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.
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 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 radiofriendly 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 Them took 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 “It’s Gettin’ Hot” on That’s Them, and V.I.C. of the Beatnuts contributed to “The Interview” and “This is Da Way” . “Collaboration of Mics” was produced by and features Lord Finesse, as well as Lord Jamar of the Brand Nubians. Lord Jamar, who is viewed by group’s members as a mentor and an older brother, helped the group record the original version for “Wrong Side of Da Tracks”, which along with their other original demo tracks (“Attack of New Jerusalem” & “Check Da Fine Print” feat. Brand Nubian) were collectively ranked in Complex Magazine among The 30 Greatest Hip-Hop Demos. 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’.”
Shortly after the release of the second album, El and Tame decided on an amicable break up. After the split both El and Take pursued their own solo careers and have each gone on to release several projects and consistently stay touring. In 2003, Tame One joined the Weathermen, an underground rap group including Cage, Camu Tao, Aesop Rock adn El-P. Soon after, Tame and Cage released the album Waterworld under the name Leak Bros. In 2009, Tame One collaborated with another member of the Definitive Jux label, releasing the album Parallel Uni-Verses with Del the Funky Homosapien. El Da Sensei has released a number of solo albums including the 2002 Relax, Relate, Release LP (Seven Heads Entertainment Ltd.), followed by the 2006 Fat Beats Records released The Unusual (LP). El has also collaborated with the Polish production duo, The Returners in 2008 for the release of Global Takeover: The Beginning (Asfalt Records) and again in 2010 for the release of Global Takeover 2: Nu World, through Coalmine Records.
In July of 2008, both Tame and El performed at the 32nd Annual Rock Steady Reunion in Newark, NJ which marked the first time that the duo performed together since their amicable split. In 2011, the duo was featured on The Official SXSW Mixtape for the song “Turn It Out” (prod. by King I Divine). All three members also reunited for the Illmind produced remix of “Everyday In The Street”, which also features Rah Digga, for El Da Sensei’s Nu Word Remix EP, which was released on November 15th, through Coalmine Records. By April of 2012, the Artifacts celebrated their official resurrection with the Khrysis produced single “Easter,” their first official retail release under the Artifacts name in over fifteen years.