The Artifacts, comprised of El Da Sensei, Tame One and DJ Kaos, are largely known for their wildly popular premiere single, “Wrong Side of Da Tracks,” taken from the Newark, New Jersey collective’s 1994 debut, Between a Rock and a Hard Place [Big Beat/Atlantic Records], a song which pays special homage to graffiti art as they were graffiti artists themselves. In April ’97, the group also known as “The Brick City Kids” dropped their solid, yet commercially underwhelming sophomore outing, That’s Them, but unfortunately for fans and followers alike split soon thereafter…
So where are The Artifacts now?
Now, it’s been nearly twenty long years since your last studio collection, That’s Them — With that being said, where have you all been? And, what all have you all been up to, both personally and professionally speaking, during this lengthy hiatus?
Well since the recording of this second album, you know, when we did the little break-up or hiatus, whatever you want to call it, we was recording solo projects, different singles—we both put out a few albums. Between that time, there was no talking, no touring, no nothing like that, we were just doing our own music. And, from ’97, ’98, to 2008, it was nothing. But then we did one show in New Jersey at the Rock Steady Crew Anniversary show. I got on-stage with myself, you know, everybody in the crowd, you know, we home. People in the crowd was pretty much like, “Yo, what’s up?” They see Tame there. I see Tame. All my friends is texting me like we getting them on stage, do it all for the love of the underground. He brought ‘em on stage with me and that pretty much was that. We squashed the hiatus from there. And since 2008, we been on tour mostly. Putting out records and features here and there. We been on Newport Authority 2 album with Marco Polo. The new Pulse joint. We done records with a lot of European producers; DJ Dister from Germany. Snowgoons from Germany. We been touring a lot though. Right now, we got a bunch of records out and features. My man Venomous2000 got a song “Hot Damn.” We got a song with Melvin Junko, producer from Salt Lake City, Utah. So, you know, we been busy though. We been busy.
Reflecting, what exactly caused you all to disband in the first place? And, how come it has taken you all this long in order to resolve your differences to start recording together again?
Well, the thing that brought the hiatus was just the fact that being on the label we was on, we got a lot of, just…not to say creative differences, but we just grew up a little bit, grew out of the label. And, you know, it was time for us to move on, just like the label knew. We just pretty much just kept it up as far as while we was there, like, that’s like dynamite. So, saying we came from that before we broke up, and…you know, just life. Personal life. Trying to live, trying to eat, and things wasn’t going the way we wanted it to go. It was never no personal beef – nothing like that – no hate towards each other (or) anything, it was just pretty much we had to like, you know, get off the label and try to do our own thing, pretty much what we doing now. But we had a nice little run on there, two good albums, bunch of singles, and a lot of friends we met there. But it was time for Artifacts to grow up. And even if we had to go through a break-up to do it, we survived through that and we still here.
So then, what was it about NOW, in 2017 specifically, that prompted you all to decide to make this “official” comeback?
Well, like I said, we didn’t record before 2017, like we pretty much then did a lot since 2008. 2008 is when we really officially got back together, so…talking about 2012 we did a European Tour. And since that tour, you know, we been back and forth. We did Cali tours, we just came back from Europe at least two weeks ago. So we been working, you know. And the comeback been official for a minute. We released the first album on Fat Beats Records, the Between A Rock And A Hard Place in 2012, 2013, so that was like pretty much the 20th anniversary. Now we on 25, and we about to re-release the That’s Them album on vinyl. At the same time, we’re recording some new music and, like I said, you can go on YouTube and see we got mad videos up since 2008 and a lot of footage. So, you know, we’ve been doing this for awhile and we really just coming back together, just knowing what we can do with what the chemistry’s like, so it’s never been an issue with that and we just had to really get back into sync with each other.
Your latest entry, “SaltGarden,” which also gets supported by a dope video clip, comes courtesy of aforementioned Utah producer Melvin Junko — Tell me about this particular composition; how did it even come to fruition?
