The Brussels-born Senz Beats moved to Montreal four years ago, with all intentions of staying there for the foreseeable future. With a background in Philosophy and later Electronic Music Production, the producer currently manages an office for a media company in order to fund his addiction for making rap music in his spare time. His very first introduction to Belgian music back in the day was through the skateboard shop Ride All Day, as well as the local Médiathèque where you could rent CDs for cheap and copy them onto tape once at home. Initially interested in the punk and hardcore scene and groups like Out For Blood, DBNO, and Looking Up, Senz Beats eventually turned his ears to the blossoming local hip-hop sound. Fresh of the release of A Tale of 2 Planets, his split tape with Lex Boogie From The Bronx out on Belgian cassette imprint Tanuki Records, we got him to handpick 15 of his favourite rap classics.
01. Une ball dans la tête – De Puta Madre (Une Ball Dans La Tête, 1995, 9mm Recordz)
I discovered De Puta Madre some time in 1996, thanks to the Médiathèque, around the same time I started listening to Wu Tang, Cypress Hill and other amazing rap groups. Listening to Une Balle Dans La Tête for the first time amongst all these now classic ’90s hip-hop records, and it standing out, and it being from Belgium…that was crazy to me. Smimooz, P. Gonzales, Rayer & Grazzhoppa became the first archetypes on the Belgian rap landscape in my 13 year old mind.
02. La Griffe – CNN (Calmage, 1997, 9mm Recordz)
This is one of the first Belgian rap songs that I remember making a mark on me. CNN and RAB were all over Brussels at that time too, so it added to the mystery of who these guys actually were. An anthemic posse cut with super tight cuts on the hook repping one of Brussels’ biggest graf crews, La Griffe was another great introduction to the Brussels rap scene for me.
03. Micsmokin – Starflam ft. Menage A Trois, Kabal, Big Shot, CNN, Assassin, Kabal (Starflam, 1997, Discipline Records)
This was amongst the first 20 records I ever bought – I remember playing it on my parent’s soundsystem before I had my own turntable. The beat on this track stands out with its dope switch ups in the sample, nice scratches, and a bunch of sick French and Belgian emcees. I would see the Starflam dudes around Brussels sometimes while working weekends at Boogie Down. Like the rest of the scene, they had become celebrities to me by that point so I’d be too nervous to speak to them.
04. L’ Evolution du mental – Lickweed (Lick Weed, 1997, 9mm Recordz)
I know there is a lot of 9mm material in this list, but each of these tracks made their own specific impact with definitive repercussions in my work. The liquid quality of the sample matched with UMAN and Kray-Z’s mystical flows provide so much depth and credibility to this track. It also sounds like weed.
05. La case des 27 s – Big Shot (Calmage, 1997, 9mm Recordz)
Another mythical type beat and rap combo from Smimooz and Preachamat of Big Shot, an important Brussels hip-hop collective and graf crew. The beat is out of this world, while the story just drives it exactly where it needs to be. This isn’t the first track in the list from Calmage, but honestly at the time discovering each of these tracks was like discovering an album in its entirety: I would play one song out until I couldn’t listen to it anymore, and then move on to the next. I’m also only realizing now how many of my favourite tracks are Smimooz productions, it’s crazy.
06. Faiblir/On sépare – Defi J ft. KOOL KOOR (freestyle summer 2011)
Defi J is a founding father of Belgian rap: someone who has actively been building the scene from the ground up for over 25 years, and has remained true to the music he loves to play and create. A couple years ago, someone said they were bringing a friend to my buddy’s place in Schaerbeek where we were chilling. That friend turned out to be Defi J, a real celebrity to me – I was entirely shook up, but he was very chilled out and down to earth and ended up inviting me on his radio show (where my voice was still very shakey.)
