us different though. Even within our own set of people that we know, outside of Jersey we always had to prove ourselves because like you said with New York you we were always like the sixth borough. We outside of them, but they think we like mad far away! I’m like, “Yo, y’all TV channels are different but we do get the same radio stations.” We can actually stand in some streets in our neighborhood and see the buildings over there in New York across the water. We never was too far away from them, but we was always treated differently as others.

So, we couldn’t come out, be on stage at certain clubs in New York and get introduced as, “From New Jersey, The Artifacts!” No, we’re doing that after we’re done, off the stage, put the mic down, and all right, we’re about to head back to Jersey! They’re like, “What? They’re from Jersey sounding like that?” I know for a fact with me and Tame a lot of people consider me and Tame a more official group as far as culture wise and us practicing in graffiti, us practicing in all the elements. There’s no denying who we were gonna be destined to be anyway. When we made these records, we made records for people that was like us. So, that Jersey song pretty much is like homage paid to places we knew, that we used to go to or frequent. I’m sure everybody from Jersey when they hear that song gonna appreciate it because I’m naming all the towns, and the area where we used to hang out at, and certain clubs. It was good to do that song because we never did a song like that before. We’d always scream out “Brick City” this and that, but we never really made a song where we reached out.

People don’t realize that a lot of the artists that y’all see and hear that’s from home are from the immediate area in Newark. So, when you land in Newark airport, when you’re coming to the Penn Station train, we’re not far from any of that. But then there’s also Poor Righteous Teachers in Trenton, Tony D, rest in peace he was in Paterson, King Sun, YZ, a lot of these cats are from outside of Newark, but the more famous artists from Newark come from where I come from. Even within that, you got us, then it’s Rah Digga and the Outsidaz, but see, that’s what makes the balance. When the balance of that is also we all rock with each other, we all hang out, we all have done music together. In the beginning, it wasn’t so much like that. We even had something to prove to ourselves coming from Jersey, let alone trying to be in people faces in New York saying that Jersey got Hip-Hop too.

TRHH: What’s your favorite song on No Expiration Date?

El Da Sensei: I like “Better Music and I like “Take a Trip. Take a Trip, I know this is the same sample that Royce and Preemo used, but they broke it up in pieces a little bit. This was the first time I heard the beat like straight through. I think a lot of this stuff we were saying on that record is pretty much talking about me and Tame’s reflection on our career from the past ‘till now. I told him when we were talking about it, I don’t like making songs where it’s like we sound like we’re whining or anything like that about how the music is and how the game is. Let’s just make a song really celebrating what we’ve done.

Not even to toot our horn or anything like that, but just to remind ourselves and people. Whoever bought a record from us, whoever record we signed and they came to shows, still to this day that’s what it’s about. We need to let people know how much they mean to us, how much we felt doing this as a group putting out these records with always trying to get premium producers, it’s a standard I always say me and Tame held ourselves up to. I think those two songs, but Better Music is like a more bouncy song, and that’s Buck. It made me think of Biggie “I Got a Story to Tell.” Same snare and everything, so that song is pretty much something that people don’t normally hear us rock to that type of beat, so I like that one.

TRHH: We lost Tame One in 2022 and DJ Kaos a few years ago; how have you dealt with the passing of your bandmates?

El Da Sensei: It was a little different with Kaos than with Tame. You never know, but I understood who we were as a group and in the group. And to have it happen so fast in between, that’s the one thing I thought about. So, it’s like, wow. With Kaos, I knew he had some stuff going. Not knowing when or if anything was going to happen, but I knew something was going on. With Tame it was just like sudden. Tame and Kaos, those was like my brothers. So, it’s like when you don’t have that it makes you think, it puts a lot of stuff into perspective, and things we were doing. Just as far as this whole group thing, going on the road, meeting different people, and performing for everybody. I always said this was bigger than me, Tame, and Kaos, but not until these things happen is when you really see.

