Interview: Homeboy Sandman

Interview: Homeboy Sandman

In collaboration with Blue Raccoon FM, we recently had a chance to talk to recent Stones Throw recruit Homeboy Sandman. Homeboy is an incredibly passionate dude whose MC skills are some of the sharpest in modern hip hop. His first Stones Throw release was the Subject: Matter EP, a fantastic exercise of lyrical dexterity, and his two upcoming projects Chimera and First of a Living Breed, will grace our ears April 3rd and this summertime respectively.

His attitude and love for the art of hip hop is truly inspiring as you can see from this interview. Check it out and be sure to cop yourself some of his albums and see him perform live if Homeboy Sandman comes through your area.

(Photos by Rae Maxwell)

What is hip hop to you?

Yasiin Bey said hip hop is shorthand for black people… brown people… and brown culture, that made a lot of sense to me. I usually think of hip hop as a music, like country or like jazz and I think when people talk about hip hop, in a large part what they’re talking about is a musical genre. I think beyond that, it is a culture, consisting of different elements… people talk about B-Boying, graffiti, and DJing, and the inner city culture that comes with making something out of nothing. That’s hip hop.

You’ve mentioned giving up cannabis and then pursuing rap with a clear head, so how do you feel about much of hip hop advocating and glorifying drug use and distribution of drugs and all that?

 I feel like that’s really corny, I mean drugs have been here before hip hop and will be here forever. So drugs like marijuana or LSD are always part of music because there are always some people that are advocates for that. So you know you take someone like Redman who is crazy nice rhyming and smokes mad weed or Black Thought who is crazy nice rhyming and smokes mad weed, I don’t have much of a problem with that at all. But there are people that can’t really rap very special at all, and are really just only there to advocate a culture that is a drug dependent culture, which weakens the people. Nahmsayin’ we a bunch of people like China was when everybody was addicted to opium, can’t get nothin’ done ’cause everybody thinks it’s so cool to smoke weed.

Back when it was about being nice, there were cats like the cats I named, like Redman or Black Thought, you know there have always been weed rappers, but you used to have to be nice to be a weed rapper… or any type of rapper for that matter. Now it’s a lot more about weed is something people do, nahmsayin’ weed is still illegal in the United States, a lot of people forget that. I mean black people get locked up for it every single day… and thrown in jail every single day ’cause everybody forgets that it’s illegal ’cause it’s so cool in rap. Yeah and the whole selling drugs, you know these days in the United States hip hop is used to control black people and brown people, so the whole drug culture thing is really just something so they can lock us all up whenever they want… yeah.

If mainstream and popular hip hop was instead socially conscious and promoted like progressive ideas and focused on… –

(interrupts) people talk about socially conscious…. I got songs man, I got songs about like… you know… everything! It’s sad that if you’re not saying something that is stupid, then they call it socially conscious. I’m not out here like “I’ll kill anybody I see after I sell drugs to ‘em”… so now whatever that comes out of my mouth is socially conscious. Like I think of myself as someone who tries to improve as a person every day … you know… but… we should start calling the dumb shit dumb shit, and then the other stuff everything else. We shouldn’t call shit that isn’t dumb “socially conscious”. You know what I mean? That like turns people off… like it’s nerdy or some shit like that. Wack shit is wack… then the other shit is the good shit, talented shit. Call me a talented dude, that’s a multifaceted dude, I’m a multifaceted musician, I’m an honest musician who is an artist and cares about doing things that are new, I’m not pushing an agenda. But this whole socially conscious thing,,, aaawww… allright… that’s yeah… that’s all I got to say about that. I just came from the gym, I got a lot of… pheromones is it? I got a lot of adrenaline. Pardon, I mean you no harm, I just think it’s so silly that people call good rap… that good rap has this special name, like good rap should be the norm. Like “Oh you’re good rap, I guess you’re a sub section of rap.” No! The wack shit is the sub section… nahmsayin? Allright… Go ahead.

Can you tell me about the Kool Herc project that you have?

Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent was going to be an album that I released with R’Thentic RTNC, ’cause we did a whole album together. We’re still gonna put out an EP that will more than likely bear the name Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent. And its just about… you know Kool Herc… such a sad thing with hip hop, Kool Herc of course is credited with inventing hip hop music, with what he was doing as a DJ and mixing records and breaks together. And you run into Kool Herc on the bus. Nah mean? Kool Herc is not exalted like the inventor of an art form that has taken the world by storm. Nahmsayin’ it’s just a sad terrible shame and it just goes to show the disrespect of hip hop music and people of colour in this country, just that we are served constantly every single day.

