Shokunin, Tolstoy and Gonzo Lyricism – An Interview with MC Sense

It’s impossible to deny the contributions made to the scene by the underground veterans such as SP:MC, DRS and Stamina but the last few years have seen an emergence in artists blurring the boundaries between MCing and poetry  touching upon a wide variety of subjects, anywhere from politics to science, from love to religion.  These guys have almost paved the way for an era of more intelligent drum and bass and for me personally there are none better than Sense MC.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith a flow that would put fear in the deadliest battle rapper, Sense MC has carved a prolific name for himself over the years with this his brutally honest and thought provoking rhymes.  As a solo artist and one fourth of Fathom Audio, Sense has always challenged the normalities of drum and bass.  Whilst a good MC is known to show respect and work alongside a track Sense seems to take it one step further, penetrating your brain with intricate storytelling giving the music an entirely new dimension.

If you’re only just discovering Sense MC then you’ve got a hell of a lot to catch up on.  With years of service on both legal and pirate radio stations, countless live sets with just about every artist in the game, appearances on drum and bass TV stations such as Trailer TV and DNBTV plus a number of incredibly successful releases as part of Fathom Audio, Sense has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with.


With all this in mind, I’m sure you can only imagine my horror and utter disappointment when hearing of Sense’s imminent departure from the scene but, luckily enough, it seems I wasn’t the only one.  After being inundated with offers from just about every big drum and bass organisation in the game Sense is finally receiving the recognition he deserves, and with his first (and now, hopefully not last!) album due to drop it couldn’t have come at a better time.  We caught up with the man himself to see what’s been going on . . .

Yes Sense!  Thanks for joining us today, especially as things have really kicked off for you lately, it must be a real whirlwind!  I remember reading something on social media not too long ago about your decision to bow out of drum and bass, I know I speak for everyone when I say how relieved we are that you changed your mind but can you shed any light on what happened between then and now to make you have the change of heart? 

Things changed basically.  As they tend to do.  It was a combination of factors, the main one being that I was given the opportunity to represent Metalheadz on the world stage.  I could never say no to that.  To me personally, that is like being picked for England or Spurs if we were actually good.  I love that fucking record label.  I grew up with it.  It is something that I have wanted to be a proper part of for more or less all of my musical career but but my pride was stopping me directly asking for it.  In the end it kinda worked out perfectly because now I feel I have actually earned my spot  through my dedication to the craft and nearly 15 years of blood, sweat and tears on the road and on the airwaves.  I am very proud that Headz feel to invest in me.  I felt I had more or less accomplished everything else I needed to creatively and working for Headz on the big stage and on wax was the one nagging thing I had left to do.  I’m grateful for the chance to leave a more lasting legacy with them.  Also, Ant has put his neck on the line for me and explained rationally what he felt about the situation and my career and when someone like that talks I’m finally learning to listen, it’s only taken me 30 years or so.  There’s an expression in wrestling… “I’m a Paul Heyman guy”.  Well, basically I changed my mind about retiring and now I’m back and I’m an “Ant TC1 guy”.  He’s the one that made this chapter happen, him and Goldie.  That’s it really.

Now, please forgive me, I know you must have been asked this a thousand times but I’m really interested to know how you came to be the MC we know today, I always assumed because of your unique style that you started out as a hip hop MC, but I believe that’s not true!? 

