Interview: Hip-Hop And Beyond With @HomeboySandman

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.

That’s dope.

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!


By Wasif Sayyed (@WasifS­cion)

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Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed’s many years as a writer, rap­per, pro­moter, ment­or and hip-hop pro­du­cer have shaped him into an enthu­si­ast­ic and insight­ful cul­tur­al cryp­to­graph­er. He loves read­ing and cook­ing, and can hear the whis­per of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twit­ter @WasifScion

About Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed
Wasif Sayyed's many years as a writer, rapper, promoter, mentor and hip-hop producer have shaped him into an enthusiastic and insightful cultural cryptographer. He loves reading and cooking, and can hear the whisper of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twitter @WasifScion

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