You can’t turn on the TV without seeing things influenced by Kool Herc. I go to Peru (interviewer lives in Peru), I’ve never been to Peru, and you got kids all hip hopped out. I mean I’ve never been there but I’m sure you do and some hip hopped out shit, chillin’ at a graff party, cats B-boyin’, and I say hey, how many people in here know Kool Herc? Nobody even heard of Kool Herc.

So with Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, you know the fertile crescent is said to be where the first human kind, depending on your theory, I mean the theory is that mankind started in the fertile crescent, but Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent is the origins of hip hop… the origins of this culture and paying homage to that. Which is very much what me and R’Thentic are doing with our EP and we’re doing with our album. We’ve taken a few cuts off that, “The Miracle” that was the first cut of my first Stones Throw release; Subject: Matter. That was a cut that R’Thentic did… and he’s got a couple of cuts on the full length coming out in the summer time which is called First of a Living Breed. So that’s what that was all about.

And your original plan was to donate your proceeds to Kool Herc himself?

Yeah yeah, that’s actually what we wanted to do. I couldn’t speak for everybody but I was gonna give the whole of the money I made, I wasn’t gonna make no money off the record, all my money go to Kool Herc nahmsayin’? You know from selling the record. To be honest with you since… I guess its been a while since I first had that idea, and I reached out to Herc’s peoples, I reached out to Herc’s sister, I haven’t seen Herc myself in a long long time, I went to Triangle to see him in the Bronx at one of the Katona park jams, but he wasn’t there. So that’s my idea, I haven’t been able to talk to Herc about it, straight up, so I mean I’m sure he’ll appreciate it, but I stopped going on record with it ’cause I thought it would be easier to get in contact with him. But I guess he’s been busy and I’ve been busy as of late. I’m glad, hopefully he’s been busy, hopefully he’s been busy getting praised.

You mentioned your recent release Subject: Matter with Stones Throw, congratulations on signing with them, I was really excited to see that!

Thanks a lot man, I appreciate that. Thank you. Subject: Matter is out, Chimera coming out April 3rd, First of a Living Breed coming out this summer time.

Amazing! So what do you want to achieve working with Stones Throw?

 Stones Throw and I teamed up ’cause they saw the music that I was making and were in support of it. I look to achieve the same things I been looking to achieve since I started making music, which is to be a force for change and to be a force for spreading original ideas and authenticity throughout hip hop music and throughout the world. Those are my goals with my music, I wanna be in every single ear in the whole world, I wanna bring a new vibration to the whole world.

You know people have always asked me, “do you wanna get signed to a major?” I always said I don’t care nahmsayin? I don’t care about getting signed or winning a grammy or none of that. What I care about is everybody in the world hearing my music. So Stones Throw and I, don’t get me wrong I got paramount respect for Stones Throw, Stones Throw have been my favourite label because of their creative integrity and they put a premium on artistry… artistry is paramount with stones throw. You see the Stones Throw stamp and you know it’s not gonna be some run of the mill thing, you know it’s gonna be one of a kind, the people on Stones Throw have God given capability to make music. This is a label for musicians, so it really is no surprise that them and I have gotten together, their goal is to spread good music throughout the world and my goal is to spread good music throughout the world so we are both looking to achieve the same things and luckily our goals work in conjunction with one another.

I’ve been listening to your new release Subject Matter, and much like your other work, the rhymes and wordplay are just on another level. How long does it take you to come up with your verses?

Well you know… I’m just coming from the gym. And I was able to run a couple of miles way faster than I used to be able to. It’s very much the same with writing, and writing bars. You know I remember the first song I ever did with 2 Hungry Bros and Fresh Daily called “Swerve” on the 2 Hungry Bros Table Manners CD. And I did one verse, it was a long verse, it wasn’t 16, might have been a 24 might have even been a 32, but it took me 2 weeks to write it… 2 weeks. I look back at that verse now and you know I’m pleased with all my verses, but when I first started writing, that wasn’t an uncommon thing. The song “Air Wave Air Raid” took me 3 weeks to write, like it took me 3 weeks to write a song. But currently, I write every day, you know all the time, 2 nights ago I got a beat from Paul White, and then the next day I recorded a song for it. Today I wrote a verse for another Paul White beat and started writing to another beat from umm… dag who gave me this other beat. Oh this cat… I forget his name, dope though… so now I maintain the quality of it. I’m always gonna make bars that people understand the craftsmanship and that I spent time with it.

