Homeboy Sandman has released a dozen records since turning heads in 2007, culminating in signing to Hip-Hop indie powerhouse Stonesthrow Records in 2011. His prolific output waves intricate flows into accessible narrative raps that tunnel gateways into Homeboy Sandman’s sincere and playful world views. His live show is electric and professes to connect with the minds and spirits of those in attendance.
In prose, Homeboy Sandman has written for the sanctity of the Hip-Hop word and it’s message. His tirades against the mainstream have led some to regard him as embittered. But anachronistically to the ‘underground mad rapper,’ Sandman is amiable, fun loving and with a giddy enthusiasm for language and Hip-Hop.
Huffington Post rejected Sandman’s expose on the Prison Industrial Complex, severing his relationship with the, leading to Sandman investigating the parent company AOL’s stake in the private prison system.
Following the Don Sterling Scandal, where the Clippers owner said he didn’t want Black people at games, Homeboy Sandman penned a controversial piece ‘Black People Are Cowards’ much to the chagrin of many Black readers. I Am Hip-Hop caught up with Homeboy Sandman prior to his Jazz Café date to discuss the fallout following that notorious piece, what makes a fly emcee, veganism, The Matrix, his revolutionary father and life in bohemia.
Q. I saw you a couple years ago in Birmingham…
At the Hare and Hounds yo? I was on the bus in New York a couple week ago and I remember the hare and Hounds, because I ran into some people on the bus on 14th Street that were from Birmingham. And we talked about it being Birmingham (Burming-Um) not Birming-Ham.
Q. That was an incredible performance because it was an intimate venue and you killed it. It’s interesting because at a Saul Williams show a couple of weeks ago he said ‘this is not a show, this is a workshop’ – as much as you bring the party to your live shows, it still feels like a workshop because of how much the audience is involved.
I never thought of it that way but word up.
Q. In terms of the more commercial names… whom I am a fan of but live that same energy isn’t there. What do you feel is lacking?
I just feel different people have different aptitudes. I’m also a big fan of some guys who I find to be a little underwhelming live. There are some people who are gifted wordsmiths, writers and recorders that… I guess they don’t feel it like that on stage. Me, I love it on stage. Maybe I love the attention that much more. I think there are some people about ‘real emcees’ or the ‘real hip-hop dudes are the ones that rock live’ and personally I got a lot of respect for people who make beautiful recordings but I’m happy that I have a good time transferring it to stage.
Q. You just mentioned ‘real’ – is there such a thing as ‘real hip-hop’
I think real hip-hop is talent. To me, talent is infused in the definition of Hip-Hop. Like, I use gymnastics as a comparison to describe what I mean. There’s such a thing as real gymnastics. Doing a front flip is real gymnastics. Lying on the mat is not gymnastics. You can’t call just lying down gymnastics, or call walking gymnastics. You need to do something kind of fly for it to be gymnastics. It’s gotta be something harder than just walking or doing a push up gymnastics. You could call just talking Hip-Hop but that don’t really make it hip-hop. It has to be something fly. Real Hip-hop is something fly.
Q. In regards to that, as a lyricist that tries to push the boundaries of writing and performance – who are other emcees who you feel push boundaries are innovative and stay fly too?
Some of the people I’m listening to right now are Open Mike Eagle. I’m really impressed with what he’s doing and feel he’s pushing things into new territories. My boy Aesop Rock is always blowing my mind and of course DOOM is a dude who I really feel. Oddisee just put out a new record. There’s a kid out of Brooklyn called Cavalier who has a brand new style. I love hearing brand new styles. He put out a record last year called Chief and you know, it’s flying under the radar but it’s super fly. It’s really, really def. Drake has mad bars yo! I never knew about Drake before because everyone is like Drake stinks. A lot of people are made at Drake because of how famous he is and I often heard Drake lumped into a bunch of dudes who can’t even talk let alone rap. The dude has crazy bars. I don’t know, I’m a lover of Hip-hop so recently I’m appreciative of Drake. Anybody who’s nice at raps, I appreciate.
