Hip hop began as the harvest of street culture, a sign of prosperity on a bleak, unheeded stage. Like everything else in life however, art withers when no one tends to its roots. Thus, for Homeboy Sandman, one of this year’s rising stars in the hip hop contingent, the decline in record sales shouldn’t be attributed to new technology or a poor economy at all. Rather, he puts it on the media and the waning quality of substance. The way he sees it, market laws become null and void when consumers must succumb to the overbearing powers of homogeny: control their options, control their ways. China may have it bad, but globally, everyone suffers.
“Back in the day, you’d hear NWA on the radio, then it’d be De La Soul, Tribe, then Wu,” recalls Homeboy Sandman, one fresh winter day, in the cusp of a new year, as he makes a sandwich from his apartment in the Lower East Side during a recording break. “It was never about image, it was about talent. The dudes that started hip hop were cokeheads and dustheads. It was about individuals. Sometimes they talked about positivity, sometimes about racism, but it was all their own stories. Now it’s about image. There are mad cats out there like Odyssey and Blu, making records that are amazing, but the media machine keeps these people away… Records don’t sell now because they are not pushing what’s good. If you go to the grocery store and all they’re selling is oranges, you have to buy oranges.”
Alternately, you starve. In some sense, that’s what many of hip hop’s strongest proponents have done over recent years. The steady flames of rap have felt the need to cheat, move on, and pledge their allegiances to other genres, leaving an empty hole in a place once reserved for beats and rhymes. Such famine is unnecessary, however; or as Homebody Sandman describes it, could easily be avoided.
“The purpose of hip hop now, if it’s controlled, is to squeeze as much money out of black people until they end up in jail as slaves,” he observes. “For the most part, people without musical talent are popularized along with their image, and it’s all negative.”
Originally from Queens, the introspective emcee made headlines at the end of last year for signing with one of indie’s finest labels, Stones Throw Records, putting him in the company of other diverse musicians like Madlib, Oh No, Aloe Blacc and Mayer Hawthorne. Too ambitious to be held down, he’s been doing it on his own since day one, but felt this was a chance to keep his artistic freedom with an enhanced business opportunity. Now, gaining steam and traction from his growing following, he will make his debut this year with a handful of projects in the works.
Sampling his array of mixtapes, it’s clear Homeboy Sandman is a student of history. He trades auto-tune for alliteration, heavy synths for jazz samples. He’s as smart as he is sonically endowed, and as flavorful as he is intuitive. Fresh and insightful, his music is a bit of a take on Gang Starr, calling to mind the roots of rap legacy – the clever semantics of Rakim, the funk of Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, the audacity of Public Enemy. Nevertheless, the confident artist couldn’t be more adamant his music stands alone on any scale. In fact, best not to even ask him for comparisons.
“Nobody in hip hop makes music like me,” he stresses. “I’m a one-of-a-kind doing new things. If I feel like something has already been done I stop doing it. If something’s already been said, I stop saying it…I don’t stop working on my music till is perfect.”
His plan for the year is to waste no moment on idle fruitlessness. On January 27th, he’ll release his first EP with Stones Throw (check out the single, “New York Nights” here), followed by a second in the spring and an album in the summer. That leaves fall and winter unbridled, so amidst plans for touring the U.S. and Europe, he aims to put out anecdotal elegies as long as the sun continues to rise.
He’s also got a workout plan better than Kanye’s.
“I ran all the way from my place to my mom’s in Queens the other day,” comments the surprisingly health conscious rapper. “My homegirl got me this iPod for Christmas, and I throw it on random so you never know what’s gonna come up…When I’m jogging, it’s the only time I can’t really write, so it’s about reconnecting with music. “
With outward mobility, Homeboy Sandman continues his quest to restore greatness to hip hop, and to find the cry in a voice once so diligently anti-authoritative and loud, yet now severely depleted. His energy channels enlightenment, embedded in an adamant call towards spirituality. When asked what he considers the greatest problem facing the world, he believes it revolves around a lack of faith. Faith in a protector, in a better day and in the propensity of good music. Likewise, the disparity between classic and contemporary rap finds its source in the depreciative value of artists and their humanity.
He explains, “The kids who were first to rap were in foster care and on the streets; they had nothing to feel good about. How can you feel good? They found hip hop. If you were athletic, you became a b-boy. If you were good with linguistics, you rapped. Back then, you came from nothing. Now if you don’t have stuff you’re not cool. It’s the opposite of what hip hop was…The essence was being cool without having anything.”
Fear not, Homeboy Sandman aims first and foremost to change that perception. Thus, the hottest beat on the street pulsates from a rapper pushing not only classic tastes and knowledge of self, but good will.
Check him out: www.homeboysandman.com