I’m really happy now I’m getting to a place where even though I’m very meticulous with all my bars, they come to me quicker now, they really do come to me very quick. I used to be very apprehensive about writing in studio on collabos or anything like that, now I could go knock out a whole song, You know I started off my birthday this year by going and writing a whole song. I got an opportunity to go record with Psycho Les from the Beatnuts, heard a beat, knocked it out in a hour, hook and all, jam was dope. I write all the time, every day, So I’m really starting to get a good grasp… you know my skill and technique is getting kinda crazy. It doesn’t take me very long all the time, but I mean you know I still like to challenge myself. So sometimes I’ll be like yo I wanna write about this, you know like writing “The Miracle”, even though I wrote that a while ago, that took a few days, and I was writing all day. I’ll bring up Mos Def again, he said “Commited to page, I write rhymes sometimes won’t finish for days”. So sometimes I don’t finish for days, but these days more often than not, I do finish, y’know, within a time frame.

So you’ve mentioned that Black Thought is your favourite MC, so do you have a favourite line or favourite bar by him?

I got a million favourite Black Thought bars! The first one that comes to mind, just today, it could have been any zillion of ‘em, is ‘ya dome resonating from inhalation of darkness as I spark the smart shit for which ya waitin’’ and I love that rhyme, see people hear that rhyme and go “oh what’s crazy about that?” What he said is ‘ya dome resonating from inhalation of darkness’… so what I love is vocab, and just to say ‘ya dome resonating’, like I’m just ringing bells in your head… like I love cats that are saying somethin’ nobody else would say. So the thought is like ‘ya dome resonating’, from what? ‘From inhalation of darkness’, this is what you taking in when he’s emceeing, the very air you breath, is carrying within it these particles of what he’s putting out. Ya dome resonating from inhalation of darkness as I spark the smart shit for which ya waitin´’, and the delivery of how he’ll rhyme resonating… and saying ‘for which your waiting’, that’s almost like some Old English, just the sentence structure is elegant, that’s elegant sentence structure nahmsayin? I could really go on for 1,000 years.

Another Black Thought line that I really love is: ‘at the lye spots I got credit, could run ‘em down in alphabetic-al order it’s sorta pathetic’… I used to listen to a lot of Rakim and a lot of people credit him with the stutter, you say the first syllable and then the next syllable to begin the next bar, Black Thought is a master of that, but he doesn’t always say the first syllable to begin the next set of bars, he breaks it up in the middle, amazing. I mean Black Thought started a whole lot of things, the whole mispronouncing of words LyriCAL, Lieutenent, the bad Lieutenent. He’s got all of that, You know Black Thought has gotten bit a zillion times. But when he said, “At the lye spots I got credit”… how does that joint even start? Um… “I pivot through my borough giving pounds to the dreaded, at the lye spots I got credit, could run ‘em down in alphabetic-al order it’s sorta pathetic.” I mean do I even gotta explain why that’s dope? I could go on forever and ever. Black Thought is my favourite MC, cats can’t write like Black Thought. People talk about Black Thought being an underestimated MC. Nobody that understands what a good MC is underestimates Black Thought. If you don’t think Black Thought is nice, you don’t understand what a good MC is, and that’s straight up your fault and your downfall. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Black Thought was Big Pun’s favourite MC. Nobody will ever rhyme like Black Thought.

So both you and Black Thought are the vocal and lyrical side of hip hop, and then there is obviously the instrumentals, the beats. On Subject: Matter, Jonwayne beats appear, as well as some other weird kind of experimental beats. What do you look for in a beat? What grabs you?

I’m really trying to look for a beat that stands on its own from the standpoint of bringin’ some feeling, some emotion, some energy, or some movement. A lot of times these will be beats I would listen to without even a rhyme on ‘em. Because then if you combine that with a crazy rhyme then you really have some super powers, but other times it’ll be a beat where I hear myself provide that finality on it.

Listening to beats the other day with a friend of mine, I recognized that me as an MC I look at a beat as a canvas, and she was looking at it as like a picture, she wanted to see the whole thing have the elements that she already wanted to see. Where as me, I like seeing a picture that is already a Rembrandt quality picture and I’ll be like yo I could draw a crazy moustache and hat on that and make it super crazy. And I also like to see something that is a blank canvas but with the dimension that if you can give me the right tools and utensils, I can make something out of that. I need that foundation, I need that connection. I’m very picky when it comes to beats, I literally listen to beats all the time. I definitely listen to 10 or 20 beats a day, and I used to listen to 100 beats every single day. Now I don’t listen to as many beats, but I listen to 10 or 20 a day. But I want the intangible to be there for me. I definitely hear beats, and I struggle with rejecting people, or not rejecting people but I struggle with not accepting their beats, ’cause people are sensitive with their art. I dont wanna be like just no thank you, I try to say the drums are dope but this doesn’t speak to me or whatever, I hear beats sometimes that are crazy, and I’m like yo.. Ghostface, I could hear Ghostface doin’ something crazy to this, me personally I don’t really hear it for me… Not even that I can’t, you know I can rip anything, I could rip this Skype conversation, but it’s that I wanna do it.

