Interview: Homeboy Sandman

Homeboy Sandman is one of the most unique voices in hip hop today. The 34 year old Brooklynite blurs the boundaries between spoken word and hip hop with his distinctive voice and diction, rapping over a very diverse palette of beats. Combine this with witty wordplay, sharp social analysis and dry humour, and it’s safe to say that Homeboy Sandman is one of the most innovative rappers currently active. After our interview back in 2012, we had the pleasure to catch up again to talk about a few things, from his way of paying respect to hip hop pioneer Kool Herc, to the appreciation for his music.

I’d like to start off on a personal note. As I rap myself I am always intruiged with the response of my parents to my music. They don’t really seem to get it most of the times, rap is something for ‘the new generation’ to them. How do your parents perceive your music?

Yeah my parents be checking out the stuff that I make, you know, they comment on it. They don’t really listen to my albums, but when a song comes out, a video comes out, they check it out. So that’s pretty cool, and they can dig it. You know, I am very much the product of both of them, so they kind of feel where I am coming from a lot of the time. I’m not sure if they will be able to relate to….people that wasn’t their son as good as they can relate to me. But they relate to what I am coming with.

I love your song ‘Stroll‘. It sounds as a dreamy and lucid sketch of New York. I live in a city myself but originally come from a more remote area in the Netherlands. Our cities haven’t grown to the size of a New York, so the countryside is never far away. I love this as sometimes I feel the need to leave the city and enjoy nature. Can you relate to this?

I actually wrote a rhyme about that the other day, which just talks about New York… I love New York, it’s been my favourite place my whole life, but I wrote a rhyme recently about me not being sure what else it has to offer me right now at this point in my life. I do really enjoy my time away and I’ve been thinking; normally when I’m not touring I’m always home, I’m always in New York but recently I’m thinking about spending time outside New York even when I’m not touring. Spend my off time someplace else. New York feels kind of like a cage. Can’t exactly remember the lines I wrote, and I love New York, it’s a beautiful place, but I get tired of it sometimes.

It’s been three years ago since we last spoke to you. In that interview you talked about your Kool Herc project and how you intended to donate the album’s profits to him. Which, back then, you weren’t able to, due to a hectic schedule and the guy’s obscurity. Has your original intention of donating your album profits to him worked out in the end? 

Before that album came out we [Stones Throw] were able to advance him, rather than giving me an advance on the EP we were able to give it straight to Herc, which was really cool. And he’s also getting back-end royalties on the sales of my release. He’s not going to be a millionaire from it or anything like that. But it really was a respect thing, you know, just really paying hommage to him. He’s somebody that has been so influential but has been so underrecognized and underappreciated, it’s really a major disrespect if you ask me. The point is, he’s only getting my share, I’m not making any money off that record, he got my advance and he got my back-end too. Stones Throw still gets paid, distributors still get paid, and a bunch of other people still get paid, even if he only winds up making a couple hundred of dollars a year off that record, that’ll be cool with me. Just a token, something ongoing..

Something structural.

Yeah, you know, my favourite emcee Black Thought said it: “Emcees never showed loyalty yet, Kool Herc never received a royalty check”, which I think was the birth of the idea and now Kool Herc, you know, gets a royalty check.

As an artist, I can be a hermit sometimes. I can be isolated for days to work on my art, which is like a child’s nature… Give me something to play with and I can dissolve in my imagination. Do you consider yourself a social person, or are you more like a loner?

I got some great friends and fam, homeboys and homegirls that I love spending time with, it’s a big blessing. At the same time I spend a lot of time in solitairy, doing my own thing. I’m somebody who feels comfortable being on his own. The thing about it is, I like to roll on my own a lot of the times, because then I don’t really got to take nobody else’s schedule or what anybody else wants to do in account. I get someplace when I wanna get there, leave when I wanna leave you, you know. With the exception of uhm, you know, female company, with the exception of that I roll dolo [alone] in large part.

You can see technology advance really quick. These days, you see a lot of young kids walking around with smartphones. If you would have a child, on what age would you consider your child eligible to own a smartphone, because for me I would feel a little bit hesitant to open up the Gates of Porn to my son when he is eight years old…

[laughs] Yeah, definitely, but I don’t know, I don’t have any kids and don’t think about that too much to be honest. But I definitely think it’s bugged out, the world that young people have been born into. These days with the internet and everybody being so connected to technology… We’re sitting here on Skype, but when I grew up, internet wasn’t even a real thing, cats didn’t even start using the internet until I was like in college, you know, sending e-mails. When I was a kid we did book reports with books, you went to the library. I’m not a big technological person either, I’m not a big social media person, so I realize I can’t even comprehend how their synapses are going off, going up and all that stuff. If I had a kid I guess I’d try to expose him to stuff, because it’s not like I want to keep him sheltered away from stuff. But I’d try to talk to him like ‘none of this stuff is real, you unplug this shit it’s not even there.’

Since you signed to Stones Throw, you have experienced a huge increase in attention. You are getting all sorts of praise from people unknown to you, like, enter me over here. Does this ever become too much?

I think I have a paradox going on with regards to music: I like being alone, but I also like being around a lot of people. People think I’m humble and I guess that’s what I am, all the praise feels like a blessing, also to connect with strangers and to say ‘what’s up’ to fans. The music I make isn’t putting any distance between me and anybody else, I don’t create any barriers. At the same time, I think very highly of the music I make. I’m open about it, you know, I never heard nobody rhyme like me throughout history. That makes me feel good. My life is a beautiful thing, but the depth of what I’m doing is something that isn’t really grasped by the majority of people that hear what I do, you know. My music is gonna be here forever and people are gonna have a lot of time to decipher it and figure out what’s going on. But I think it’s kind of cool when I come across people all over the globe that are ahead of the curve.