It’s always difficult when you see somebody pass away and they don’t always get their flowers, but now I can actually see that, unfortunately. I was happy even up to doing this album. I was like, “Wow, look at this.” It still always showed me again that this was always bigger than us. It shocked me, but that was a hard first week. First couple of days I was no good, but when I started reading people’s comments and seeing stuff people were saying, a few people reached out to me who I didn’t think was paying attention or even noticed. It was almost like, Tame if you was here you’d probably bug out, bro! It’s okay when people are not so much in touch with you over the years — we all got a life. We all got lives, we got kids, we got families, jobs, businesses, stuff like that, so we not gonna always be present. But that don’t mean you ain’t love ‘em the same or you couldn’t be around. You hear a lot of, “What you gonna do now?” Look, the one thing I’m gonna do right now is still push this album.

What people don’t realize is me and Tame have done other music that’s not come out yet. It don’t have to always be an album, but we have other songs that we’ve done that’ll be coming out throughout different people’s records and features and stuff like that. So, it’s still gonna be things to push, but also, I’m a solo artist as well, just like Tame was. So, anything I do by myself I will still rep the team and keep it to the gold standard of the type of music we do. That’s what I try to do even in my solo years, even with my last Jake Palumbo album. It’s just different pieces of the Artifacts puzzles that you could collect and say this is different variations of Artifacts music, just through other people, and other producers or DJ’s, so it will work out.

TRHH: What are some of your favorite memories of you guys together as a crew?

El Da Sensei: On tour. I remember we did a show in Japan in ’94. First time we was out there Stretch Armstrong was with us, DJ Ekim, and we did a place called The Cave. We did a show on Friday and Saturday — we did an early show and a late show, both nights – crazy! I never knew people knew that much. I mean like, we was there and people knew where our hotel was at and like after the show was over they had bombed up the whole street. Like tagged up everything all the way ‘till they got to the hotel. The hotel was bombed up, it was it was crazy. So, I was like, all right this is the thing that I always told Tame that we thrive for, but kind of what we was good at too, as far as doing the shows. So, I would say that Hip Hop Kemp in 2016, we did a big show in a hanger there, and that was Tame’s first time doing it. I did Hip Hop Kemp a few times, so when I got to do it with him and Kaos it was crazy.

Just being on the road, private times, I used to always cook for them when we were on tour, so a lot of that I’ll miss. There’s a lot of other times, but the most fun we had I think was actually to perform for everybody. Most of the time we were performing we were performing for ourselves too, just having fun. Even say practicing, no matter how many people were in the crowd. Kaos going up there doing his routine, and we never practiced, we never did. Maybe in the beginning, but we never practiced after we got it down, because it’s pretty much just like, okay, just know your words, we’re doing this, then this here, that there. It was like a science and it was easy.

TRHH: What’s the Artifacts place in Hip-Hop history?

El Da Sensei: I would hope that the Artifacts place in Hip-Hop history would be a group who brought light to culture in a time where nobody was thinking about it, so much so where we were able to make a song dedicated to graffiti that KRS-One reviewed and said that it was crazy that a group from New Jersey could make a song about graffiti that started in New York, that made him inspired to do two graffiti songs on his album – Out for Fame and MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know. Those shout outs were big time for me and Tame. That showed us that what we were doing was the right thing.

I want people to think of us in a way of where you think of Hip-Hop and you think of the elements and know that we were good in a lot of them, especially two, and that would be rhyming and graffiti. So, I hope people will look at us as participants in this Hip-Hop world. We more than put our two cents in, but I think with a lot of people that thought we was from New York when we first came out until they saw the Wrong Side of Da Tracks video when they saw New Jersey Transit and Newark Police, everybody just lost their minds. Like, “Dudes from Jersey look like this? They wear Polo, they got Timbs on.” They might have thought we was from Brooklyn. So, that even gave me more pride to know that me and Tame was sparking something that people considered to be a New York thing but we were repping New Jersey and put a stamp down on it. That’s what makes me happy.

I’m comfortable with a lot of things we’ve done, so anything now from here on is just icing on the cake. I just want to tell the people also that me and Tame wouldn’t be nothing without y’all, without the fans, without people like yourself, we wouldn’t be able to have nobody to talk to or test our music out on and see how people feel about it. We still was them dudes, we still always hungry, but always knowing our position. We always just tried to give our best and that’s what I hope people judge us on.

Purchase: Artifacts x Buckwild – No Expiration Date

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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