Exclusive: Homeboy Sandman - The RAPstation Interview

Homeboy Sandman might be the hardest working man in Hip Hop. Since 2007 he has released 9 albums and EPs as well as more features than I can count. He just released his second EP this year, "All That I Hold Dear" on Stones Throw records and is currently touring the U.S. with Open Mike Eagle and Mega Ran on the Dear Hunter tour. He's one of the most humble MCs in the game, more concerned with pushing Hip Hop's limits than selling the most records. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him on Hip Hop's 40th birthday in Columbus, Oh to discuss everything from what inspires his music to our mutual love of The Roots and Madonna. Lord Kel: First of all, welcome to Ohio. I know you were here the other night. Homeboy Sandman: Thank you. I was in Yellow Springs yesterday. LK: Dave Chappelle's town. HBSM: That where Dave Chappelle's from? LK: He actually lives there. HBSM: I heard somebody mention Dave Chappelle, I didn't know why. I guess that's why. LK: Dave Chappelle and a bunch of white people (laughs). So, I think it's appropriate that I'm talking to you today because you did this tribute to DJ Kool Herc and today is the 40th Birthday of Hip Hop. So I just wanted to get some words from you on what would say about Hip Hop in it's 40th year. HBSM: That's a good question. Hip Hop culture…it's a funny thing when you think about Hip Hop culture. When I think about Hip Hop culture, I think about good things. I think about talent, innovation, you know what I mean? I think about the real essence of skill. Hip Hop started off as a real essence of skill based thing. It was like, if you didn't have any money but you were a good athlete you could be a B-Boy. If you didn't have any money, but you were a good artist, you could be a graffiti person. If you didn't have any money, but you had the gift of gab you could be an MC. You know, Hip Hop to me is very talent based. I don't think talent could be taken out of Hip Hop the way I think of it. And there's a lot of talent based Hip Hop flourishing on all levels, from all the elements. And I'm glad I get a chance to see that. It's not really at the forefront of what people think of when they think of Hip Hop anymore. Which is what I think is unfortunate. I don't want to allow the people who seek to define the culture to actually define it. I want to remain positive and I want to talk about acts that are powerful and strong and talented. So that's what I'm gonna do, cause when I think about Hip Hop in it's 40th year I know on the MCing side, there are MCs making music that's never been made before. My tour mate Opening Mike Eagle, he's nice. I knew he was nice when we agreed to tour, but he's really gifted, like getting to see him every night...that's exciting Hip Hop music, that's not been done before. I try to do Hip Hop music that hasn't been done before. There's a lot of artists like that. Like Open Mike Eagle's representin'...Blu, I'm a big fan of, Oddisee I'm a big fan of, there's guys that are really gifted. And I'm really happy to see that. In fact, Hip Hop is very strong right now, cause Hip Hop has always been something that has been pushed to side. It's a misconception that Hip Hop is now a widely accepted thing. Because Hip Hop, for real, which is a talent based art, which is based on authenticity, it's still something that's pushed to the fringe. That's what I'm thinking. LK: So let's get into this tour, you just said Open Mike Eagle opens for you. How's the road been treating you? You've only been out about a week now? HBSM: Yeah, we started last weekend, so it's been about a week. And it's been a ball so far. There's four of us in the tour van, we got a nice comfy van. And it's Eagle, Mega Ran, super cool dude, my DJ Sosa and I. It's a fun loving group of dudes. It's fun, we're talkin' Hip Hop music, Ran and Sosa talkin' video games, Sosa and Eagle are talkin' wrestling. You know what I mean, it's a comfortable van. I'm reading a book. I'm reading a book called "Trauma and Recovery", which is a really really insightful book by a woman named Judith Herman ( http://amzn.com/0465087302 ), talking about traumas the people undergo, talks more specifically about war veterans and also women that have been the victim of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. And it shows correlations, comparisons between that. Trauma, I'm finding the really interesting cause, society's really traumatized on a whole. Like if you look at society there's a lot of things that are...you know what the book is about it how people deal with when nightmarish things happen to them. This is a nightmarish thing how people either separate, you know there's memory factor that comes into play and we're very much in a society where nightmarish things are happening and people are trying to find ways to cope with it. People are trying to find ways to cope with feeling powerless to police, they're trying to find ways to cope feeling powerless to justice systems. So reading that book has really been an eye opener for me because as