For two years now I've used my Music Rags
column at the Martlet to further the cause of good, honest music and
because I love it so much, I have placed a heavy emphasis on Hip-Hop
music. A great Hip-Hop MC can, in their best moments, shed light on the
truths of both self and the surrounding world, by opening up forgotten
lingual chambers of the brain. Like all things, Hip-Hop is constantly
changing, finding new guiding lights and few of those new leaders shine
like New York's Homeboy Sandman. I tracked him down for a chat at the
end of 2012 and I must say I felt (And still feel) incredibly blessed to
get the chance to talk to and pick the brain of one of Hip-Hop's most
Rags Music: Hey Homeboy, how’s it going?
Homeboy Sandman: Chillin’, chillin’, how are you?
RM: Pretty good, man. Thanks for chatting, I appreciate your time.
HS: No question, man, no question. I appreciate your punctuality.
RM: I gotta say I was just listening to “Hold Your Head” and I was getting a bit weepy. That’s a great track, man. So where does Hip-Hop begin for you? Where did it come into your life?
HS: Hip-Hop, I remember Hip-Hop as a kid, my father used to move back and forth from the house. When I was a kid my father would say, “Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge.” I guess that’s my first Hip-Hop memory. I remember my father’s younger sisters putting me on to a lot of Hip-Hop when I was really young. I guess it was at the age of 7 when my boy got me the Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince “He’s the DJ I’m the Rapper” tape. That’s when I really had my first personal connection.
RM: What was it about that tape, that music that pulled you in?
HS: So much of the other stuff that was out…I remember my father’s sisters talking about Kane and Boogie Down Productions and a lot of other people, Run DMC was really big as well, but these were dudes, they were talking about partying but Kane was talking about girls and how nice she was. Run DMC was talking tough, making party records. The content was more adult theme, I was 7 years old, you know. It wasn’t until I got Fresh Prince “Parents just don’t understand” talking about parents trying to get you cheap gear before you go to school. You want some better gear. I was like, “On snap! I’m feeling that.” Then you had “Nightmare on my Street”. I just watched Freddie Krueger movie right around that time, so it was more relatable to me. The other stuff was great and I wound up getting into the other stuff more because I was able to appreciate the artistry and get more into the other guys I talk about. Get more into LL Cool J. After Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff I really became a huge LL Cool J fan. This was around that “I’m that Type of Guy” was out, before “Mama Said Knock You Out” came out, so I was able to get into that stuff because of Jazzy Jeff in the Fresh Prince in a way.
RM: Cool, so that was the gateway. You’re pretty prolific in the writing and recording process. What is it about the process that you love, that keeps you working at it so hard?
HS: Writing is what makes me happy. Creating is what makes me happy. I get a great rush and great sense of joy and happiness laying a fresh rhyme. Whatever could be going on around me could be going on, as long as I can write a fresh rhyme, I’m cool. That’s really my indicator of whether is all well in the world or all is not well in the world. There have been times where things were all over the place but I could write a rhyme and just feel very happy. I’m always content as long as I can write. There are times when I’ve been struggling with writing and everything else could be fine but I’m very…They’re issues I haven’t dealt with for a long time but I really feel my life, before I got a grip on my creativity and where it comes from and how to keep it flowing all the time, rhyming, creating is what makes me happy. I love making music. I’ve been a big Hip-Hop fan. I’ve been a big music fan. Even before I got into Hip-Hop I used to play the saxophone and I would hear John Coltrane, just a piece of the improvisation he did, like in “Countdown” off “Giant Steps” and I’m like “Yo, that’s crazy.” I get the same feeling hearing a crazy rhyme from Redman or something. To be able to do that myself, I get a lot of joy about it.
RM: Do you still get that rush listening to new music you haven’t heard before or has doing it for so long changed the way you listen to it?
HS: I don’t listen to as much music as I used to because I’m much more in a creative mode. If I have some time to sit down and listen to stuff…Like I’m about to get on the train after we do this, I’m going to get on and get write. I do a lot of my writing in transit. I bring my MP3 player everywhere with me but normally I’m writing as opposed to listening. But when I do hear something that blows me away, I love it. My boy was playing some joints for me the other day…He got a joint called “Get Your Back Up Off the Wall”. I love getting wild, I love getting wild by records. I love getting wild by talent. I love when I see some B-Boys doing some amazing stuff that I could never do and getting wild. I love getting wild.
RM: Hopefully you’re not too burnt out on talking about First of a Living Breed. What was the genesis for that record?
