El Da Sensei 

The Unusual

Listening to New Jersey rapper El da Sensei's The Unusual is like waking up before dawn, drinking a cold cup of coffee, and skimming yesterday's paper -- you get the sense of being suspended in time. After all, the album's tracks sound deliciously nostalgic: El combines horn loops, scratches, and rubbery basslines with a rap-style that's alternately swollen-headed and preachy, a form he cultivated with influential mid-'90s duo the Artifacts. Although The Unusual doesn't really live up to its title (sorry, nothing particularly ambitious or intriguing in these flows), it still scores pretty high on the backpacker Richter scale. But for a couple throwaways, the beats are coherent and clean, and while El's rhymes often dwell on how fresh he is, the guy is charismatic enough to sound credible. Also, if you're a diehard East Coast B-boy listening to "No Matter," you'll probably be wondering why guest rapper Sean Price can't sound this good on his own shit.

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