Capitalizing on the electro-hip-hop that Mantronix helped to create during the mid-’80s, rapper Kid Sensation uprooted the spare, bass-heavy grooves from their underground dwellings and brought them into the friendlier quarters of rap music’s mainstream. Every bit as energetic and edgy as the aforementioned band, Kid Sensation forges a flashy and textured style of hip-hop that places strong emphasis on the bass. His debut, Rollin’ With Number One, features an array of bare-boned grooves that are lean and stoic, but allow the rapper to impart his shift-shaping flow with natural ease. Released in the summer of 1990, Rollin’ With Number One bore the singles “Seatown Ballers” and “Prisoner of Ignorance”, two numbers built squarely from a hip-hop foundation but which also flirted unabashedly with pop textures.
“Rollin’ was my first album and I was very young and inexperienced,” says Kid Sensation, who now records as Xola Malik. “But I was hungry and had a passion for the mic and making beats. I learned from Sir Mix-a-Lot how to set up my own studio. I enjoyed the process and the music was cutting edge for the time. People always told me my voice had a clarity and unique tone and, when I think about it, not many people said I sounded like other rappers. My scope was limited to a degree; I wanted bass and good flows. I was only 16-17-years-old when I wrote and produced most of the CD. I didn’t have a writing and production team. It was just me in the studio, which limited the creative scope, but also showed that I could bring a lot with my talent alone.”
Just a couple years shy from the birth of gangsta rap in the ’90s, Rollin’ With Number One fits into the small niche of hedonistic hip-hop which dominated the late ’80s. It also predates, by two decades, the “body music” that artists like Skrillex would later become known for. Kid Sensation, who was a protégé amongst many rappers and producers back in the day, most notably Sir Mix-a-Lot on whose debut album Swass he guests on, cut his teeth on a number of bass tracks before starting his own venture as a solo artist.
“I remember performing the first bass song Sir Mix-a-Lot and I made together, ‘Rippin’, on the Swass album,” he says. “I remember being in Sacramento, Miami, and other cities that loved bass music. I remember the way people reacted when we performed those songs. Most rappers rapped slow to beats that fast, but we chose to rap double time. People lost their minds, like “Yoooo…Who are these dudes going hard like this? They rap fast but clear!” Bass music was what we loved to listen to and create. It just felt good in a car with fifteens in the back, you could hear the boom from down the street.”
Kid Sensation had managed to drum up enough curiosity with a single, “Back to Boom” in 1989, a subwoofer battle cry that signalled the oncoming surge of club-oriented hip-hop. The single made its way onto his full-length debut album a year later and sits comfortably next to a host of juiced-up floor-thumpers.
“That had to be one of the most enjoyable songs I performed back then,” the rapper reflects. “’Back to Boom’ just hit hard and got people going bananas. It was my biggest selling single of all time, doing 500K units. I can remember how the energy would change from bouncy and fun to people rocking with their hands in the air when the beat got to the slow part. The middle part where I rapped slower was a little dig at the rappers who couldn’t speed it up like us. But that slow part was just savage. The ladies loved to bounce to the fast part, then the fellas seemed to love the slow part. I used to get fan mail from people who destroyed their speakers playing that song, or won a stereo contest, etc. It was definitely a part of bass music history.”
Rollin’ With Number One is firmly a club record but stylistically flirts with a number of fashions within the DJ Culture of the ’80s and ’90s. The music is spare but explosive and blusters up a healthy amount of drama within the small and contained world it creates. The robo-tronic “Hype it Up”, possibly the tightest cut on the album, features a cold, steady groove and an insistent, thrumming bass line. The old-school rapping is water-clear, determined and unfussy, stripped of all the ornate dressing that manners much of hip-hop rhyme today. Electricity and simplicity are the two prime characteristics that drive the album. Minimalist electro beats pulse on tracks like “Flowin'” and “Two Minutes” and Kid even works a politic of social injustice into “Prisoner of Ignorance”. The album throbs with agreeable charm that sees the rapper at once boastful and humble, a likable fixture of club music ethic.
“I still enjoy listening to that CD,” the rapper says. “It takes me to a time in my life when I was looking to find my way as a man and artist. It had fun tracks, social commentary and, yeah, lots of bass. It was definitely a CD many Seattle hip-hop heads remember. I let others define the historical relevance; I just make the music.”
One of the more fetching features of the album is its packaging. On the jacket, three b-boys (Kid front and center) perch upon some rocks on a twilit beach shore; they drip with the hip-hop regalia of gold medallions and are outfitted in designer sweatsuits – the rage of ’80s era hip-hop culture.
“The album cover was shot at some beach in North Seattle, I can’t remember,” he says. “I wish I could; it would be dope to grab the fellas and re-create the shot 30 years later! I wanted to do something completely different, so I went away from the b-boy stance and typical street background. The other two fellas are DJ Skill and Attitude Adjuster (from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s group). I was one of the early artists to have a deal with a clothing line called Van Grack. They made everything we wore from the shoes to those sweatsuits made out of the coolest material. I have a lot of the nostalgic items from back then, but someone actually stole my gold chain during the “Seatown Funk” video shoot [the title-track on his 1996 album], which I hosted at my house. Rollin’ represented an important time in my life that shaped me as a man and artist.”
Check out the scathing and blazing tell-off he delivers to a most unfortunate ex-lover on the liner’s credit notes, a diss-miss like no other. “Ha ha, young, silly, and I put an ex I didn’t like on blast!” Kid laughs. “Thank God for maturity and growth…”