Rapping with DJ SenSen

By Edo Steinberg

If you’d have to guess MS student Senia Borden’s musical tastes, this quiet, easygoing piano-playing white Indianan would defy stereotypes. Pop? Rock? Country western? Classical? None of the above. Rap is Senia’s music of choice.

Senia Borden as DJ SenSen and Dan Levy as 2 Chainz on Holloween (Photo by Garrett Poortinga)

Senia Borden as DJ SenSen and Dan Levy as 2 Chainz on Halloween (Photo by Garrett Poortinga)

It started in high-school, with Senia’s Missy Elliott phase. While her friends liked the much maligned genre, too, she spent more time listening to it than they did and became known as the expert who would recommend songs. Once in a while, she would meet with friends to listen to rap and laugh at how ridiculous it is. The silliness was what first attracted her to it, but then she got into less silly rap.

Senia considers some rap to be music, and some not. The same goes for the question of whether it is poetry. “I judge it by the content,” she says, though that isn’t the only thing she looks for to determine quality. “If it’s done in a sophisticated way, if the beat behind it is good,” it can be art.

Senia thinks Ludacris borders on poetry. “He has some crafty lines in there.” She also likes rappers who address more serious subjects. For instance, Macklemore, who Senia discovered just recently, “sings about social issues, and he does so in a way that I think is cool and not tacky,” unlike many rappers who try to do so unsuccessfully. “Mackelmore raps about gay rights, consumerism and other issues, and it’s quick, poetic and some thought was put into the track behind it.”

Once, when she was high on painkillers following an injury, Senia dreamed that she was making friendship bracelets with Lil’ Wayne. “This is not a joke, this dream actually happened,” she emphasizes. “I’m very enthusiastic about my rap. I want to make that dream become a reality. I don’t know if Lil’ Wayne would ever want to make friendship bracelets with me, but if I could ever track him down, I would ask him.” Perhaps he reads grad student blogs.

Senia memorized lyrics, and still knows the words to many a rap song. She also likes to do adaptations of different kinds. For instance, she rapped Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” in front of her high school class, to the surprise of her teacher and classmates, who gave her a standing ovation. She was one of the only students to successfully recite the entire soliloquy.

Another form of adaptation is to change the lyrics of the often vulgar rap songs to something that’s either more family-friendly or sounds more high-brow. For instance, the song “Milkshake” by Kelis, which starts “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and they’re like, it’s better than yours”, is turned into this by Senia: “my whipped iced dairy beverage brings all the males to my place of employment and/or residence, and they do declare that the quality of mine far surpasses that of the competition.” She also likes cover versions where the rap song is turned into another genre accompanied by a piano or a guitar.

Rap has become part of Senia’s identity and how she crafts her self-image. She likes the fact that people are surprised by her status as rap aficionado, and has even invented an alter ego, DJ SenSen. This year, DJ SenSen might debut her first rap video. At least, that’s what a few of her friends in the department are trying to convince her to do, so far unsuccessfully.

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