For my albums, for my projects I really need stuff that speaks to me. I mean even though its been recently that I’ve been enjoying more notoriety, but of course I’m no where near where I’m going, I’m happy because people used to think I had a style, people would be like yo you rap fast… or whatever, and you know I used to be patient with it. I knew that people were soon gonna realize that I don’t have no rap style. I’m bite proof, shouts to my boy Tone, who came up with the term bite proof, you know, I’m an instrument, if the track sounds different I sound different. You have cats that would hear “City Dark” on my first album Nourishment and be like yo, you sound like the Thought! Which to me was amazing you know, for anybody to tell me that. People said I sound like Eminem when I’m rapping. On my first album, the majority of the production was by a brother named Ron Kain, and he had a lot of uptempo production, and I understood where a lot of the comparisons were coming from with different Mcs. But I’ve always known, particularly with my last couple of albums, I’ve always been the type of dude that people would hear one record and think they know me, ’cause that’s the way it is with a lot of rappers. But I’m happy now like Subject: Matter don’t sound nothing like The Good Sun, and Chimera don’t sound nothing like Subject: Matter or The Good Sun and First of a Living Breed don’t sound nothing like any of them, and nothing I ever do is gonna sound the same. People ask me what kind beat I want, what kind of direction you goin’ in… I’m not going in any direction, I’m goin’ in every direction I haven’t gone in.

I find some of my favourite songs of yours have a kind of jazzy delivery to the lyrics, like a rap interpretation of jazz. Another musician I think of like that is Flying Lotus, a modern interpretation of the principles of jazz. I know Jonwayne was on your last album, so what do you think of this new experimental wave of beats?

I really like it, you know Jonwayne is a champion of the LA beat scene, and that’s the scene that Lotus blew up. Ah I forget the name of that show out there that they have…

Low End Theory!

Yeah word to that, Low End Theory, but that’s dope… I mean thats progression, that’s artwork growing and going into new places. I had the opportunity to see Lotus live at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide awards last year and it was crazy seeing him bang out stuff live. I thought to myself a hundred times I wanna rap over that I wanna rap over that. I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything produced by Flying Lotus, but I have had the opportunity to do stuff produced by Jon, and Jon has a joint on the full length called “Not Really”, and we’ve done other joints too.

If you look at you look at Subject: Matter, 2 Hungry Bros are on there, 2 Hungry Bros have more the boom bap vibe, they did “Sweet Emotion” and “Mine All Mine”, which are more the raw grit, uptempo cuts. But “Soap”! I love that beat! and Ben Grymm did that beat, who did “Mean Mug” on my Good Sun album, and I love the place he’s taken some of his beats with just that aura and just that electronic futuristic outerspace bug crazy knock nahmsayin? So I guess to answer your question, I’m a big fan of all that sound progression… and Chimera, sonically, is kind of a downtempo electronic futuristic outerspace odyssey. So for cats that are looking for that type of sound, but with a little less get up and move around, and a little bit more sit down and bug out.

What was the last song you heard that blew your mind?

Man… you know to keep it really really real? The last song I had on stupid replay was Amy Whinehouse – Love is a Losing Game. That’s the last joint that really held me down for two days straight, and I was really wishing I was in romantic upheaval from listening to that joint.

Photo by Rae Maxwell

Any message to Blue Raccoon listeners and readers of The Find Magazine?

Yes absolutely, first of all thank you very much Blue Raccoon brothers and sisters out in Cyprus and all over the world for representing good music, and for supporting my music, together we cannot lose, you make me invincible and I appreciate that. I’d like to do the same for you one day if at all possible. And to The Find Magazine thanks for spreading the word, my whole career is dependent on people that actually like music spreading the word. Its the reason why I never needed and I’m never gonna need any big budget marketing.

I’m the type of person, when I was growing up, I would be like ‘Yo you ain’t heard this Medina Green joint’ and just ’cause it was dope and knowing that my boys love what was dope. So The Find magazine readers and Blue Raccoon listeners are those same types of people, people that appreciate music for real and not just trying to find out what’s hip or what’s big due to… i don’t even know… some kind of insecurity… I don’t what it is. I got all types of theories, but I appreciate that about you more than I can say. That’s all.

Kamir Hiam (USA) has been obsessed with hip hop culture since discovering rap as a child in the mid 90s. As curator of The Find's Stay Thirsty podcast, he is an obsessive crate digger, always looking for more dope music. Other hobbies include travel, reading, fitness, and science.