Well, the “SaltGarden” song came about, we was on tour on the West Coast and my man Gage introduced us to Junko. He told us he wanted to do a joint with us. And as easy as that we went to the studio, met up with him, he played a beat—that was the first beat he played, we was like, “Boom, let’s go!” We recorded the song, and the next tour we came back and that’s when we shot the video, this winter. So, yeah, that was just vibin’, and Gage, you know, asking a question. Like we tell everyone else, don’t be scared to ask. You know, we’ll let you know what’s up. But, you know, cause we got ties together and we friends, we was able to make it go faster. But that joint is a banger though.
Sonically, how does “SaltGarden” measure up to what people already know and love you all for through your catalog as Newark, New Jersey’s own The Artifacts?
Well, to me “SaltGarden” like sonically sounds like, to me, like the closest thing to in awhile what we was doing on our first two albums. Far as like the music and how we would (transition) into the beat and just going back and forth, we know that’s pretty much what people was attracted to anyway. So I would think that vocally and the clarity of everything that sound is pretty much like where we want to go now and where we, not so much say left off, but what people know of us…yeah, that’s where we left off at.
Longevity, what do you all attribute yours to?
I think our longevity stems from us just sticking to what we know and staying in our lane, but, you know, growing what we’ve been doing over the years and working with the producers that’s new. Whether they be Black Milk, whether it’s !llmind, Marco Polo. We keep up with what everybody’s doing and that really keep you sharp. At the same time, maintain doing what we do, we keep each other sharp. Still sharp and still…so when we in the booth we challenging each other just as much as we know we have to challenge the listener and the DJ’s. We pretty much know we got to live up to a standard where people that’s buying our records want to know every release that we do is only going to get better and better. But I think that’s really what helps, is that we work with people that people know. It’s pretty much making things into what we are. Whatever beat that we get, we got to make it into an Artifact song. And that’s pretty much in a nutshell what it is, Artifact music. So we stay busy, we stay active, we stay on tour. People now, the crowds are changing, it’s a different era. You got younger cats coming to the shows, some of them coming with their fathers, and uncles, and brothers, females getting into Hip Hop a little bit more. And we visual, and people see it. So that’s pretty much what keep us alive, and keep us going, and keep us in the new perspective.
How then has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you all, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
Well, I think the evolution comes with staying relevant. You know, we work real hard and we’re approachable, and that’s today a big thing ’cause now people can see us. It’s not like you watch Video Music Box with MTV and, you know, it’s hard to get at cats like that. Now with the Internet is a big help. If we had the Internet back in the day when we was coming up, it’d be a whole lot different now. Whereas one P.O. Box for a fan club, now you can just really talk to the fans and fans can talk to you. So you have to understand the technology today to tap into everybody to let them know what we doing now, where before you couldn’t do that. So it’s a lot of tools today to help us branch out a little bit more, it just really still us all being active to be able to manipulate that tool and let people know we’re still here.
What do you all want people to get from your music?
Shit, all we want people to hear from this music is…heat! Expect lyrics, expect scratchin’, expect Hip Hop, expect the culture all over your face! That’s pretty much what we want people to know. We want them to be on a roller coaster ride. We like an action movie on wax. Pretty much that’s really what it is, is take you away from your every day normal. If you feel like you getting an old vibe, cool. But if you feel like you a new listener and you getting something you ain’t getting today, that’s pretty much what we doing. We keeping the sound alive, keeping it pure, but it’s also strong, it’s not weak, it’s not timid, and we in your grill.
In having said that, when can we, the masses, expect some more music from you all? Like maybe perhaps your “official” full-length third group LP? And, what all specific details; i.e. title, favorite tracks, producer credits, cameo appearances, etc., can you all reveal and/or divulge at this particular point in time?
Well, we starting to work on some new stuff. It’s hard to work on anything when we always touring, so we already kind of put beats to the side, different producers. Surplus, Kick Beats, we got a beat from Marco Polo we ain’t used yet, we gonna put that out there. We got a lot of new people that’s doing beats, but I don’t have anything right now to unveil, but pretty soon we will. But I gotta a lot of other projects on the side that we working on. I’m working on an album with Sadat X, we almost done with that. A lot of shit is coming right behind it, and we just working, making it happen.
On a more serious note, are you all happy with the current state of Hip Hop? And, even more specifically, where exactly do you all “fit in” when it comes to today’s current/trending sound-scape?
