There are rappers who rap to earn a living and then there are emcees that take this culture and art as the highest of endeavors. These scientists approach the music in all its myriad aspects; not satisfied that words are good enough because they rhyme. Not solely satisfied with the marriage of words and drums, but interested in orgies of musical polygamy with strings and bass-lines and rhythms. Homeboy Sandman is such an emcee. We sat with the Sandman at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art to discuss this high art of Hip-Hop, the low points of hunger, and the pride and integrity of a musician. Here are the results.
Planet Ill: How is life on the road? You’ve been doing a lot of shows; a lot of guest spots recently.
Homebody Sandman:Life on the road is really good man. I like going to other towns. I love seeing that the good word and the good Hip-Hop music is spreading throughout the country via Sirius Satellite, via the internet via websites like Okay Player, via Nahright, via the various internet shows like the Beatminerz Radio. So I’m very excited about that, yahmean? Planet Ill is visible throughout the world, and it’s working.
Planet Ill: There’s a lot to love about Hip-Hop right now. What have you been connecting with that you are really feeling?
Homeboy Sandman: I really am loving the new N.E.R.D. album that dropped. There’s a song on there called “God Bless Us All” track 7. I love the joint. Von Pea just put his record out [Pea’s Gotta Have it], I kinda listen to. You know I write for the most part. I don’t get into listening to a lot of stuff until I go through these periods of listening to stuff. But I’m loving what I’m hearing in Hip-Hop music. I keep surrounding myself with good Hip-Hop music and with talented people so there’s always a plethora or abundance of fantastic sounds to soak in.
Planet Ill: Does being a fan of the music ever interrupt with being an artist?
Homeboy Sandman: Well the type of artist that I am, I mean I still get time to be a fan because I still love going to live shows and the shows that I rock, I still pay attention to other cats that’s rocking. CMJ just took place and I did a great CMJ set with, Outtasight did a great set, Blu was rocking, Hezekiah did a set, Tauran did a set. I Am Many. You want to know what I’m checking for? A brother named I Am Many from Brooklyn. This cat is a genius. I take time to listen to that brother’s joints. The new J-Live came out as well, the Undivided Attention, which I’m checking for heavy. There’s a lot of good Hip-Hop music there but i be getting into my writing zones where I don’t even listen to anything or anybody and people see me and I just look disheveled.
Planet ill:How important is writing in what you do? You have a lot of dense rhyme structures and polyrhythms in the middle of your verses that are a bit unusual. Do you do it without the beat?
Homebody Sandman: No. I always do it with the beat. I always write with the beat. I’m a musician, right? I know a lot of gifted cats write without the beat and then they put it with the beat and make it fresh. For me, Hip-Hop without the beat is spoken word; it’s poetry. And that’s cool, but that’s not what I do. I seek to make all that cadence and all that rhythm and everything like that, I need to keep that in mind all the time. So I always got my headphones with me going back and forth.
I start with the beat. I want that melody to be involved in everything. You know, People talk to me about “Why you don’t have a style? Why you don’t sound the same way?” How can anybody sound the same way unless you’re rapping over the same beat? If you going to rap over the same beat every song, then I understand you sounding the same way. If you have different beats, that’s going to call for different sounds. So you can’t sound the same as the way I understand it.
Planet Ill: Give me a song that you’ve heard where you wished you were on that instrumental.
Homeboy Sandman:I love The Roots “The Lesson Part 3.” I love that joint. I mean a lot of The Roots, “I Remain Calm” “Clones” a lot of those joints. The Roots are my favorite crew ut those are the joints that first come to mind.
Planet Ill: How do you make the decision about what to key in on a beat?
Homebody Sandman:I do what feels right; what feels natural. I hear something, and the melody comes to me. Shout to these cats [points to various paintings] nobody had to teach them how to do it. People have gifts given to them by God. For me I’m blessed that when I sit down with a piece of music, her myself on it in a certain way, and I’m able to execute that. So sometimes it’ll be driven by the drums. Sometimes it’ll be driven by some synth or whatever or some riff [guitar] or whatever. I always think what sounds best? What do I hear in myself?
Planet Ill: have you ever tried something one way, and then switched up and went to another part of the beat?
Homeboy Sandman:Actually I got a joint that’s about to come out on the Boom Bap Boys Mixtape, it’s called “Peace & Love.” Which is an old joint that I did and never put out, where I did a hook, and I really liked the way it sounded. Listening to the song, I heard another hook and then I did that hook as well. And I really like the way they both sound. So I just put them both on the record together. So it’s sort of like a round. I’m really excited I can’t remember that being done before. I guess, when I get multiple ideas like that, I guess I try to work to collaborate them.