she's comparing war veterans to women and children. I'm sitting there taking everything she's comparing and really comparing it to people who have been disciples to hip hop as it's come to be understood…but I'm loving the road (laughs). LK: When you read books like that, does it come out through your songs? HBSM: Yeah, absolutely. It's not too difficult to try and pinpoint the things I'm studying whenever I write a rhyme. I was in Buffalo the other day and a cat came in with this jug of water and he had actually emailed me before that: "We're gonna bring special water for the thing cause we don't drink no (just any) water" cause I had this rhyme in "Calm Tornado": "Nobody's perfect, nobody 'cept for everybody, you not up to foil Illuminati, you probably groggy from fluoride in Dasani" and I was talking about some of the stuff that I was researching as far as some of the water system and how that works. And he brought this big pitcher of water, like 'Yo, this is alkaline and all that you know like special'…it was phat. I think it's easy to see a threat of what's going on in my life, what's going on in my mind, in everything I write. I write everyday, I write today, I write yesterday. So whatever I intake, is coming out. LK: So I'm going to your show tonight. What are people to expect from a Homeboy Sandman show? Some of that new writing that you've done today, is that gonna come out during tonight's show? HBSM: Nah, the new writing won't come out. To be honest, me and Sosa pretty much plan the set right before the show and we sometimes change it on stage. There have been times where I'd written something that day and got up and started off the show with it, I think last time I did it was a show in Seattle. I was like, I just wrote this today and I just want to start the show reading this. I haven't written anything today that's inspired me to do that, but maybe after you leave I will. But with regards to things like that, sometimes I'll be in a mood and I'll just change the whole set. For the most part what you can expect from a set is a lot of energy. I do a lot of high energy stuff, particularly, this is my first time performing in Columbus, Ohio. And I know that people listen to rap, people listen to rhymes, but a lot of people don't listen as closely to rhymes, some people just wanna hear the knot, you know what I mean. So I try to make sure that people that came there to key in to everything I'm saying get 100% of what they want. People that are there to kinda just have a good time and catch the vibe, they're getting 100% of what they want. I feel that I have the catalog to do that. I have a varied catalog that there could be a record that a casual listener thinks is funky as well as a really intense listener. So there's a lot of energy in the shows, definitely. I mean I feel most at home on stage, that's where I'm really being myself. When I'm up there I'm allowed, I'm allowed to say anything, I'm allowed to do anything, I'm allowed to look people in their face for 10 minutes if that's what I feel like doing. So I really feel the vibe, but it's a fun vibe, it's a love vibe and the truth about it is...I put out a record last week, "All That I Hold Dear" ( http://www.stonesthrow.com/store/album/homeboysandman/all-that-i-hold-dear ), I had a joint on there called "Musician", which I got a line, "I am not tryin' to waste, a moment tryin' to explain, how I'm different from other rappers, far as they traits, like there could ever be a logical answer other than the music we make." You know what I mean? So for me, when you come to a Homeboy Sandman show you're gonna hear one of a kind music, one of a kind art, that's what's gonna be coming through. I'm an artist for real, I'm not somebody that you're gonna compare to somebody else and say this was just like his show. So I couldn't name 27 things that could separate my show from everybody else, but I can say the music separates it from everybody else. LK: So, in the song "Musician", you say people complain and say how can somebody do so many features and you say how can someone make too much art? You prove that one can't make too much art. As a radio host, every week I'm playing a new song by Homeboy Sandman. How do you do it? How do you got so much coming out like that? HBSM: I write all the time. Writing is what brings me my real joy for real. Creating is what brings me my real joy for real. I've always been very blessed, but I have been in situations that to the naked eye appear to been stressful, but if I could write a rhyme, I felt okay. Regardless of what the situation was, regardless of what the living situation was, the nourishment situation, whatever the situation was, if I wrote a phat rhyme I was in a great mood. On the flip side, I've been in situations that appear very luxurious to the naked eye when I was undergoing difficulty with creativity and I'm miserable, I'm depressed, I don't want to be nowhere, I don't want to see nobody. This hasn't happened in a while, I feel like I have a pretty decent handle on my creative process and what makes me go. It's really