Hip hop trio
The hip-hop trio Artifacts, comprised of MCs El da Sensai (William Elliot Williams), DJ Kaos (Virgshawn Perry), and Tame One (Rahem Brown), were described by Vibe ’s Christian Ex as, “decidedly geared toward the elusive chimera that is Hip-Hop Purist.” Based in Newark, NJ, the trio is noted for verbal stamina, memorable rhymes, and eschewing traditional gangsta rap. The Source’s Durwin Chow described the group’s music as, “antagonistic freestyle barrages centered around infectiously simple yet assuaging choruses.” In an interview with Rigoberto Morales of The Source, El da Sensai described why the band was content being labeled “underground” in the realm of hip-hop. He said, “If it wasn’t for groups like us, Beatnuts, Common, Organized, or the Roots… There wouldn’t be any underground, nothing secondary to run to… where else would you go? It’s also a place where you start, and start over.”
El da Sensai and Tame One earned a reputation as outstanding graffiti artists in the 1980s by “bombing,” which is replacing blighted walls with smooth graffiti murals. Starting in 1980, they “bombed” walls throughout Essex County, which encompasses Newark, Irvington, and East Orange, NJ. They called themselves the Boom Skwad, and later Da Bomb Squad, and attracted an avid group of graffiti-loving fans. Both El da Sensai and Tame One were raised in Newark, where Tame One’s cousin, Redman, also enjoyed acclaim as a rap artist. They attended Arts High in Newark, and often spent weekend days there honing their artistic skills, playing sports, enjoying field trips, and learning to emcee, deejay, and to break-dance.
Tame One told The Newark Star-Ledger’s Steven T. Walker that he and his partners were perceived as artists by their neighbors since wall art is frequently the only the only type of art that inner-city children see. Youngsters in the area would reproduce Tame One’s graffiti tag after seeing it on a wall because they liked the way it looked. Tame One added, “I guess I could be seen as kind of an art teacher.” Walker maintained that graffiti is as tied in with hip-hop culture and music as breakdancing and twin turntables, and that the Artifacts are an outgrowth of the early pioneers of rap. Walker said, “The group takes pride in its reputation as graffiti artists as well as rappers, almost damning current trends that make superstars out of emcees who seem content in imitating or blatantly covering R&B songs from the past two decades.” El da Sensai told Hip Hop Connection, “I think rhyming is like painting a piece…. As you go along, you just write different styles of rhymes. When you paint a piece, you use all different styles and you got a different style for every piece.” The Artifacts are one of the few hip-hop/rap groups who pay tribute to the mostly bygone era of graffiti art, along with rappers
Members include Rahem Brown (Tame One), Virgshawn Perry (DJ Kaos), and William Elliot Williams (El da Sensai); based and raised in Newark, NJ.
El da Sensai and Tame One earned a reputation as outstanding graffiti artists in the 1980s, calling themselves the Boom Skwad and later Da Bomb Squad; one of the few hip-hop/rap groups who pay tribute to the mostly bygone era of graffiti art; released debut album Between a Rock and a Hard Place in 1994; the album’s first single, “The Ultimate,” was featured on the gold-selling High School High soundtrack; released That’s Them in 1997.
Addresses: Record company—Big Beat Records Inc/Atlantic, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104; (212) 707-2531; fax (212) 405--5650.
Masta Ace, Rakim, and KRS-One. Their debut album, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, was released in 1994 and featured numerous references to graffiti, particularly in the singles “Wrong Side of Da Tracks” and “Come On Wit Da Git Down”. DJ Kaos joined the Artifacts shortly before the release of the band’s second album.
The Artifacts typify the thoughtful, party-style hip-hop which was prevalent in the early 1990s, evoking the type of music found among groups like Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & C.L., Main Source, and Organized Confusion, Thrasher magazine’s Chris Nieratko wrote, “Between A Rock and a Hard Place broke all boundaries by delivering honest, accessible lyrics.” Although the Artifacts didn’t break into mainstream success with a radio-friendly hit, their debut release was generally considered by critics to be substantial, and woefully overlooked. The album’s first single, “The Ultimate,” was featured on the gold-selling High School High soundtrack. The Source called Between A Rock and a Hard Place, “the purest hip-hop album this year… the Artifacts are a refreshing blast of the lifeblood of hip-hop….” Between A Rock and a Hard Place fared well enough to allow the Artifacts to create their own sound and retain their artistic freedom, and when label mate Lil’ Kim reached gold status, the Artifacts were roundly encouraged to release more material.
Before releasing their sophomore album, That’s Them, in 1997 the band toured the country and spent a lot of time in the studio. That’s Themìook a year to complete, and was infused with their trademark witty lyrics and with a more intense rap sound. The title of the album stemmed from the fact that kids used to shout, “That’s them!,” when they saw the duo on the street. Mr. Walt from Da Beatminerz contributed to “Gettin’ Hot” on That’s Them, and V.I.C. of the Beatnuts contributed to “The Interview” and “This is The Way”. “Collaboration of Mies” was produced by and feature sLord Finesse, as well as Lord Jamar of the Brand Nubians. Lord Jamar helped the group record the original demo for “Wrong Side of Da Tracks” and is viewed by the group’s members as a mentor and an older brother. Adam Keane Stern of Seconds magazine wrote, “That’s Them isn’t flashy and transcendent.but neither is Newark. Tame and El are just looking out for health, wealth and self. Like they say on “The Ultimate”: ‘I’m not in it for the gimmicks or satisfying critics/I just want my own like the Hassidics’.”
Adam Kush of Austin’s Daily Texan wrote, “The duo has managed to keep a street perspective, while being far more relaxed and positive than many… This ability to straddle two often divergent styles of rap is impressive, and should allow the Artifacts to continue to make classic, underground, albums, regardless of how few people take notice.” This assessment is correct, but the Artifacts have been noticed and appreciated by their east coast hip-hop artist peers, which renders them the “hip-hop musician’s musicians,” so it’s likely that the group won’t retain their underground status for long noted Kush. Urban Network Magazine summed up the Artifacts with, “Though best appreciated by those who live and die for hip-hop, this is a powerful East Coast representation of where hip hop lives.”
Between A Rock and a Hard Place, Big Beat/Atlantic, 1994. That’s Them, Big beat/Atlantic, 1997.
BRE, March 14, 1997.
CMJ, April 7, 1997.
Daily Pennsylvanian, April 24, 1997.
Daily Texan, April 24, 1997.
Hip Hop Connection, July 1997.
Mixmag, July 1997
MR, May 1997.
Newark Star Ledger, June 12, 1997.
On the Go Magazine, May 1997.
Queen’s College Quad, May 12, 1997.
Seconds, June/July 1997.
The Source, May 1997; April 1997.
Tafrija, April 1997.
Thrasher, September 1997.
Urban Network Magazine, April 11, 1997.
Vibe, April 1997.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
ar·ti·fact / ˈärtəˌfakt/ (Brit. ar·te·fact) • n. 1. an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest: gold and silver artifacts. ∎ Archaeol. such an object as distinguished from a similar object naturally produced. 2. something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure. DERIVATIVES: ar·ti·fac·tu·al / ˌärtəˈfakchoōəl/ adj.