By Zachary Kolesar.
In a day and age when more and more rappers are shoving SoundCloud figures in people’s faces, one of the flaws Columbus rapper Senseless mentions during our sporadic discussion is that his account is “really not poppin'."
Although that still might not change after releasing an EP in December, his third project Yeah, Whatever, the five-song adventure showcases an artist willing to starve for his shot. While first being drawn by his desire for the preservation of rap’s roots during an encounter at Rehab Tavern’s hip-hop night, Senseless—born Jacob Engle—later emphasized his dedication to lyricism.
And even though he can without a doubt pick up a mic on a whim, Yeah, Whatever affirms his job status as a writer.
"It's easier to be a good freestyler than a good writer," Senseless said.
On “Mosey on In,” a track that has been gaining traction from fans and even NPR, he leads off the first verse craftily boasting, “It’s the pinnacle, it’s the summit/It’s like it’s sensing something cynical from it.” Senseless continues to string together syllables and alliterations throughout the EP in syncopated fashion.
Being raised on writers from Rhymesayers Entertainment (Aesop Rock and Atmosphere) and Definitive Jux (currently on hiatus), loaded rhymes and dense lyrics are mirrored in his content. In fact, most of his music library is a capsule into old school, jazzy hip-hop.
"One of my favorite things about hip-hop is when you find a hip-hop song you really like or love, you get the sample also; it's like a bonus song," Senseless said.
“Mosey on In” even goes a step further, taking a snippet from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a dialogue exchange that concludes with the statement, “OK, positive statement. Ringing affirmative. I’m a writer.” The hesitancy Paul Varjak portrays can also be seen in Senseless at times, but just like in the movie, the rapper finds his confidence in the end.
Not to say that Senseless does not portray self-assurance earlier on Yeah, Whatever, but having now taken rap as a serious gig for five years, the 22-year-old clearly shows progression as an artist three projects in. Earning cosigns from Mello Music Group rapper Chris Orrick and legendary Columbus producer J. Rawls, Senseless is nearing that pinnacle he raps about thanks to a relentless grind and dedication to perfection.
“Asshole,” Senseless’ longest cut to date, features word-play wisdom from Orrick, Mickey Factz and Nova, and was an all-night session for the Yeah, Whatever lyricist. Although the verses can start to fill a dictionary, the simple, catchy hooks on “Asshole” and the four other tracks act as a contrast to his older works and the waterfall of words that follow in the verses.
The dedication and perfection really morphed worlds when a tip from an intrigued customer at the restaurant Senseless serves at tipped him $100 so that he could begin vocal lessons. Something that would not have come across most rappers mind practically landed in Senseless’ lap, resulting in the rapper pursuing a vocal coach. Although the classes taught Senseless priceless information like how to use his diaphragm properly, the inspiration behind the beat for “Mosey on In” came from his teacher’s imagination.
"When I did take vocal lessons, my vocal coach had given me a record of hers that she made that was her music, and I played it for (Bombeardo) and he's like, ‘Man, let me borrow that,’” Senseless said.
Bombeardo, the producer who recorded all of Yeah, Whatever’s cuts and is featured on the oil painting album artwork, has made close acquaintances with Senseless over the past few years. The cunning producer has even been around the rapper so much that he has come to notice how Senseless attracts chaos.
"I've always been around the dysfunctional, but that helps me function,” Senseless said. “Without (the music), I'd probably be off the wall a little bit."
On top of creating music, performing live is something that largely keeps Senseless at ease. Although he has not consistently kept a performance regiment, a recent listening party for Yeah, Whatever at Used Kids and subsequent performance at Rumba Cafe on December 15 solidified the city’s respect for the rapper.
But 2018 will bring more frequent shows due to his itching urge to get out on the road and share his message. He admitted he will not be able to think clearly until he hits the stage next. With around 150 in attendance at Rumba, Senseless has set tour hopes for September while he plots out a full-length.
By March he will be mapping out the LP, starting the creation process that will hopefully expand his influence past Columbus. A year from now he aspires to be making his own beats, a feat that will surely boost his exposure.
And that is when he can fully deliver the significant messages he wishes to unload on the world.
"I just look people in the face; that's all you can do...Find a soul. Find where they soul at," Senseless said.
Senseless is a very diverse emcee in many ways. His musical tastes range from the deep soul of Mayer Hawthorne to the vintage blues of Tom Waits. He notes at one point that Clyde Stubblefield is the most sampled in hip-hop ever.
“Any rapper that only listens to rap, I feel bad for," Senseless said.
The last time I met up with Senseless, we began our conversation at Magnolia Thunderpussy. On our way out the store, he dropped off a handful of signed CDs, an art of communicating music that is being lost in SoundCloud’s clout. His streaming numbers may not win any awards, but he is preserving many outdated practices in rap and making quality music to match.
Senseless will be performing this Thursday at Rumba Cafe for A Night With J-LIVE, feat. J. Rawls Pow Bundy & guests. Tickets are $10 in advance and can be bought at Rumba Cafe Used Kids Records, Magnolia Thunderpussy or online here. Tickets are $12 DOS and an extra $2 if you are under 21. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., with the show starting at 9 p.m.