where I get my joy from so I need to do it all the time. I've put out...I don't know how many projects I've put out anymore. I know I've put out 5 in the last 2 years since I've been on Stones Throw and I guess before that, I had 4. So I guess maybe 9, but I literally have twice as much material that's not out, as I have out. At least twice as much, so I got at least 27 albums worth of material, well not albums, cause some are EPs and such. LK: Well, when you're thinking about handing out exclusives, don't forget about me. So what is the writing process for you? I know you just said it's always about being creative, so if you're in a stressful situation, does that really inspire you to do more art? HBSM: It doesn't inspire me to do more art, because I'm always inspired to do art. I'm always inspired to create. Inspiration, to me, comes in to form of what it is I'm creating, what it is I'm talking about. I got a girl that I'm in love with right now, I feel like I'm in love for real for the first time in my life. I felt like I was in love before, but, you know people go through this the feeling of love then after that be like "nah, it wasn't" or something like that. I feel very strongly right now, I just got off the phone with her, we were discussing something important. So I'm been writing about her, that's what I've been writing about, just straight up. I finished a verse about her yesterday, I'm gonna write more about her today, like thinking about her and writing about her. That's what's on my mind right now. There's gonna be joints coming out that are about her. They're phat joints. So my process is very much like, what am I thinking about. When I'm thinking about, like yesterday at the Yellow Springs show, that was a cool show because it was small, it was at a comic book shop. So it was cool. So the atmosphere was different, it was way more personal, the sound was good, the turnout was great and it was really fun. It's always fun to rap for a living, you know, there's not a whole lot of margin for anything to go wrong when rapping is your job, but I was thinking okay this might be a smaller scale show. But what it was good for was, I did some song that I don't do at shows all the time. I was like yo I got everybody's ear, everybody's attention and it's more intimate. I did "Illuminati" yesterday for the first time on this tour. Sometimes I do that at shows, we switch the set up, I did "Mean Mug" for the second time yesterday. I still haven't done "Couple Bars" on this tour. I mix it up all the time to be honest. I wrote "Mean Mug" when I was walking down the street and it was summertime and I was thinking this is counter productive, when I see people in my neighborhood. This is around the time when I started traveling on my art really, and I go to Europe and its a peaceful atmosphere, I'm walking through neighborhoods, I'm walking through Gothenburg, Sweden, right, and I see somebody and we smile at each other. There's nothing wrong, there's no insecurity...it's not like, if this dude smiles I could probably beat him up. And I'm here in my own city, in my hometown and in my own neighborhood, I'm seeing these faces that are not inviting. I want to write about that. I wrote "Angels with Dirty Faces" from seeing homeless people everywhere, and people ignoring them everywhere. Everything that I write, my creative process is like what I would be talking about if I was just sitting down having a discussion at that point. I talk to my peoples now, like, 'yo I got this girl, that's what I talk about, that's what I'm writing about.' Depending what's happening in the social atmosphere I write my records based on that. That's really where my topics come from. LK: You say that Open Mike Eagle does some new things, but overall, in Hip Hop there's not a whole lot of pioneering right now. There's some, but not a lot, you seem to be doing something new on every record. There's "Subject:Matter" where you actually went through and said I'm gonna talk about things that nobody's ever talked about in Hip Hop, "Chimera" where it's all kinda dreamy sounding. What's got you searching to do something that nobody else has ever done all the time? HBSM: You wanna know the real truth about that question, I know what it is, is before I even knew what a biter was, I knew I didn't wanna be a biter. Like when I was a kid, I remember hearing LL or Fresh Prince, all these people talking about biters. That was just like the scarlet letter. If you were a biter, you were like a leper…so I was like, I don't wanna be a biter, cause I found out that a biter was jacking' somebody else's shit or doing something, basically, that's already been done. So I really developed such a fear, such a phobia of being a biter that I don't even wanna bite myself. I don't wanna come out with a record that I've already done even if it was successful and people want it. With every single record I do, I've been blessed to have the records that I've done be well received. But with every single record that I've put out, there have been people saying "oh where's that