Nope.  I’d been doing Jungle for years before I ever heard proper UK Hip Hop.  By that I mean Skinnyman, Sundragon, Jehst, Universal Soldiers, Mystro, etc, etc.  I was never really into American Hip Hop either.  I used to listen to a bit of NWA and Ice-T back in my metal/grunge days but Rage Against The Machine was about as far as I went.  It was all Jungle for a while after that and I wanted to be a DJ initially.  I wasn’t influenced by Rap until much later.  When I started making Hip Hop ten years ago I found it really easy to be honest.  It was much harder to apply the style to Drum and Bass but looking back I think that might have been why I did it.  I never like doing things the easy way.  Hip Hop was cool and everything and good fun with my pals but I was never really ingratiated in the culture too much.  Even though I was doing shows with big names.  I was just good at rapping in that way.  Some of the Hip Hop cats felt disrespected because I could out-rap them easy but still said I didn’t really LOVE Hip Hop.  I didn’t mean it as disrespect, but Jungle was where I came from.  I’m growing fonder of Hip Hop culture more as time goes on but I’m much better at knowing what I want from my music now so I can be more discerning.  I love rappers like Sundragon, Jehst, Soul, Jam Baxter, Trim, Daylyt, Lee Scott and Action Bronson.  I’m into pen game more than anything but I’d never call myself a Hip Hop purist.  Breaker is much more knowledgeable than me on the subject.  Although having said that I am a massive Battle Rap geek.  It could be seen as a guilty pleasure but actually there is a lot of amazing writing and performance in the Battle Rap scene.  90% is bullshit but that’s just the same as with D’n’B and any other genre come to think of it.  I’m into the top 5% of everything.

I think the first time I heard about you was in about 2010 when you, Billion and Codebreaker were doing great things as Fathom Audio.  I remember listening to you on Flex FM, buying ‘Clear The Mist’ when it came out on 10″ then ‘Defence’ a little later, I couldn’t stop listening to either of them. Obviously it goes without saying that Billion’s production was top drawer but what kept me going back was the way you and ‘Breaker expressed yourselves within your rhymes, it made a refreshing change from the big, swagger talk that seemed to be the trend among drum and bass MCs at that time.  Was that always the plan, for you guys to come at things from a different angle?

We didn’t have a plan as such.  When you look at the prevalent styles of MC’ing that have been popular traditionally and break it down you have totally different categories.  There are the ‘host’ mc’s who don’t really rap as such.  They will repeat a few 16’s and kinda freestyle some single sylable nonsense.  Personally, I’m not a fan of it.  And then you have the ‘upfront’ MC’s who mostly embarrass us all as a culture by offering the absolute lowest standards imaginable. Grown men, dressed as Ronald McDonald starting verses with ‘Ip, Dip, Dog, Shit.’.  Get the fuck out of my face with that shit.  What sort of example does that set young people?  I’ll tell you.  A shit one.  So if that’s what’s ‘cool’ then how were we ever gonna come at it at anything BUT and alternative angle.  There’s different styles but at the end of the day there is levels to this shit.  I’m comfortable with my level of ability compared to anybody you care to mention.  I’m trying to be nice but at the end of the day MC’s just can’t talk stupid around me.  I don’t wanna hear bars about what you want to do to my girlfriend or straps you don’t have.  That shit’s retarded and I won’t have it.  I’m out here actively trying to eradicate that.  I’m promoting concious lyricism and art in the scene however futile some people might consider that to be.  That’s what me and Breaker stood for and I’m not gonna change the philosophy at all, no matter how large the audince or incentives otherwise.  There were and are people doing good creative writing but only a handful.  DRS is the stand out one really.  He has consistently been himself and been creative and nice with it and I respect that.  Stu (S.P.) is another good writer.  He’s good at more or less everything though and crosses the host/rapper border miles better than I could ever do.  Evil B is great writer too.  There’s others but that’s still a handful of talent compared to the DJ/Producers.   And as for me and Al we never had the support structure of any of those guys.  We built it ourselves.

Speaking of Codebreaker, just under a year ago your partner in crime announced his retirement from drum and bass. If I remember rightly, one of the points he raised was that he felt there wasn’t space in the scene for the MC’s doing things differently and that only the select few were allowed to progress. What are your thoughts on this subject? 