07. Daydreams – Cage & Greedy Fingers (Shady Sirens, 1999, D.C. Recordings)
I first head this track on a mixtape called The Horrorap Vault by AstroBastard that got a lot of plays out of me. So when I later found out that some Belgians (Grazzhoppa & Smimooz) had a hand in creating it, I bugged out and had to get the album. Aside from that though, this track is some of the craziest, disgusting-est horror-rap scenarios I’ve heard (which is exactly what this listener wants from Cage) over a beat that will keep you awake at night with some razor sharp cuts at the end.
08. Midnight – R.E.D.A. ft. Sensational (R.E.D.A. Presents Da Blitzkrieg, 2009, IteM Records)
R.E.D.A. has been a huge source of inspiration for me; not just sonically, but also in terms of his dedication to the craft and unwillingness to waver in his artistic vision. He also showed me how to use my MPC 2000xl, and introduced me to album after album of incredible rap I otherwise never would have known existed. A large part of this video was actually shot at my parent’s old place in Brussels, while Spectre and Sensational were in town for a WordSound show.
09. The Dash – Moontroop (Triple Star Tape, 2013, Moontroop)
These two dudes were some of the first people outside of my immediate circle in Belgium to take my music seriously. We were in touch I think via Myspace, and they drove down from Ghent with another rapper just to check my beats out! That’s how we first met, I still find that crazy. AC is a beast on the mic and the beats, and if you ask me Rob really is the best Belgian rapper spitting in English. I’m a big fan of Figub Brazlevič, with another great beat from him here. Salute to Moontroop.
10. Absence of Order – L.E.G. (Illness of the Realness, 2010, Briefcase Rockers)
When I first jammed with Roger 3000, Sublyme Diagonal (S/D), and Citizen Ledge (Greg Ewing got on the mic briefly too) at S/D’s place in Forest / Vorst, it was like we had always been jamming and just picked up where we’d left off. I think we all knew we were onto something that night, and we’ve been working together since. Suddently, one day Giovanni Marks (who was also Subtitle back then) was living with them and then this album started coming together – it was pretty wild to witness. This track is one of my personal favourites.
11. Atari Strikes Back – Raskal the Supersoniccruiser (Summer Tricks, 2008, FutureFantastic Records)
Raskal dropped the record of the summer for me – and pretty much anyone I shared this album with. He’s also an incredible DJ/turntablist and purveyor of the culture, who if I’m not mistaken produced this record at home without a computer.
12. As I Am – Pat Gonzales (Nine, 2007, Citywurl)
This is pretty much a perfect beat and can safely be put on repeat. Also there’s a girl with large breasts for some reason.
13. Hombre – Luigi (N/A, uploaded 2011)
InfinitSkills (who later would become Monkey Robot) were the first people I saw rocking a MPC 2000xl live. I was so impressed by how Eric P. was in control of the machine and, having one myself at that point, imagining the amount of practice needed to get to that stage was daunting. This beat by Luigi is a prime example of the type of beats they played that night, Brussels vibes.
14. OxNovators – Cris Prolific ft. Miles Boogaloo Brown, Wildchild, M.E.D, OhNo & Solal (So Real Vol. 1: The Introduction, 2017, So Real International)
Cris Prolific has done a lot for the scene in Brussels over the years I lived there. If I got to see some of my favourite rappers perform in dope settings, it’s largely thanks to him. And he makes bangers. This track is a banger.
15. SITEBEYONDSITE – Lex Boogie From The Bronx & Senz Beats (A Tale Of 2 Planets, 2017, Tanuki Records)
This track was the start of a crazy journey into space with Lex Boogie From The Bronx called A Tale Of 2 Planets, available from the July 24th via Tanuki Records. Lex is a producer-cum-rapper I have looked up to for a while, so getting to work on this collaborative project was a big deal to me. I may not live in Brussels any more, but I hope you can still hear some Brussels in my beats.
Thanks to The Word for this trip down memory lane and please don’t take this list as definitive in any way, other than it being stuff that had a decisive influence on me growing up.