You have to give Sene credit for the audacity of the album title at least. On his latest disc, the Brooklyn-born upstart returns home after an extended detour on the West Coast, where he launched his rap career. From the title to the lyrics, the borough of Brooklyn weighs heavy on Brooklyknight. Sene goes out of his way to remind us of Brooklyn’s finest, from B.I.G. (“city [that] gave y’all Biggie”) to Jay-Z (“In the name of the father…S Dot Carter”). Even the title track samples a young Mos Def, as if he were knighting the new heir apparent: “It’s about time that this Brooklynite took the mic.”
Sene sounds nothing like any of those MCs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On tracks like “The Feel Reel,” he comes off as a far more restless rapper, pouncing on the top of each measure like he’s fighting to get the first word in. That anxious lyrical style makes for an interesting contrast with the blunted beats on Brooklyknight. Throughout the album, Sene rhymes over synth-heavy productions, with kicks and snares that seem to come a split second too late. On the wobbly 8-bit foundation of “Cult Classic,” Sene unleashes a torrent of toasts to never getting famous, and over the sparse beat of “Backboards,” the album’s standout track, Sene reflects on a city that seems to have passed him by: “Either way life changes/When somebody plays fast forward.”
Only occasionally does Sene’s earnestness come across as naïveté. On “We Are Couleurs,” for instance, he squanders one of the album’s rare uptempo beats with some vague, post-racial sentiment. In its weakest moments, the album showcases Sene as a capable, if not always memorable, lyricist. Still, the past three years has shown Sene as an artist who continues to evolve. His 2010 album, A Day Late & a Dollar Short, a collaboration with the L.A.-based MC and producer Blu, saw a lyrically quick Sene rhyming over the swing and crackle of jazz and doo-wop samples. Since then, he released the bizarre (and totally compelling) 10-minute “Exit, Us,” a sprawling beatless suite that imagines a prelapsarian past and name-checks Dr. Kevorkian. Brooklynknight is a much tighter and focused set than his previous efforts, but by the end, one gets the sense that Sene is still searching for a place to call home.