Sandman from THAT record." It's an instinctual thing people have and they've gotten more used to it these days, if you look at Stevie Wonder's catalog, it was a varied catalog. You know, early Stevie talking about "Blowin in the Wind" or talking about "I Was Made To Love Her". Beautiful, amazing songs, but very different from the sound of "My Cherie Amor" or "As" or other different records which are very different from "Master Blaster" Stevie. I mean real artists are gonna evolve, that's what real artistry does. You know Billy Joel has a catalog that is varied. My favorite artists have varied catalogs, maybe all real artists have varied catalogs. But people these days, they get used to people trying to do the same thing, a bunch times. Sadly enough, particularly in hip hop. That song, "Musician" is about it, and I was thinkin' that at the time I wrote "Musician," you know "All That I Hold Dear," I got my niece and nephew, I was watching them a lot, I wrote a song about them. This is whatever's going on. But Hip Hop, there's a lot of sickness and illness in it, because you look at other genres, like if you were to look at Jazz, you're very likely to see someone do something and see someone else say, 'oh wow they did that, I gotta go do this.' You're libel to see competition as far as, 'oh this dude is play the guitar crazy, I gotta get crazier.' It's only really in hip hop, or what a lot people think of when they think of hip hop, which obviously has leaked into me as well, where people say, that dude did that, I gotta do the same thing. That's the formula, like I gotta wear this, I gotta sound like this, this is what works. There's a lot of fear of blazing new ground, pioneering, anything. People would much rather play it safe. But I feel like that's why so many people are easy come easy go. And it really depends on what people want. A lot of people want to be the person that everybody talks about for a year. And you can do that if that's your dream. LK: You mentioned some of your favorite artists. I wanna know, aside from The Roots, who you've been very vocal about. I don't blame you, I've been a fan of The Roots since the second I saw the video for Proceed. Aside from The Roots, who were some of your other big influences? HBSM: From a Hip Hop level, I brought up LL earlier. I was a big fan of LL, and I was a big fan of Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. That's the first record I knew front to back. My early influences, Slick Rick, I was a big fan of Slick Rick. Like I guess looking at all these guys, not LL so much but Fresh Prince, Slick Rick they had a comical edge. You'd be laughing, listening to some of their bars. "I see crabs with spears and Indian drums." It’s just funny. I was into those guys when I was young, and I was into Kane and I was in Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy. The stuff that was out there had a lot of bap that people were listening to, cause I was born in 1980. So, around this time in the 80's I was a younger kid and it wasn't like I was like, what's cool to soak in? It wasn't until I got to high school that I started like, alright, I'm going to decide what's cool. I think The Roots is cool even though everyone else ain't really rockin' with them. I'm gonna go ahead and think this is cool. I'm going to find my identity here. And it was kinda like that with Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, just because there was so much insecurity that time. I remember talking to older people about Hip Hop, that would rep it hard for some of these other groups I named. I'd be like, 'what, well what about Fresh Prince?' I'm listening to him, I'm eight years old saying "Fresh Prince, he's nice!" "Ahh, he's making jokes, he's smiling all the time." I remember seeing that. Then later on I'd get into Mos Def. Mos Def "Black on Both Sides." A lot of the Mos Def work to me was pinnacle…amazing stuff. Eminem's stuff, when Eminem was really cooking. You know, I say about some of these people, when Eminem was really cooking, he was unstoppable. Redman, I was a huge Redman fan. Huge. I was a huge fan of Big Pun, huge fan when the "Capital Punishment" record came out. Huge fan of De La. Big fan of Tribe, huge fan of De La. Love Tribe, love Tip's production, it's amazing. Was more of a Phife fan on a rhyme tip, but Tip was great. I have a bunch of Tip one-liners. Phife was good for that clever bar, but Tip said, "I don't really mind if it's over your head cause the job of resurrect is to wake up the dead." That's a phat rhyme. Tip had wisdom and insight. So I was a big big fan of Tribe. I was a big big fan of all these guys. I was a huge fan of "Looking at the Front Door" - that was my jam. "Fakin’ The Funk" - my jam. Like Large Pro, Breaking, Main Source, big big fan. There's a whole bunch of stuff I can name from that era, but that's some of the hip hop stuff that I really was into. Of course, Wu-Tang, etc, I could go on and on. I was big into non Hip Hop music as well. I already brought up Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder. I listen to