Q. On appreciating vs. ‘believing’ emcees?…
Well I guess you know that authenticity or that ‘believe that’ is something that resonates with a lot of people and that a lot of people take into consideration. I used to listen to Kool G rap and I never really believed he was out shooting people every day but I really felt he had bars. So for me, I like fly jam, I like fly songs. I don’t like it when people are straight up lying about stuff. Jay‑Z’s one of the most talented rappers of all time. I never met Jay‑Z but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t out there shooting people half the time. You listen to rap and you think that you have the most dangerous supervillains in the whole world all just happen to be able to rap real good. A lot of that stuff is not true but I’m listening out for the bars
Q. Sure I suppose it’s that narrative thing where Hip-Hop is a genre where there is an expectation of emcees to be autobiographical yet emcees like MF Doom have become real life superheroes or someone like Kool Keith so who’s…who’s the flyest emcee you ever met?
You bring up Kool keith. I saw him the other day with my moms on 231st in the Bronx. Saw Kool Keith, I had never met him before. I just bigged him up with love and he was happy. He gave love back. I only took a sec as I was walking with my mom who was about to check out some stair steps. My mom likes taking tours around New York. I just saw the love, threw a big smile up. He was the man, he was open! Who’s the flyest emcee? Slick Rick man. He was the embodiment of being real ill, and real chill and real fly. For the new school tip… Ghostface’s aesthetic is crazy. I didn’t mention him before. He’s another guy… I don’t know if he’s a true Mafioso kingpin! But his style, aesthetic and technique is so brilliant. He’s another dude that’s just essentially fly and essentially ill.
Q. I read the story about you being unsure about reading rhymes from a book and…
Oh yeah, the Black thought story? That’s my favourite emcee. Black Thought was my quintessential standard for what an emcee is supposed to be for my formative years. So he’s definitely a dude that makes it look easy and made it look easy his whole career. Doing genius material.
Q. You’ve got a rhyme being able to shout him out in person…ringing him or..?
Yeah “I’m still Black Thought’s biggest fan, now I can just call and tell him s?”
Q. Has the possibility of a collaboration come about?
It hasn’t happened but I have had some discussion with the Thought about that. It’s yet to occur but I would love for it occur.
Q. Who’s your favourite fictional character and why?
Neo in the Matrix. That’s my favourite movie of all time. Even though it’s fictional, in a lot of way, it’s the most realistic film I’ve ever seen. I really rock with Neo… I rock with that whole cast but with Neo as the one who was able to manipulate things as he saw fit. I connect to my boy Neo!
Q. Have you watched the Lego Movie?
I haven’t got to see it. How is that?
Q. It’s the deepest movie since the Matrix.
Say Word?! They hid it in the Legos? They hid it in the Legos. I gotta check for that.
Q. Is there a skill… could be anything that you haven’t learnt yet but that you would love to? Like Neo, put them things to the brain and instantly know something.
You I know used to freestyle a lot more and feel very proficient at it. My DJ Sosa was listening to some C Rayz Walz yesterday and to have a brain capable of freestyling like he does, that shit is so impressive. I could just sit there like watching a magician. And other guys that are capable of doing it at that level. I would love to be able to do that at that level. It seems it comes to them naturally but to me when I was working on it and practicing, I never felt at that level. But I felt comfy in any cipher.
Q. So what’s your favourite food? You’re vegan right now?
Nah, I have been vegan but I’m not vegan right now. I actually wrote a rhyme the other day “my favourite food and favourite animal’s the same.” I’ve come full circle.