HS: The genesis of that record…One thing I’ll say is I don’t really write albums. I do write all the time and I do write, like I literally have anywhere from 80-120 joints that aren’t even out. I’m always recording and writing. With all my albums, all my albums are kind of comprised of a mixture of songs that I had already done that I didn’t use on an album then I start to get a feel for what I want the album to be. Then I’ll start to supplement, I’ll write songs especially for the album. For this album I wrote the title track, “First of a Living Breed”. I wrote “4 Corners”. I wrote certain songs specifically for the album. I had a number of them too. I had “Eclipsed” already. I had “Let’s Get ‘Em” already. It’s a blend of the two of them. I’m trying to think of…I’m not sure I can really pinpoint when I started to get the vibe for what I wanted the album to be and the songs that I wanted to pull from the older songs and the type of new songs I wanted to write. I can’t really pinpoint but it’s been a time in the past…since signing with Stones Throw late last year I’ve been very optimistic and I always maintain optimism in the midst of things I see going on. I just felt like I was going to come on a great wave of steam. A couple things happened in my life. I got a great new girl that I’ve been with almost a year. That’s making me look at things in a different way. I’m down with Stones Throw now. Looking at my niece and nephew, definitely. My nephew just turned four the other day. My niece is five. And like, they’re little human beings and watching them definitely inspired “First of a Living Breed” and gave me the idea there’s going to be a new breed coming that’s going to fix things.
RM: You’ve always used very positive language when talking about women, something that seems to elude a lot of Hip-Hop artists. Is that something you do consciously or is it just how you perceive relationships naturally? On “A Couple Bars” you start a song out with “You’re supposed to be sweet with me…” That’s almost a bold thing to say on a Hip-Hop record. Is that just the way the language comes to you or do you have to pick those words very carefully?
HS: If you listen to my last album, The Good Sun, there’s a song on there called “Listen” which is a song that was inspired by a relationship that I had with a different girl that was a little more sour. The tone of the song is not as happy going, there’s a lot of pain in it. I’m not disrespectful. I really think that’s corny to be honest. There’s a lot of insecurity in Hip-Hop, a lot of fun me vs. myself, me vs. women, me vs. woman, people that look this way vs. people that look like me. I’ve never really gotten down with that. I try to keep a people based…I try to do this best I can. Some guys are like, “Women are terrible.” Women aren’t terrible, terrible women are terrible. Terrible men are terrible. Terrible people are terrible. Most of the people I meet, regardless if they’re men or women, rich or poor, whatever colour they are, whatever religion they are, most of them are cool. So I’m not trying to section anybody off. There is so much – it’s in really sad shape. It’s shameful, to see the misogyny that goes on in Hip-Hop. It’s a really shameful, immature…it’s sad. I feel sad that cats that do that. Seems to me like the amount of respect people show for others is a good indicator of the respect they have for themselves.
RM: There’s a lot of guys, even a guy like Common, considered something of a romantic, lady’s man sort of rapper, sometimes the language that gets used makes me a bit uncomfortable but I never get that feeling when you’re rapping about women. There’s always such a forthright positivity and use of the language.
HS: I’m glad you feel that way.
RM: It’s great. Even my girl loves it. A song like “Illuminati,” on such a positive record that song comes up like a really dark area on the album, was it a challenge to decide to put that on there?
HS: Actually there is a story that comes with that song being on the album. We decided to put a song from…I’d released two EPs Subject Matter and Chimera early this year – Subject Matter in January and Chimera in April. “Illuminati” was actually on Chimera and we made a decision to put one song from each EP on the album. We knew the album was going to reach a lot more ears than the EPs. There was another song that was produced by Paul White that we couldn’t get cleared. The sample was an issue. We couldn’t get that sample cleared so we took it off the record and it left a gap in the record from the standpoint of social commentary. I was actually weighing which song from Chimera to put. It was actually between “Hold Your Head” and “Illuminati”. Those were the finalists in my head. Once we moved that song I was really happy that I had “Illuminati” to plug that hole. With this album I wanted to cover certain bases. I’m really pleased to have made that decision to put it on the record. People really gravitated to it. I know that if I just left it on the EPs…People are up on the EPs but they’re much more up on the album. That record, I’ve wanted to write that record for awhile and I was just waiting for it to come out naturally and freely, with the right tone and the right vibe. And then it finally did.
RM: You rap in a lot of different styles about a lot of different subject matter, do you ever get pushback from people that want you stick to one thing? Like they love that aspect of you and want you to stick to that…is that something you come across or is everyone cool with all the parts together?