I like some of the new Hip Hop that’s out right now. Of course, it’s different from what we was doing, but on our level they’re still doing, they’re still making music. Even cats from my era is still making music. So whether it’s The Lox…you know, we fit in with that. When you talking about Skyzoo or Torae, even Kendrick, that’s all in our lane. We still able to fit in, it’s all in what we do and how we come…but we definitely coming from our side of things. We’re not trying to do something new to fit into what everybody else doing. But sonically, we are 2017 today. We not from ’94 trying to sound like ’94 in 2017. But it’s different, man. I don’t mind that everybody—as long as everybody eatin’. I can say all the other stuff, but I don’t indulge in it because it’s pointless, it is what it is today, I need to just concentrate on what we doing and bring what everybody expect us to bring.
What has been your greatest achievement(s), at least thus far anyway?
Greatest achievement? I mean, besides signing a contract and making two albums that’s still considered classics today, I will say that mostly. And being on tour, being able to see all the different places in the world, meeting all the different people and fans, and the collective, that’s really what it is for me. You know, it’s not so hard. We just did a McDonald’s commercial for Bagel Supreme. We just got on the soundtrack for a movie called ‘Little Boxes,’ and a few more soundtracks coming. So there’s a lot more things that we gotta do, but I’m grateful that we able to still do this music in 2017, and still get opportunities. So I don’t think the greatest achievement has come yet, but I will say still being able to move around this Hip Hop planet with two albums—that speaks a lot for right now. And we still got to make a third.
If you all could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Well, we trying to get to Australia. Anywhere in Australia right now, that’s where we trying to go. That’s the one place we haven’t hit yet. Been to Japan and stuff like that, but we definitely, definitely gotta go to Australia and hit them streets. So whatever venue they have there, that’s where we need to be at. Definitely Australia. They got the graffiti scene out there, that shit is dope for us to be there right now. So that’s where we trying to get to.
One track of yours that you think defines you all and why?
That’s an easy one; “Wrong Side Of Da Tracks.” That song personifies who we are. We love performing that song. And we know with that song, that is the one song for graffiti writers. That is the song we’ve dedicated to them and there’s a lot of people that’s like us, old to young, and even female. So we know we made an anthem for the world with that record. If there’s anything that can sum us up in one song, it would be that one.
Lastly, what’s next for The Artifacts?
Well, we gonna be touring still. We got a show actually June 3rd in Ohio. So I don’t know when this interview gonna come out, but probably after that show. But we got June 3rd in Ohio. Columbus. We gonna be going back on tour on the West Coast. Hopefully we’ll be hitting South America in the late summer. We gonna be recording this album and like I said, look for us in a city near you very soon. We got three new videos out. “Hot Damn.” We got Venomous 2000 on that. We got “SaltGarden.” Melvin Junko, Goon Bap, Snowgoons in Germany. And you can also check out a new video of mine with producer K-Def, The Enforcers “The Recipe” on YouTube right now. We got an EP called The Enforcers (The) Jersey Connection on Slice-of-Spice Records that is out right now.
Is there anything I left out, or just plain forgot to mention?
Yeah, like I said, I got an album with Sadat X coming out called XL. Take the X out of Sadat, take the L out of El Da Sensei, and you get XL…Xtra Large. That is what’s coming very, very soon. Sometime this year we gonna have a single, album coming at the end of the year. And we are just about to start mastering everything. Lot of stuff coming. Me and myself, Jake Palumbo from Tennessee and New York, we got an album coming together. My man Chillo. And Belgium, we got this album called the Sensei & Chillo series. So a lot of new music coming, brotha. Plus, producer from Jersey, but definitely in the immediate future you can look out for Artifact’s 45 called “Easter,” on Coalmine Records. Produced by Khrysis. And you can check out a new 7” on F5 Records, Artifacts original version of “C’mon Wit Da Git Down.” An instrumental and on the B-side the demo version of “Flexi With Da Tech(nique)” produced by T-Ray. Artifacts is coming, El Da Sensei, Tame One, DJ Kaos, representing Jersey, stand up! Yeah, you all. Peace. One love.