I have mixed feelings to be honest and it’s tough for me to talk about because I love that guy and I’m truly gutted about the situation.  I respect his decision but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  I don’t.  We didn’t fit into the traditional ‘host’ mould so it really was hard for us as we didn’t really fit into any of the established ‘clicks’ because we had our own, individual thing we were pushing.  I feel for Al especially though because I had been through some things in my life which made it easier for me to not give a fuck.  I understood why certain organisations weren’t dealing with me business-wise because I had long been labeled a loose canon essentially.  I had a history of occasionally not playing nicely and speaking my mind about things and that made it easier to get someone else in or risk my unpredictability.  I’m not proud of it, it’s just the way I was.  Al was totally different though.  He’s as respectful as they get.  He’s professional, committed and has a good heart.  I just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the top guy, it still confuses me now.  Listen to him next to another rapper, he makes almost all of them them look terrible.  I just thought that as a community we should be able to feed an artist like Codebreaker. It’s sad that we couldn’t.  We seem to feed a lot of people without an ounce of his talent.  He was my partner and I miss him, everything I’m doing now is tinged with the sadness that I couldn’t somehow bring Bill and Breaker with me.  I’m still gutted about it.  When I was given these new opportunities the very first thing I did was ask if there is any way I can bring Breaker in as some part of it, it could maybe have happened but me and Al discussed it and he explained his reasons to me and I respect them and that’s that.  It just breaks my heart.  I was playing in Wales the other day and someone played at tune with Al’s vocal on it and it made me want to cry.  That’s the reality of it.  Sometimes when I rap my ego makes it all about me and of course that can put DJ’s off because they traditionally like to pull the main focus.  Al never did that.  He was the opposite of me in that respect.  I miss Bill too of course but Al put the grind in before I even started.  He’s a fucking legend in my eyes.  The bottom line is we have lost one of the greatest to ever do this and I’m gutted about it.

I second that, big ups Breaker!  It’s no secret that I’ve followed your drum and bass career quite closely over the years and I have to say one of my favourite moments was watching you and Billion perform on DNBTV. I remember you spoke very candidly about experiences with addiction and the man with the blue hands who wasn’t lucky enough to win the battle against his demons, do you find it comes naturally for your rhymes to be so autobiographical? 

Sometimes it does.  I tend to write my life down in various ways, often it rhymes.  The fact is addiction hurt me.  Scarred me.  I tend to mix that reality I face with fantasy in my head, which was always my escape route and end up with a strange mix of them both.  That means I can talk about demons in different ways. The ones that I chased and the ones that chased me.  I can paint pictures with them.  When you have addiction problems, of course it affects the way you write.  It affects everything.  I have seen and felt things that other people haven’t and hopefully never will.  Luckily I lived this far to document it, it’s cathartic to me to write my life down.  People seem to connect with me differently because they can be sure 100% that even if I’m talking fantasy references, I will also be telling the truth.  I have never glamourised drugs because to me that would be ridiculous.  There is nothing glamorous about suffering cold turkey as a child.  It fucking hurts.  Life can be painful, so that’s what I write.  It can also be beautiful too so I try not to forget that.  It’s a tiny part of what I write about but for some reason when I do it seems to connect with people differently because they can hear the truth and they recognise it.  I know some people may want to hear some ‘hands in the air’ shit but if you want that then just don’t book me.  There are tons of ‘Hosts’ that can do that, probably better than me. They can’t write like me though and to me that’s the point.  I just write my life down.  I keep some things for myself, but not a lot.

When speaking to producers about “finding inspiration” we usually hear about sample hunting or re visiting old jazz or blues tracks. As a wordsmith, what or where do you draw your inspiration from? 

