Stones Throw rapper Homeboy Sandman maintains the spirit and style of golden-era New York hip-hop with his refreshing approach. After a string of projects since his first work, Nourishment, in 2007, he's earned acclaim from critics and fans alike as a musician with powerful lyrics and something real to say.
Gimme Noise caught up with the Sandman ahead of his Friday show at 7th St Entry with Open Mike Eagle and Random to talk about his second record for Stones Throw, entitled Kool Herc: The Fertile Crescent, and where he sits in today's world of rap music.
Gimme Noise: Tell me about working on your latest record.
Homeboy Sandman: I would definitely say this is my favorite project so far. This is my eighth project. When I was writing these joints, I was in a really focused place. I felt very much in touch with the city, I felt very much in touch with everything, I was very keyed in. I love the way it all turned out. El RTNC did the whole record. We've done a lot of work together, I kept finding stuff in his production that moved me. I like to think that even my projects that have a bunch of different producers still have sonic cohesion, that's something that's really important to me when I'm selecting what tracks are going to make my album. But I will definitely say that there's some adhesive between everything, there is some common thread that comes with having the same producer through the whole record.
What sorts of subject are you tackling this time around?
The first track is called "My Brothers." It's just a call to human beings to show some love to one another and themselves. It's an age-old subject, particularly in hip-hop. There's strength in all types of communities, and that's kinda what this song is about too. I think people can relate to hip-hop no matter where they come from because strife is everywhere. I talk about hip-hop all the time and how, at its origins, it was all about individuality and talent. They didn't have any material wealth. They didn't have anything but their talent, they had to rely on that. Be an MC, B-boy, graffiti writer, whatever the case was. Now it's just come so far that the things you have are what make you cool, removed from talent. Nobody talks about rhymes anymore. The super-duper fall from grace. It's somber at a lot of parts of the record. The conversations that people have with me about rappers, they don't talk about the music at all. They want to talk about the latest scandal or some shoot-out, something stupid. It doesn't have anything to do with talent. It's a complete 180, what you have is what makes you cool.
How do you think this change in hip-hop started to happen?
It's been provoked by the people that control the media. Ninety percent of all the media we intake is controlled by six major conglomerates. Internet, radio, all this stuff, all the "hot shit" coming out. Two hundred ninety-two executives are determining the information diet of 292 million Americans. We as listeners and we as fans have not put our foot down. As a result, there's so many corny things. I tell people I'm a musician first and foremost. I tell people hip-hop is my genre, and they just make these assumptions that are just terrible. That I'm a terrible person, that I'm involved in the worst possible things you could be involved in.
I tell them hip-hop, they're thinking violence, crime, misogyny; they're thinking the worst things you can think! The largest holder of the biggest private prison company, Vanguard, is also the third largest holder of Viacom and Time Warner. Those are two of the biggest media conglomerates, the cats that control what people see and intake. Advertisements for everything that makes money, from alcohol to fashion to fucking jails! Plain and simple. I started seeing it more mid-'90s, as I remember it. When music that people loved started being taken out of [rotation], you know, nobody stopped loving Tribe. Nobody stopped loving De La.
When did you first become interested in rapping professionally?
I've been a huge hip-hop fan since my childhood. I was listening to Redman, Eminem, Big Pun, 3 Stacks... I was listening to Black Thought, my favorite MC of all time. LL Cool J, Kane. I love cats that was blowing your mind with bars. My father has been a big music lover, my grandmother was a singer, my uncle was a singer, another uncle of mine was a sax player... I was blessed to come from a real musical family. I latched onto hip-hop once I discovered it. It feels really good to write a crazy rhyme that'll bust cats' heads. That's what it started out as, I would bust little bars and I would record them and bring them to the barbershop. Cats'd be clownin' but cats knew I was nice.
That feels cool, look what I can do. I'm good at it. What brought me to hip-hop? What made LeBron interested in playing b-ball? Know what I'm saying? It's fun playing ball if you's LeBron. I have mad bars, I have a god-given talent when it comes to bars. Obviously I had to work on it myself, but I have a gift with it. I've progressed and I've evolved. I'm capable of doing things now I wasn't capable of doing before, just from a cadence standpoint. Not even that I wasn't capable of doing them before, but that I hadn't established the confidence. Right now I don't feel like there's anything I can conceive that I can't execute. My shit is art. People say, yo, you're a lyricist. How do you be a rapper without being a lyricist? Being an MC includes being a lyricist. You can't be a rapper that's not a lyricist, that doesn't even make sense! That's like a chef that doesn't cook.
Homeboy Sandman headlines the Deer Hunter tour with Open Mike Eagle and Random Friday at 7th St Entry. Tickets here.