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Sensational - Speaks for Itself

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Artist: Sensational

Album: Speaks for Itself

Label: Quatermass

Review date: Jul. 7, 2005

All a critic can really offer when reviewing a Sensational record is a description and a shrug. Sensational’s relentlessly non-virtuosic Speaks for Itself could be read as a brilliant parody of the braggadocio of mainstream hip hop, as a Beefheartian deconstruction, or as the ramblings of a man whose brain has been turned to swiss cheese by decades of substance abuse. There’s no particular reason to favor one interpretation over another – which is why it's possible for Speaks for Itself to be simultaneously compelling, annoying and discomfiting.

Sensational’s ultra repetitive, ultra lo-fi backing tracks sound like they were created on a $100 Casio. They sometimes offer faint hints of what might have inspired them, but their main features are their imperfections. For example, it’s hard to understand why Sensational decided to allow a single ugly, droning preset sound to overwhelm the entire second half of “Consider This Jazzy.” It’s equally hard to understand why he built “Flossin on the Ave.” around a ridiculously crappy Casio violin sound, the second note of which is twice as loud as the first or third. The impenetrability of Sensational’s beats – the impossibility of figuring out what the hell he was thinking when they were created – makes them sound icy, even confrontational.

The absurdity of the instrumental tracks is compounded by the lyrics that surround them. Sensational’s boasts about his skills and his stuff (here’s a favorite of mine: “Yeah, check my ice / Blind your sight / Uh uh uh uh uh uh / Yeah / That’s a nice intro”) are merely ridiculous, given that his album exhibits no obvious technical skill or evidence that it cost anything to record.

Beyond even that, though, the most... unique characteristics of Sensational’s vocals are his mush-mouthed delivery and his phrasing. When he actually rhymes instead of just repeating catchphrases (which isn’t as often as you’d think), he doesn’t flow. One MC who's similar to Sensational in this regard is Beans from Anti-Pop Consortium, who also doesn’t shape his rhymes to fit the musical space they’d typically occupy. But the logic of Beans’ stops and starts is relatively easy to hear; Sensational’s is just about impossible.

For example, here’s an attempt to organize a passage from six (!) minutes into “The Seven”: "We’d like to say what’s up to these people Brazil / And I’m saying what’s up to... / That’s why we here / Doin' what we do / We so cool / Like ice cubes / In a drink / Fool." I divided up the lines based on where Sensational paused; a set of divisions based on changes in the instrumental loop would look very different.

It’s not that Sensational’s style is complex like, say, Big Boi’s. In fact, Sensational’s rhymes aren’t the least bit complex; he just sounds completely unwilling (or unable) to make his lines regular, or even to make them correspond with the beat.

In the end, then, it’s hard to know what to say about Sensational. He might be a prankster, along the lines of MC Trachiotomy or MC Paul Barman; he might be doing to hip hop what U.S. Maple does to rock; or his music might be more similar to that of Mike Jones, the seemingly serious Houston MC who says his own name about a hundred times in each song. It’s impossible to know whether you’re frowning at Sensational or with him, or whether you should be frowning at all.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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