I don’t know why I keep playing this new Homeboy Sandman track. It’s called “Atlantis” and it isn’t overly awesome. The beat, produced by Blu, sounds like an old loop from the Police, so you might get funny looks if you blast it from the car.
But the song is just—-dope.
It’s catchy as hell and I can’t fully explain why.
Then again, yes I can: It’s because Sandman’s rapping on it. The Queens, N.Y., native has carved a nice career with ruminating flows, some of which you miss at first because his cadence is so fluid. Sandman is a purist who can rhyme about any topic and make it sound intriguing. Exhibit A:
I wreck my brain every time I try to analyze Sandman and his unique style. He can rip a beat or calmly unravel his thoughts. He sings out of tune and remains affable through it all. Since he signed with Los Angeles label Stones Throw, Sandman has dropped a slew of EPs and a full-length album, 2012’s First of a Living Breed. His forthcoming album—Hallways, out Sept. 2—is in its finishing stages. We discussed the album, underground hip-hop culture, and what he has planned for Sunday’s show at LIV nightclub. (Spoiler: Talking to Sandman is just as fun as hearing him rap.)
How would you describe your style to people who aren’t familiar with your music?
In hip-hop, it’s like it’s mandatory to have a specific style. I don’t have a way that I always sound. Trying to describe the way I always sound is not gonna work, because I don’t always sound a certain way, ya know what I’m sayin’? Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick like Nice & Smooth. So I don’t have a style, ya know? I have a style for a particular song; I’ve got style as an MC, but my answer to that is, “Yo, don’t try to describe my style, B. My flow is ever-changing. My shit is ever-present.”
Looking back, I see people like Stevie Wonder. You look at Innervisions and everything else: It was all soulful, but Stevie had a cut, “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It,” that was a country record! Musicians are always trying new things and trying to make new sounds, so Stevie wasn’t asked to describe his style. That’s some new shit. I just get busy, ya know?
Why aren’t rappers considered musicians?
Hip-hop is not presented as a musical art. It’s presented as an image. I’m always speaking on the evolution in media, and the way all music comes out, it’s compartmentalized. If Aretha Franklin came out today, she’d be told she doesn’t have the right look. It’s not about the art or craft anymore, so hip-hop being the young genre that it is, we’re in a time where the presentation of it is a lot more image-based, full of glitz and away from the authenticity. So in hip-hop, rappers aren’t presented as some of the nicest God-gifted musicians that ever graced the Earth. But I definitely feel that way about myself and the cats I get down with.
There are folks like that in D.C….
Yeah, man. Me and yU got a track that’s not out yet, so cats can check for that. I’ve been a big Diamond District fan, working a lot with Oddisee and yU.
How has hip-hop changed from years past?
I think it’s doing really, really good. I’m in a good position to know about Oddisee and yU. I’m part of the community, I’m part of the culture, so I get to do shows and know about things that folks don’t know about on a wide level. Just on the street level in New York, I’m up on the new YC the Cynic joints. I’m following what’s cooking, so how’s hip-hop doing? It’s an art form and a craft, and as time keeps going by, it’s only gonna keep getting better as long as people keep doing it from the art perspective. I don’t believe the whole “everything’s been done under the sun.” We come up with new ideas every day, so hip-hop can never be old. There’s always gonna be people pushing it to places it’s never gone. However, it’s unfortunate that people allow the media to control what’s popular.
As for mainstream hip-hop, I wouldn’t even call it hip-hop because hip-hop is a talent-based thing. This is the most lyric-driven genre that’s ever existed, and yet you have people who can’t even communicate on a speaking level. It shows that when people think hip-hop, they’re thinking of a dude that can’t rap. And that’s not hip-hop; hip-hop is dudes that can rap. I feel great about hip-hop; I’m listening to JJ Doom and all that. Hip-hop isn’t whack, so when people think of whack stuff when they think of hip-hop, that’s a misunderstanding.
How can you, and the others you just mentioned, gain mainstream attention?
We don’t control the mainstream channels. Me, yU and others, we’re gonna do fine because we can get our music to people at shows. He gets busy and whoever hears it is gonna be like, “Yo, he gets busy.” So we’re always gonna be OK and our burn is always gonna get a little brighter as long as we don’t fall off. But as far as getting the industry, which is based on things that aren’t music, to promote music? That’s silly. It’s not about promoting music, so I’m not expecting yU, Homeboy Sandman, or Oddisee to get on the radio because that’s not what the radio is for. It’s there to promote nonsense and it’s working great. The radio is not for putting music on anymore. It’s for the B.S.
Schools work the same way. People say the schools are broken; I’m like “Yo, they’re not broken, the schools are working great.” They’re for implementing and upkeeping racial stratification. So asking a question like “How do we turn the tide?” is really a bugged-out question. We’ve gotta turn the tide one person at a time, 100 people at a time, 1,000 people at a time. The channels are controlled by cats who are not down with us. They’re never gonna open that up to us.
What can you tell me about the new album?
Yeah, man. I’m excited about this. I’m real happy with the EPs and I’m gonna do more of them, but it was great to return to the vibe that a bunch of different producers bring. I got to travel to a bunch of different places I’ve never been to creatively. I’m excited about some of the content that have to deal with romantic issues and personal stuff. I did this one record called “Grand Puba” that deals with the transformative stages of love. I feel it’s my best penmanship ever in relation to men-women relationship stuff. I got a joint about the United States called “America the Beautiful” that Jonwayne produced. I took time to write this song to point out the things that I appreciate. I’ve got a song that’s called “Stroll,” where I’m just walking around and paying attention.
What’s planned for this D.C. show?
I’ve been breaking out a bunch of material. Little by little at these shows, I’m gonna break out album cuts that I’ve never performed and don’t have videos. By the time we get to the end of the tour, I’ll be doing mad joints I never did. We just gonna have a real busy time, man. There’s gonna be some very eclectic, unique and authentic hip-hop.
Sandman plays LIV this Sunday. 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $15. 2001 11 St. NW. (202) 505-4548. livdc.com.