Planet Ill: What’s the hungriest you’ve ever been?
Homeboy Sandman: When I was a raw, organic vegan, and didn’t have no money, I went days without eating son. I was drinking water. I remember for a long time I was living off popcorn. I would go get popcorn; a $1.50 bag of kernels, have my vegetable oil and I’d just make popcorn throughout the day and that’s all I had.
I got people; I’m blessed to have wonderful structure and framework. I’ve been prideful at times when I was like I’m not going to ask anybody for nothing. Now I feel like I’m a little more mature; I’m not going to live off popcorn where there’s people to help me out. There ain’t nothing wrong with fam, and love and people wanting to help you and helping others. I was little prideful at that juncture.
Around 2008-2009, when I was living in Jamaica, Queens in a big barren spot, I wasn’t eating for days, b. And I was happy to get my hands on anything son. I was going to gallery receptions hoping they would have some brie cheese for me to snack on. But I was loving life, though.
Planet Ill:How potent was that love?
Homeboy Sandman: I love being alive; I love being able to do what I want. To say what I want. I love the fact that nobody tells you what to do. I gotta work mad hard. But it’s a labor of love. I wake up I gotta work my records, I gotta e-mail cats, I gotta write, I gotta record, I gotta travel on the train and all but I love doing all of it. I choose to do all of it. I love the fact that I’m not selling my time to somebody doing something that I’m complaining about. I love the fact that I don’t have nothing to complain about. For me, it’s empowerment; it clears my mind and it makes it possible for me to create. It’s unstoppable love. Planet Ill recognizes. People that are looking for music and truth and justice and love? They all recognize off top.
Planet Ill:If your mind was a sword what would be the first thing you cut?
Homeboy Sandman:I would cut the grid that goes to the internet. I remember 2003, that blackout? That was my favorite day of the past 10 years. Cat was like, “Oh snap, we gotta chill again!” I would cut the grid. Cut the phones off, cut the internet off. I would cut the whole grid.
Planet Ill: You’re a teacher. Or you were in a past life…
Homebody Sandman: Well we all teachers, man. We all got somebody or some people looking at us trying to figure out what they’re going to do, based on what we do. When I was teaching, I taught high school in Queens. It really became apparent to me, more than ever before, that particularly in these inner-cities, popularized Hip-Hop… the corny nonsense, that’s easiest to find, is working for what it’s used for, which is to brainwash kids and jack everybody up. Jack all the kids up, keep them alive enough to make a lot of money [off the kids], which is what we’ve always been here for if you look at the history.
And these kids, they don’t want to be like their parents; they don’t want to be firemen or policemen or nothing like that. They don’t want to be teachers. They want to be rappers; that’s all they want to be. Rappers teach them how to talk, teach them how to behave, teach them how to interact with one another, treat girl. Hip-Hop culture, the way it’s pushed to us through media, is determining how we behave as a people. It’s a sad, sickening thing that we have given away our culture to people who have never been friends of ours, and allow them to decide how we behave.
So watching these kids, you know I would rap with them sometimes, this is before I was rapping for real. Listen to them talk about moving packs, and holding straps, you know, nonsense. One, it’s lies, which even if they did do, it’s stupid anyway. And this is another thing. I got to a rap concert, I hear, “I killed seven people before I got here…” I’m thinking there’s an FBI board somewhere with just mad thumbtacks on the venue like this is where all the kingpins are, yunno? Nobody gets up and says, “Why you lying, b?” We don’t even expect each other to tell the truth no more. There’s some stupid shit going on. Pardon my French, but we kicking it with Matisse.
Planet Ill: how would you describe your style?
Homeboy Sandman: Like I said, I’m an instrument. My style is and has always been and always will be melodies, cadences and flows so potent, so creative, so unique, so new age, so new wave, that even if my lyrics was butt, the music would be beautiful to listen to. Combined with lyrics that are so poignant, so honest, so authentic, so genuine. So trustworthy. I take my time; so one-of-a-kind that even if I had no melodies, no cadence at all, the music would be groundbreaking. And you take one and put it with the other, that’s what my style is. I’m a musician. Emceeing is my genre; Hip-Hop is my genre, but I’m a musician in the vein of Miles Davis, in the vein of Stevie Wonder. In the vein of great musicians.
Follow Us on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/planetill
Follow Odeisel on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/odeisel
Join Us on the Planet Ill Facebook Group for more discussion
Follow us on Networked Blogs