I like to write about things that are beautiful or ugly, or both, mostly.  They are my favourite things to write about.  Sometimes I just write stuff that amuses myself.  I don’t think rappers influenced me too much.  Especially not DNB ones.  Literally, no one has ever said to me “oh, you sound like so and so” when you rap.  I just dont really rap like other people, which was a nightmare at the beginning but has worked out in my favour.  I like some other rappers and writers and that can sometimes inspire me I suppose.  More to get off my arse and write than to be influenced by them creatively in terms of style.  My list of influences wont really make sense to anyone but me, not even my most dedicated fans.  For the record, I’m influenced by Richard Thompson’s old folk songs and Layne Staley’s unanswered cries for help.  I’m influenced by Christopher’s Hitch-slaps, Bill Hicks point of view and the way J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr sings like me in the shower but plays guitar like an angel.  Things that are beautiful and ugly really.  Technically, I’m quite into writing ‘schemes’ which is something I have stolen from Battle Rap which I am a huge fan/geek of.  Check out Chilla Jones, Daylyt or Soul for examples of how to do a scheme properly.  I’m very into layering things in a complex way lyrically so it gives people that little dopamine rush when they find something hidden.  Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean saying them fast, quite the opposite in fact.  It means I try to write many layers of meaning and nuance.  Of course it could be argued that that level of detail is wasted on a DNB crowd but I happen to disagree.  And I’m the one with the microphone, so . . .  I am more influenced by authors and books than rappers.  If you listen closely all my work is littered with book and author references that no one has a hope in hell of deciphering all of.  Sometimes even I forget them.  Whatever I’m reading usually appears in there somewhere.  I don’t do comics and I’m not a massive film buff so literature and stories is where I find my of my loose rocks that I then have to sift through to find if there’s any gold in there.  I recently did a tune with Lynx where I referenced Tolstoy so if anybody gets that I’ll be amazed.  Basically, I write whatever I feel like and think is interesting and that seems to work.  I recently heard the phrase ‘Gonzo Lyricism’ and I feel that’s a good way of describing it.  I’ll probably cover the story, but from my own point of view.

(Note to self; Google ‘Gonzo Lyricism’ and pretend you’ve known all along.)  

have to be honest with you now, I don’t think I could forgive myself if I had the opportunity to interview you but didn’t mention one of my favourite mixes of all time – The Fathom Audio Christmas Chronicles!  This must have been one of the last times you guys performed together, right?

It was.  Xmas 2013.  There were occasions when the three of us together were pretty much un-fuckwithable.  I guess this set is one of them.  Lets be straight . . . Al’s ‘Parting Shot’ bars on that are as fucking real as it gets.  It hurts me.  I can’t listen to it really at the moment, it makes me sad.  I’m sure I’ll look back on it with pride when I’m even older and greyer.

It sounded like you were having a great time recording it.  Do you reckon we’ll see a reunion anytime soon? *cough* boat party *cough* While we’re on the subject of the Fathom Audio boat parties, I remember my first one was in 2011, it was early summer, the weather was banging and if I remember rightly aside from you guys there was also EBK and Siren on the line up too, everyone went fully in!  It was so surreal to float down the Thames with my friends, listening the best music, that was until the captain got on the tannoy and had a dig at everyone for smoking spliffs on the deck – Whoops!  Then I really felt like I was at a drum and bass rave!  For those that don’t know or weren’t lucky enough to experience one first hand, what were the boat parties all about and how did they get started?

Right.  Let’s have this right too.  I’m not saying we invented partying on Boats but we brought stupid line ups to the Thames way before it became de rigeur.  I mean stupid too.  That shit was legendary.  They were real.  Also, that wasn’t me smoking all those massive, fragrant bangers on the starboard bow.  I think it was Bill.  Anyway, there’s a certain freedom to being on a boat.  Different rules y’know.  Rules of the Sea.  Basically, we started doing them because we thought it would be fun.  It was.  Actually, now I come to think of it, I hated all the organisation and shit that goes with it and swore I’d never do it again but I’ve changed my mind about that one too.  If its possible to do one more we’re gonna do it.


So I heard a little whisper recently that, among other things, you’re also in the process of compiling an album!  I have to admit I was lucky enough to hear a clip of your collaboration with Arkaik and Jekyll and it was firing!  After so many years in the game what made you decide that now was the right time? And how’s it all coming together?  Will we see a release soon? 

I am and you will.  It has been incredibly complicated and long to be honest, I’m not gonna lie.  It’s about 2/3rds done now.  It’s evolved many times this year but that’s natural I think.  Dexta at Diffrent is putting it out and has been amazing with everything.  He’s probably worked harder than me.  I’m happy with where we’re at now.  The collaborators were supposed to be a secret but a few have leaked out apparently!!  It’s cool though.  I got a couple things up my sleeve.  I was gonna do the album as a sort of legacy thing but I suppose that’s changed a bit now but  i’ll still try and make it as beautiful, ugly and interesting as I can.  Seeing as it’s you Linds I can give you a little exclusive I’ve not told anyone yet.  The album will be called “Shokunin”.  If you want to know what it means you will have to go and watch a documentary called ‘Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” and all shall be revealed.  That’s all I can really say right now.  It’s all a bit hush-hush. Nod, nod, wink, wink.


