Interview: Sensa

Battle veteran Sensa has been one of Don’t Flop’s most consistent performers since its inception as a battle league 3 years ago. The East Anglian emcee has been there from the beginning, battling in some of the first ever Don’t Flop battles filmed using rudimentary camera equipment in a dingy Norwich underpass.

A lot has happened since he made his debut against Cruger in 2008. He’s battled at flagship London events against a slew of dope opponents, and he’s has even taken him as far as Canada to battle at King of the Dot.

His success can be attributed to one thing – his professionalism; he rare falters and delivers consistently hard-hitting lines. But he’s no stranger to controversy either; his mentioning of two famous tragedies drew indignation and outrage from many DF viewers. Regardless of where you stand, there’s no denying Sensa’s pedigree, and his latest title match battle with fellow Don’t Flop veteran Oshea proves why he is regarded top-tier.

Ahead of what promises to be a busy summer for Sensa, I caught up with him to reevaluate his career after his title match and check in to see what surprises he has in store for 2012.

TC: In your song ‘Not A Rapper’ you mention you weren’t heavily into hip-hop growing up. What got you into battling?

Sensa: The thing is I was into hip-hop, just not in the way that a lot of people in the battling scene are. To me, hip-hop was 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Eminem, the usual suspects, and in 2Pac especially I had everything I needed. I listened to his music all the time and became obsessed with everything about his life; the conspiracies, the shootings and the message in his music. I also used to listen to NWA, Ludacris, Talib Kweli, but if you asked me about Common, GZA, Jadakiss, I probably couldn’t answer the most basic of questions. But like I said, in 2Pac I had everything I needed really, with Eminem and the others supplying the other side to rap.

My battling career started in Norwich about 6 years ago, with live on-beat freestyle battles. It was actually the same club in which Arkaic first started to battle, and it was good fun and the only battling I was really aware of at the time. When Arkaic and Eurgh did WRC for Jumpoff I was gutted I never applied, but by the time Don’t Flop started I felt I was ready to be part of it all. I was actually present when Eurgh had the idea for the name Don’t Flop, so it felt only right that I got involved.

TC: What process do you go through when preparing for a battle?

Sensa: To begin with, I brainstorm all of the potential angles I can see for my opponent; short, tall, glasses, Northern etc. Once that list is compiled, I tend to see which basic ideas can stem from the brainstormed bullet points. Gradually the bars start flowing, and I find new angles which I can expand upon. It’s quite an organic process really. Once I feel I have all the bars I need for the battle, the mission really begins, namely, organizing my bars into structured verses that are clear and coherent. I find that the most strenuous part of the process. The memorising I find relatively easy; I managed to remember my 12 minute round for the Prince Kong battle during a shift at work. But to be honest, prepping for a battle takes up so much time that the audience isn’t aware of, I wish sometime they could see how many hours are actually put into it.

TC: Your latest battle with Oshea has so far garnered over 60,000 views. What do you make of the response so far?

Sensa: I think the response has been great, plus the battle seems to have pleased the viewers and lived up to expectations. It seems that an overwhelming number of people feel the wrong person was given the win, which is an opinion I agree with, but I’m not mad at all. Oshea is a great performer, the fans love him, and I myself am one of those fans. I think the reason I lost was the angle I took which was to make Oshea out to be the bad guy and not me, and I don’t think I managed to pull it off.

TC: Your references in past battles to the Hillsborough and Rhys Jones tragedies provoked outrage from some Don’t Flop viewers (namely those from Liverpool). In retrospect, would you have broached such sensitive subjects as these?
Sensa: To be honest with you, I was sure that Oshea was going to mention them first, and make me look the bad guy. I thought early on in my writing process that I needed to mention them as well as a way to counteract them. As my angle was to make Oshea look the bad guy, I found a way to tie them into my verses. A lot of people object to me saying those things, which I understand, but in this battle I wasn’t dissing the tragedies themselves. Look at it this way, I have 3 kids, so of course I’m not happy with the fact that Rhys Jones was killed. It was a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to his family and to those close to him. It was just an angle that I used in a battle, not a personal opinion or something that I even remotely condone.

TC: You went to King of the Dot last year. What was the experience like? Did it open your eyes to the Canadian hip-hop scene?

Sensa: The King of the Dot trip was great. I have nothing but respect for Organik and the whole KOTD staff for the way they handled getting me there and how they treated me when I was there. The event itself was amazing; I enjoyed every battle and mingling with the legends that I’d only previously seen online.

TC: What are your plans for battling? Are there any future opponents in your crosshairs? International ones perhaps?
Sensa: At the moment I’m taking a break; I’m busy at home and I’m really trying to push on with making music right now. To be honest, there aren’t any battles that I’m really keen to take anyway. However, if a big-name international opponent does come up, I’ll be on it, but not for a good few months.

Photo by Franc Botha, Rhythm Circus.

TC: What do you think of the idea that battle rappers can’t make good songs? Does it still hold true?

Sensa: I think that old adage is bullshit; just look at all the battle rappers around that make music and you will see that. In the last year, I’ve copped Illmac’s Green Tape, OG Hindu Kush’s in 3D, and 24/7’s Room Full of Empty Bottles. In the UK, Cruger, Psychosis Holochaust, Jefferson Price and Blizzard are just some of the few that make great music, so I don’t think that it’s at all fair to say battlers can’t make tracks.

TC: You recorded a mixtape in seven days after your Soul Khan battle titled ‘Do You Know Me’ about a year ago. How did the project come about and who helped you put it together?

Sensa: Ah, that shit was wack! In all seriousness though, I rushed it so much that the quality of the tracks was poor. I just felt that as the Soul Khan and Dizaster battles were being released, I needed something to promote, but I feel it backfired. The beats were provided by various people; Bigg Ceaser, John P, Dirty Stanz, which were all great, but I just wish I’d taken more time on the project as a whole. Chronicle, Arkaic, Wordplay jumped on tracks with me, and they all got their verses to me quickly and efficiently, so nothing but respect to them for their work. Besides, me and my engineer Break Fluid had a real good time making it, so fuck it.

TC: I’ve noticed you’re a huge fan of Baltimore rapper Los. What is it you like about him so much?
Sensa: Los is, in my opinion, the best technical rapper I’ve ever heard. His lyrics, flow and presence are truly unmatched. I advise everybody to go cop his latest album Los – The Crown Ain’t Safe. It’s fucking amazing.

TC:  And finally, what would you say inspires you most in life?

Sensa: Everybody around me who’s close to me, especially my fiance and the kids. Battle rapping is such a small part of my life, and while I do enjoy it, it means very little in the grand scheme of things. Music inspires me and gets me through the day most day; in fact I cannot imagine a day not listening to music. I also love making music, and hopefully the next interview I do I will be talking about the new album I’m working on!

Twitter @sensauk


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