HS: That’s actually really interesting. It’s like a social experiment. With music these days, music isn’t really what it used to be, to be honest. I mean there’s good music being made but the music that is popularized is not popularized for the same reasons it used to be popularized. Even my favourite artists, my favourite artist of all-time is Stevie Wonder. My favourite musician of all-time. If you look at Stevie Wonder’s albums, Innervisions to Songs in the Key of Life, all his albums – Stevie’s catalogue is out of control – all of his albums sound different. Stevie, you could study Stevie’s catalogue and it would just show you what music and equipment was even available. I mean you could listen to the evolution of musical technology from listening to Stevie’s albums. He was always like taking whatever was out and making the most of it. He was making songs about different things…He’s got a song called “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” that I’ve recently been listening to that I wasn’t up on, I mean, it’s a country song but it’s a fantastic song. All I’m saying is like I think of some of the more talented artists…The other day I was talking to somebody about Andre 3000 and Kanye West. I think of both of these guys as very talented musicians. It’s no coincidence to me that each one of them put out records where they’re not even rapping. 3000 raps a little bit on Love Below but it’s like three verses. I’m saying artists, they’re not always doing the same thing. When I look at artistry, you’re going to see variation, real artistry. Because real artists believe in the reflection of real life and real people, know what I’m saying? You see a lot of uniformity in Hip-Hop and music now but I don’t believe that’s a real reflection. But people have gotten used to hearing the same thing from people all the time. They expect it. It was so crazy, I put out Chimera, in April and there was a decent amount of people that that was their first exposure to me. And then when “Whatchu Want From Me?” came out, off the new record, people were like, “Oh, it’s great to see Homeboy Sandman sound more up-tempo,” Which wowed me because the biggest song on The Good Sun was “The Carpenter” which is very up-tempo and it was just so bunk to me when people would say, “Aww I want that mellow Sandman. He’s hyping it up too much.” If you go through my albums I got everything. People are like, “Awww man, where’s “The Carpenter” Sandman? Where’s the “Opiate” Sandman? Where’s the Chimera Sandman? This is what I want to hear…I miss the…” I think a lot of that is a product of some of the uniformity that you see being encouraged in popular culture today. At the same time people are just used to hearing the same thing from people. I find that once people have some time to figure out that I’m multi-dimensional they appreciate the fact that I’m capable of being effective in different dimensions.
RM: For sure. I personally love the fact that your records are all over the place – keeps it interesting. There’s kind of this underlying thread that runs through all your music but it all sounds different which is really impressive to me. You rhyme about damn near anything and everything. Is there a subject you’ve sat down and tried to write about and you just couldn’t make it happen?
HS: It’s interesting because I recently wrote an article about particular words that get used in Hip-Hop [In the Huffington Post]. I’ve sat down to write that song two times. I wrote it one time really early in my career, in 2007. I think I called it “Dirty Words”. I just knew it wasn’t up to snuff. I wanted to tackle the subject but I didn’t feel like I tackled it well enough. It was a good record – I feel my records are great records. Some people feel some records are good, some records are not. Everybody has their own taste an opinion but I need to feel like all my records are great records and I didn’t feel like was great. I did it again to a beat by Large Professor and it was called “Dirty Words” and that was earlier this year. It was better than the one I did in 2007 but I didn’t feel like it was awesome. I didn’t feel like it was ill. I feel like what makes it effective to me is being able to say thing that people might not think about all the time. Stuff they really want to hear. Stuff like that is bringing the people…the fact that they’re getting kind of bamboozled in a sense. And that makes people uncomfortable, know what I’m saying? So it needs to be super fresh and I wasn’t able to nail it super-fresh like other joints that I wrote. I was happy to write the article. That doesn’t mean I still won’t write the song. That has really been the only…and it’s interesting ‘cause I’ve sat down to write and I’ve felt challenged. When I wrote “Gun Control” I felt really challenged. I felt really challenged about songs and sometimes I’ve been able to execute, but that particular topic trips me. You guys will never hear it until I nail it.
RM: It’s amazing that that’s the thing that’s tripped you up because that piece you wrote for the Huffington Post is so good. It sums about so many of the thoughts I’ve had about Hip-Hop, this music that I love so much. It just sums it up so well.
HS: There’s so much in there that it’s tough to squeeze into two or three verses. You got 16 bars in which to set groundwork. You’ve got to bring up all these different words…I’m not sure what it is but that topic has given me a challenge.
RM: What’s been the feedback from those articles? How’s that been?