Q. What broke you back in?
I really didn’t have a definitive epiphany. I guess I just felt like eating meat again. I feel stronger with meat. I mean I give shouts to Iron (?) from Brooklyn. Talented emcee. He’s one of the strongest… crazy with it. In amazing shape. Super strong. Trains people. Personally, I feel stronger (eating meat). Everybody’s different. I still think it’s jacked up in light of the horrors and nightmares of the meat industry. There’s so many horrifying things in the world and I guess I could try to boycott everything but I won’t have very much to do.
Q. Yeah, picking battles. Talking of boycotting, there’s the rejected piece you wrote for Huffington Piece about the private prison complex. You did the research linking AOL who own Huffinton Post to the prison system. You haven’t seemed to have written much since. Or since the piece you said you wanted to start a revolution with… the ’Black People are Cowards’ piece. Have you felt an inclination to write in regards to what’s happening in Baltimore right now, what happened in Ferguson, the woman protests following Rekia Boyd…
You know, to be honest, I haven’t felt an inclination to write. I used to get very excited about that type of writing prose. I still write rhymes everyday but as far as the prose and essay writing, I guess I’m at the point where I like to use my time in a matter I feel to be effective. When I wrote that piece about the prison industrial complex and the piece I wrote that piece in respond to the Clippers controversy, I felt that they were going to be catalysts for some type of change. I don’t feel that they were. I feel that they were conversation pieces at best and you know, I think talk is cheap. I don’t want to be somebody who’s out there saying something just for the shine of saying it. I actually started to feel a little disheartened. After the last piece I wrote, I really felt like nothing came of it. I feel like if you unplug the internet, it’s like it never even happened. I guess in the society we are in today – I don’t know if it’s society but from rapping… I feel like anything I’ve ever done that gets a little bit of attention, there’s always a small number of people that would be like “you’re doing that for the attention.” You do a rhyme, that’s fly and that gets around: you wrote that to get attention. You write an article that’s ill, you wrote that to get attention. I don’t mind that, it’s whatever. However, I guess the reason why that has never bothered me is that it’s never been true. I could never have that BE true. I could never write just to have people talking about it. If I don’t feel like it’s going to be effective and productive and helpful to somebody on a real, physical level, I can’t just put it out there.
Q. What I understand is that wrote the piece to rile up anger and get people proactive in that sense. But some people I’ve spoken to felt that it was a couple thousand words of victim blaming.
I mean, you could call it victim blaming or whatever you want. I have my own beliefs and I realise that everybody is entitled to the way they see the world. For me, I get victimised, I blame myself. Maybe that’s why I don’t blame victim-blaming. If somebody bullies me, I blame myself. So nobody bullies me. But is it my right that impose that feeling on others? Perhaps not. I definitely, like I said in that piece, from a personal standpoint on the bully and the bullied that it’s on the bullied to have the responsibility to put it on the end because the bully’s not going to. So that’s how I live my life but everyone got their own way and I respect that.
Q. Sure. It’s interesting that you were talking about project your own definition on the Cowards piece. On your Reddit AMA, someone asked why you hadn’t spoken on Ferguson and your response included:
‘hey yo man. I ain’t never getting arrested. I ain’t never getting bullied. I ain’t never going out like that. You wanna not get arrested with me? Cool. Let’s chill. I don’t know whatthe fuck I’m going to do though. I ain’t never going out like no sucka never ever. I’ll be dead and at the next level first and if people don’t feel the same as me, I guess that’s their prerogative.’
Based on that whole passage, is Homeboy Sandman a coward?
No I wouldn’t think of Homeboy Sandman as a coward. I don’t know. I remember that Reddit but how did you read that response?
