It was Monday night and I was flipping through the racks at Other Music, killing time before heading over to Great Jones Café where I’d meet Michael Lavorgna and John DeVore for wings, chili, and beer. I noticed a couple of dudes in loose clothes, slung back and stretched out across the A, B, and C sections of the vinyl racks, as if they owned the place, as if this was their couch. From what I could tell, they were musicians, stopping by the shop to drop off some CDs or LPs. Nearby, another dude was getting into with one of the guys behind the counter: “You want some more of my records?”
“Nah, we’re okay. We’ve got three in stock right now.”
“Why not? Take some more. I’m not doing anything with them.”
“Nah, trust me. Three is a good number.”
I moved over to the D section, and, from the corner of my eye, I noticed the fellow closest to me point in my direction, turn to his companion, and say, “This dude looks like a DJ.”
“Say what?” I asked.
“I said you look like a DJ. Do you DJ?”
“I spin records for friends every now and then, but I can’t call myself a ‘DJ.’ Nah, I just, uh…” I shrugged my shoulders. “I just love music.”
“Oh, you love music?”
“You got any sensational music?”
Sensational music? I thought to myself. What the hell is this guy talking about?
I could feel my face turning red and I started stuttering and mumbling about Robert Wyatt, and I was about to get into Colin Stetson, when the dude politely interrupted me, smiled, and confessed, “I’m Sensational.”
I laughed and shook his hand. “What do you do?” I asked.
“I do a little bit of everything, producing, mixing… What do you do?”
“I write about music.”
“Who do you write for?”
“I write for a magazine called Stereophile. They’re supposed to start carrying us here, at Other Music, but I don’t see it yet.”
“Yeah? I got the cover of a magazine called The Wire, back in 2009.”
“Cool. The Wire is one of my favorite magazines.”
“I got some CDs here if you want…”
And that’s how I ended up with a CD-R of Sensational’s transatlantic collaboration with Zurich’s Dani Goldin and Bit-Tuner, appropriately titled, It’s Sensational. I popped it into the stealth NuForce CDP-8 (“Follow-Up” to come) and sat back on the orange couch. The rest of the system: PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers, NAD C316BEE integrated amplifier, Audience Conductor cables and interconnects.
Back in elementary school and into my first couple of years of high school, hip-hop was pretty much all I ever listened to: Leaders of the New School, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Black Sheep, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, the Pharcyde, stuff like that. From my point of view, this music was simply more fun, more interesting, and more innovative than anything else on the radio, and, at the time, the radio was my main source for new sounds. Things changed during the summer before my senior year in high school, when, upon visiting family in Puerto Rico, I was introduced to Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Mercury Rev, and the idea of “underground music.”
That’s pretty much when I lost track of hip-hop. While I’ve hoped, quietly, to find some new, innovative rap, I haven’t actively sought it out. This chance encounter with Sensational, then, at Other Music, over vinyl racks and magazines, becomes somehow even more satisfying. With the first ominous whispers and damaged beats of the opening track, “Songs of the Doomed,” I knew that I had stumbled into something excellent. Sensational’s flow is slithery, assured, mature; he moves effortlessly, rhyming ahead of the beat or behind it, before sliding right up onto it. He’s more laid-back than flashy, content to come in when the music calls out to him, providing the beats with room to dance and breathe. Your hi-fi will appreciate the space, the deep bass, the flickering images and panning effects.
Goldin serves as Sensational’s foil, contributing laconic, gloomy choruses, spoken as much as sung and always memorable. In “Graveyard Love,” he intones, “I wanna love you in the graveyard chapel / The sweetest song isn’t sweet enough for you,” while Jenny Pomme, of Zurich punk band Wemean, adds a chillingly sweet harmony. Bit-Tuner is responsible for the grimy, distressed beats, sampled from dirty vinyl and squeezed through computers, synthesizers, and analog effects. The result is an alluring mix of Brooklyn hip-hop, German darkwave, and campy horror. And I love it.
There’s a dedicated website for the album, It’s Sensational, where we find a fascinating note from the producer, Dani Goldin.
“Never forget the struggle, never forget the streets,” it says on a memorial plaque for a street fighter who was shot in 1997 on the Lower East Side. A slogan that comes naturally to Sensational, or you could say: unfortunately, it comes naturally. He hasn’t really made it all the way, and so the rapper from Brooklyn, NYC, goes on dreaming of a home of his own where he can run around “butt naked, smoking blunts.”
The streets were sometimes his homewhen we started recording this album, he was sleeping in a subway station in Brooklyn. He sells his CDs on the street in Brooklyn, but mostly in uptown Manhattan or in the East Village.
Some of his goods are newer stuff, some are CDs from the golden days of WordSound’s underground hip-hop in the late 90s, financed and produced by Skiz Fernando and Bill Laswell. At that time, Sensational released the albums Loaded With Power and Corner The Market, after a long break following the end of his stint with the legendary Jungle Brothers.
It’s not entirely surprising to learn that Sensational has been at his game for so long and has worked with such great collaboratorshaving now spent quality time with It’s Sensational, I’m curious about all of his recordsand it’s not unusual to bump into a guy like Sensational at Other Musicthe place is frequented by the kind of musician and artist often admired but rarely recognized. I only wish that I had known more about him at the time of our chance encounter, so I could have offered the proper respect and thanks.
Dani Goldin concludes his producer’s note:
It’s Sensational is primarily being released on the Internet as a free, high-quality downloadfinancial contributions are welcomeor order the 140gram vinyl version, in a limited-edition of 200 pieces from Quiet Records, with a wonderful cover photographed by Georg Gatsas and designed by Adrian Elsener. A CD follows. Street style. You can find us on the web, at concerts, and certainly on the streets, for example in Manhattan, in the Village, at the the corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street, in front of the legendary record store Fat Beat Records. That’s where I met him the last time, just as he came up to a DJ and said: “Hey yo yo, are you a DJ? I’m Sensational, you wanna buy my CD?” This most stubborn representative of different, crazy, absurd, freaky old-school hip-hop, companion of the Jungle Brothers, of Bill Laswell and Spectre, of Prince Paul and Handsome Boy Modeling School, could certainly use the $10 asking price. Support that shit!
I’m glad I did.