Chaka Khan. I listen to a lot of jazz. Dave Brubeck Quartet, John Coltrane, these are CD's that I have in rotation for me, heavy. So there was a lot of that as well. I've always been a fan of 80's pop music. In the 80's there was great pop music. Madonna, I'll mess with the old Madonna records. I'm not going to argue, that there questions that arise when Madonna comes up. But I will defiantly argue that her records coming out in the 80's were phat records. You can't tell me that Borderline wasn't a phat record? LK: I have to be honest, I like all that stuff. I had to admit to myself, like oh my god, I'm a Madonna fan. So it's cool hear to hear you shouting out Madonna and Dave Brubeck and all that. But let's talk about the new album…now "All That I Hold Dear" came out last week. Two songs that particularly stuck out to me, obviously "Musician" means a lot to you. "Runts" is another song, any uncle could definitely look at that song and go, "oh I can relate to that!" HBSM: Yeah man, I didn't even think the vibe of that was for people that had kids, I particularly thought the vibe of that was for people who were uncle and aunts. Because we get to see these kids from when they're born and we're really there for so much of what's going on and we're watching them grow and we grow to love them so much. We never let anything bad happen to them, right? But it's different from being a parent, a parent deals with the frustration. That's why I say the best thing about having a niece or nephew is once you have a blast, you get to give them back. And I think that's a unique feeling, having such connection and such love, without being a parent. I was trying to tap into that, I didn't wanna make it like a Will Smith "Just the Two of Us"... that's my sister's record to write, if she writes a record. But for me, it was, 'I love you like crazy' and just trying to catch that vibe of I'm not the one raising you, but I'm always here for you. Like, you knew since you could count to three, you can count of me. My niece and nephew are now 4 and 5, and I look forward to when they're a little older and I can play that record for them and be like, you guys were gettin' on my nerves and I wrote this record for you (laughs). LK: You don't curse a lot in your music, particularly "The Good Sun", which is one of my favorite albums ever, I heard it a couple times, and went back and said wait a minute, there's not one curse word of this album. HBSM: Thank you. When I wrote that record, I was that person in real life, so there wasn't a curse on the record. Now, I curse in real life, but not like I used to. If you go to "Actual Factual Pterodactyl" or "Nourishment" you know I had a bar "I walk soft and carry a big pencil, potty mouth, my radio edits are instrumentals" cause I used to curse so much that if I had a radio edit it was just the music, but I came away from that. When I wrote "The Good Sun," it was a period of extreme distance from all different types of things, I was a raw, organic vegan when I wrote that record. If you look at the cover, I was very thin, I was a 178 pounds. Right now, I weigh 245. I wasn't eating anything but raw organic food. I still try to eat healthy. But I wasn't cursing, if you listen to that record, there is no reference to women on that record in a sexual way. Not one, except, well not really except, when I say on "Low Co.", "And good sisters who's dissed dismissed, the fools whistling from stoops like wild wolves howlin' at full moons." I talk about women, but I never talk about women as 'Oh, I'm bangin' these women' or 'I'm having you now.' Never, cause there's so much of that. A friend of mine said, I never thought of myself as a misogynistic person, but she said to me, "while it's true that in your records you don't have any 'I'm banging these bitches' going on, if most the time you're talking about a women, you talking about interacting with them in a sexual way, that in itself is misogynistic" and I applied that to that record. During that record I wasn't shaving my beard and…you know, clearly my hair has decided not to grow but in certain areas, but at that point I was like, I'm not gonna groom myself...so, I really love the way that record came out. LK: What about this album, "Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent" ( http://www.stonesthrow.com/store/album/homeboysandman/koolherc-fertilecrescent ), it's a tribute to Kool Herc. What was the reason behind doing a whole album as a tribute to Kool Herc? HBSM: Well, the origins of it was when Herc was having medical issues a couple years ago. You know, the only reason I talk about The Roots so much...I feel embarrassed about it, I'm a super fan with it, even there's members of The Roots that are embarrassed, but I can't stop. Yo, I've only been star struck twice in my life, the first was the first time I met Black Thought...and the second was the second time I met Black Thought (laughs). It's just so interval to my DNA as an MC, I would not be rhymin' if not for The Roots, it's the truth. But, of course Black Thought has a rhyme "MCs never showed