Q. I read that as ‘I’m not going to go out and protest and I’m not going to end up dead. I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
Oh, oh, oh, nah, nah let me tell you what means…
Q. Please do, thank you…
That means that I ain’t getting arrested. That means nobody tells me what to do. I don’t care how they dress. That means you dressing regular clothes or all navy uniform you don’t put your hands on me. I don’t mind dying. I got rhymes saying “I’ll fall flat before I fall back/ I aint scared of dying, this planet ain’t all that”. And I believe in God. And the last piece I wrote that I never put out. I actuall wrote another piece. It was about societies and cultures. I studied Samurai cultures, Native American cultures. I researched even that United States is based on ‘give me liberty or give me death.’ I studied historic precedence for societies that thought being corny was worse than being dead. I wanted to make this argument that being dead is better than being corny. What I was telling that dude is that if you want to stand up for yourself regardless of the consequences with me then yo, let’s chill. Me, I walk with God but I feel that way and I’m thankful for that. And if everybody don’t feel that way, that’s cool.
Q. Thank you. Internet, man. It’s important to clarify that because words get immortalized on the internet. Now moving on, your dad seems like an incredible person so please if you could talk a little bit about your father.
He’s a real life superhero and he’s a real driving force in me trying to live my life the way I try to live it. Trying to hold myself to high standards. To make a long story short, my father in his youth was blessed with size and strength and not much else. And much of his early survival was based on his size, strength and courage. He got into fighting and boxing. He won the Golden Gloves 1982; he was a contender, he was 7–0 undefeated. He was giving a signing bonus when boxers weren’t even given signing bonuses for going pro. He was in camp with Holyfield, Tyson, all these dudes. He was the crème de la crème who could have got rich from beating people up. In his seventh fight he got an epiphany that it wasn’t something that he wanted to do. Beat people for a living. He got his GED, went to high school, to college for ten years whilst raising my sister and I. he decided after boxing, he wanted to become a lawyer, an attorney. It was a decision that made people think he must have got hit in his head too hard in one of his fights. He went to Queens College and when I was at high school, he was graduating from community law school. He’s now an attorney in Corona queens. Doing criminal, doing immigration, helping out the community. And is really the man, know what I mean. People talk about me and my journey and you know, choices I’ve made. I’ve never done anything that I think is anywhere near as risky or as challenging as what I’ve seen my father do in my lifetime. So you know, I guess as his son, I’m always trying to live up to what I’ve seen him do. SO far, I’ve fallen short.
Q. That’s a beautiful thing to say that you’ve fallen short because normally the narrative with Black or brown men is about breaking the cycle of dysfunction with fathers.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I feel very blessed to be an exception to that.
Q. There’s a bit of a Bohemian vibe to your being… would you say it’s fair to suggest you’re naturally a bohemian person?
Yeah, yeah. Actually, I sublet when I’m back home in New York. I’m pretty nomadic, bohemian with it. Yeah I been that way.
Q. You studied in London for a semester. Ever tempted to crash here for a year or something?
Nah, but I like it out here. One time I hung out here for six weeks and that was fly. I did some work with Paul White and Mystro one of my first times being here. I like London, it’s cool. I spend so much time on the road now that it’s second nature to return to New York when I have time. See my fam, see my father, see my sister, my niece and nephew, my mother, my folks. In all honesty, it’s occurred to me lately, that you know, I could spend two months off touring I could just as easily spend that in Spain. Or Brazil. Or Kenya. I might start moving around a little bit.
Q. The new album Hallways: it seems that the average tempo of your records has slowed down and there’s a couple of songs where you’re rhyming on tracks with no drums. Drawing more attention to the words. Is that a fair observation?
I always hold the words to be paramount but on the last record, particularly at the end. It begins one place and ends another. As far as that closing vibe and mood of closing three songs… it was more an attempt to bring the listener from one place to another. I agree with you overall… but you still have joints like Grand Puba which is pretty dense with the rhyme and Activity. But joints like Problems and Stroll, I do feel a lot more comfortable using space than I did earlier in my career. Like I look at my first album Nourishment: Second Helpings, everybody was like ‘yo you sound like Big Pun, you sound like Eminem’: these are dudes I was listening to but I’m happy I don’t get comparisons any more.
Q. Great. Thank you for taking the time out being very gracious with your answers. Much appreciated.
No doubt man, thanks for the help spreading the word yo!
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