Nice one, Sense!  We’re all hype for the release here!  Out of everything you’ve experienced so far, the radio, the studio, the clubs, the videos and the boat parties – what would you say has been your most memorable moment to date? 

I could never just pick one.  I’ve done things that most people, let alone ‘D’n’B MC’s’ would never get a chance to do.  Massive ego aside, I’ve rapped politics in Trafalgar Square with Howard Marks to thousands and thousands of people and sat with Tricky on his bedroom floor scribbling bars.  I’ve taught disabled and underprivileged kids.  I’ve always done different things.  DNB-wise working with Randall is always big for me.  Goldie’s label has always been integral to me personally so working with him this summer is something I’m looking forward to.  We’re going to Bogota, as you do.  Me and my new boss.  I imagine performing in the drug capital of the world with a Bond villain is gonna be fairly memorable.  At a guess.  I also remember when Stamina put me on in the main room at Ministry of Sound with Commix about ten years ago.  Looking back that was instrumental in my career.  What a fucking nice man.  He had heard me rap and that was enough for him, he just shared the mic with me during his set.  What a cool thing to do.  I remember things like that.  I need to phone him and tell him how great he is for doing that.  Hopefully I can do that for someone else too one day and that’ll be another good memory to keep.

And looking to the future now, what have you got coming up? Where can we catch you next?

The next chapter starts May 1st.  I’ll be starting at The Electric Ballroom in Brixton for the THTC Regrow party then off to Fabric the same night for my ‘proper’ Metalheadz debut.  Then it’s off to Leeds on May 15th with Dillinja, Ant and Scar then I’m off to Bogota, Colombia with my new boss Goldie at the end of the month.  I’ll also be repping Headz at Dimensions Festival in Croatia later in the summer as well as returning to Fabric throughout the year.  Busy, busy.  Somehow I gotta squeeze in a Diffrent Album tour and the Fathom Boat Party in there too.  Exceptional work-rate from the aging midfield maestro.  Solid.  Then ‘Shokunin’ on Diffrent later in the year.  I got a thing coming out with Lynx on Hospital and I’m getting stuck into some real work with AI and some of the Headz guys now.  I’m also studying for my forthcoming Fishery Management/Aquaculture exams.  They had better not be too hard.  As well as attempting to keep my beautiful peach of a girlfriend happy and contented while she studies in the frozen north.  There is no rest for the wicked (at rapping), it seems.  If you wanna book me to perform just holla at the lovely guys at Bassic Agency and they will sort you right out.

Thanks for joining us Sense, it’s been a pleasure! Before you go, any shoutouts?

Thank you for having me Linds.  We all miss you and Petey (Arkaik) loads, I might add.  Anyway, A LOT of people have supported me from day one and scarily, the kids that were born on day one are leaving school now.  This hasn’t happened overnight.  I can’t list them all but I hope they know they are appreciated.  I don’t mean facebook supporters I mean actual real humans that have had my back in ways I don’t even know about.  That’s the real talk. Thank you to Ant and Goldie, Dex, Bill and Breaker, Gav @ THTC, The Bassic gang, and of course Peach and my fam for holding me down.

Well, how about that to make you feel homesick, hey!  Here’s to hoping Sense and the rest of the Metalheadz crew make it to the sunny shores of Shanghai sometime soon!  Once again, big ups to Sense, Breaker and Billion for all their years of hard work and dedication to our scene, without them none of the memories mentioned in this article wold have happened.  For me, now?  Im gonna go and watch Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, google Gonzo Lyricism and count down the moments until the next Fathom Audio boat party . . . Peace! x

Photo Credit Sal Marston Photography.