HS: It’s been a super-duper blessing. I love writing and creating. I do get a rush from writing a crazy rhyme, it’s not the same I get from writing an essay. I really do love writing and getting the word out. The opportunity to get the word came from another medium and I’ll take any opportunity. If someone gives me an opportunity to do a speech or something. Whatever I can do to get the word out, that’s key to me, to use any opportunity. My music is obviously the predominant one, but interviews, now I’m getting writing opportunities - Any opportunity that comes. I see a lot of stuff. I write songs like “Illuminati”, all of my songs, even the songs that are really jovial are touching on observations I have here and there. I don’t feel like I’m wasting any bars, you know what I’m saying? There’s people that listen to music primarily and there’s people that read online primarily and it’s really allowed me to spread my point of view to a whole bunch of people that weren’t getting it from the music. A lot of people hadn’t heard the music. There’s been a good amount of people that were already up on me that have read the articles but there’s definitely been a whole bunch of new people that have had access to my viewpoint which has been awesome.
RM: I noticed that. I’ve posted a couple of your videos on my (Facebook) feed and there’s been no response. But I’ve posted the articles and those both got great response.
HS: Hip-Hop isn’t really respected, unfortunately. Journalism is a way more respected field. If you have a Hip-Hop dude, just talking about links or whatever, if you have a Hip-Hop link and it’s a cat that people are not familiar with they’re going to be quick to pass it over a lot of the time just because Hip-Hop is less about are you making nice Hip-Hop or are you a mega-star? In a lot of cases, and not all the time. It’s an illusion a lot of the time. But when it comes to journalism, if you’re a journalist you’re not a terrible journalist, more than likely. You could be a world-famous MC making rap records that are third-grade level, you could be an MC and have no musical quality whatsoever and be a world famous dude. People recognize that about Hip-Hop. That’s why Hip-Hop is not exaulted. That’s why I bring up Kanye West. There’s guys that are known the world over and that are huge that are super-duper amazing musicians. Jay-Z is a musician like freckin’ Billy Joel is a musician but he’s not looked at the same way because it’s Hip-Hop. The reason it gets looked at that way is for every person that makes it really big and makes really high quality art there’s 74 dudes that are just horrible making it look like anybody could do Hip-Hop.
RM: Part of what got me into writing was trying to, I got offered this column and I’ve used it a lot for Hip-Hop, trying to get people to just look at it from a different perspective and let them know that there’s Hip-Hop going on out there that’s legitimate art that’s creating good in the community.
HS: First of a Living Breed right there. We’re all coming from the same breed. It ain’t just music but it’s journalism and activism, that’s that breed.
RM: The tide’s changing hopefully. The internet seems to be a pretty powerful weapon to get those messages out instead of relying on a system designed to keep those positive artists’ message down. What’s a record that I should be on to that I haven’t heard before?
HS: Dave Brubeck passed away last week and I’ve always been a fan of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. One of the albums I’ve always talked about is Time Out. It’s seven tracks and it’s fantastic. Mine? Shoot, you should listen to all of it. But the EP that came out right before First of a Living Breed is Chimera and the vibe is totally different and the music is completely different but it’s still distinctively me. I would say go chronologically backwards from now to 2007 when I put out Nourishment: Second Helpings.
RM: Whattya got coming up in the new year?
HS: I have an EP with Paul White that’s called White Sands. I’m not huge into just combining everybody’s names to make a title but when it’s Paul White and it’s Homeboy Sandman it’s just gotta be White Sands. Speaking of collaboration, I’m really excited to rapping on some Madlib beats, really excited about that. You’re the first journalist I told that to. I was just in LA for two weeks, being in New York I don’t get to interact with other dudes on the label too much. I was able to get some fantastic joints, not only from ‘Lib, I even got two joints with Peanut Butter Wolf. Came out retirement so I’m super-amped about that.
RM: No escape from the Sandman. Got any words of wisdom for the new breed?
HS: Are we getting close to the end? I don’t mean to be rude or nothing…Do I have any words of wisdom man? Even if it’s crazy hard, tell the truth to yourself and everybody else. That’s what I say. Listen to my albums, I’m a dude that’s trying to do best I can. I’m not convinced I’m at the point where I can give anyone wisdom but I think the key to trying to get where I wanna go is working crazy hard and telling the truth all the time. And not being scared.
RM: Thank you so much for your time. I know you’re probably a busy dude and I appreciate you taking the time to shoot the shit with me.HS: No question. Thanks a lot for shining some light.
Check out Music Rags on Homeboy Sandman, Battling Hip-Hop's Demons here.
Check out everything Sandman related, including music and tour dates here.