loyalty yet, Kool Herc ain't never get a royalty check." I heard the rhyme before I was rhymin' and I was like yeah, that's word up. So then when Herc was sick, they were raising money, there was a kickstarter or something you could send money to. I was like, there should be a record, there should be something from Hip Hop that he's getting money from. Not that I think that "Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent" is gonna change his life, but it was cool getting to advance him. You know, it'll be nice if he gets some money off of it. For the rest of his life if he gets $20 a year from "Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent", at least he's getting something, at least he got something up front. It's something that should be happening a lot more. For all the stuff that he was the founder of. But that was just me thinkin', 'I'm not gonna do that, I'm not gonna be a cat that never went to the elders and paid respect and paid tribute, I'm not gonna do that.' Even if nobody else is doing it and even if me doing it is like a drop in the ocean, I'm still gonna do it. LK: Has he ever heard it? HBSM: Yeah, absolutely. I had to give him a copy of it. When I first met him, shouts to Ready C who introduced me to him, and this is not the first time I met him, this is the first time I got to talk to him. I had met him before cause people run into him. I was like wow, why to people run into him, why do people run into Kool Herc on the bus? It's not right. Even though he's a very humble brother, he recognizes the importance of what he's done. And he does, understandably so, realize there's some injustice going on. The first time I got a chance to talk to him was at Ready C's crib in the Bronx. Ready C introduced me to him. I say "Yo, I'm Homeboy Sandman, peace and love, we've met a couple times. This is my record right here 'Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent'." He said "I gotta hear it, I gotta listen, I don't want my name on something that is not phat". Ready's like, "Nah, he gets busy", cause Ready knows me to get down. He's very quality control about it, which I respect, I say "Yo, listen to it, listen to it 10 times. If you want, I'll come by your house and perform it live, whatever you want." I had butterflies, but he thought it was phat and now we've become friends. Putting out that record and getting to become friends with Kool Herc, to the point where I've been hanging out with people and Kool Herc has given me a call, it's phat. LK: He's a great dude, I got to meet him a couple months ago, real humble. I got one more big question for you. College Radio Day is coming up, and I’m wondering what are your thoughts on college radio and independent radio? And how has it affected your career? HBSM: The DJ's who are taking creative control over what it is they spin and what it is they support, are also a lot of times people that work on shows and are bringing artists out to the shows at school. A lot of the times there will be that Hip Hop dude on campus…is interval, is a mandatory necessity. These days with all the censorship that happens on radio, and this is so heavily censored….you could be an artist that clearly gets love from everybody that listens to you, but be completely censored cause you're not "dancin'." But the college cats will still spin you. These shows aren't listened to by 75,000 people at once, but there are all the people in their dorms that have it on. They have it on in the background while they play their video games or whatever. I have had a lot of people that have heard me for the first time on a college radio station. That have been like, 'Yo DJ such and such was spinning you.' I've had a lot of DJs give me great interviews. College radio is a big concentration, given the environment of the nature of it where people have that creative control and are open minded enough to spin a wide variety of Hip Hop music, but really any DJ whose DJing for real. I believe that DJs should believe that they know what hot records are, more than other people and they're like, 'I'm going to spin the hot records and put you all on.' Rich Medina is a DJ. DJ Spinna's a DJ. Just like Hip Hop is getting is morphed into something, so is DJing. The DJ is someone that plays the record that everybody knows. That's not a DJ. DJs make the hot records! LK: How can your adoring fans contact you? I know you don't do Twitter, but you have others. HBSM: I have Facebook, homeboysandman.com, which now redirects to my Stones Throw page: Facebook.com/homeboysandman and my email is homeboysandman@gmail.com. I feel I'm pretty accessible, I check my Facebook. I can't get back at everybody but I try to interact to the best extent I can. That's the reason I'm not on Twitter because it would just be more people that I didn't have time to get back to. So email and Facebook are my primary contacts. LK: I really appreciate you talking to me and I wish you continued success. Any last words? HBSM: Thank you very much. Peace and Love. By Lord Kel for RAPstation.com Follow him on Twitter @lekdrol