As Homeboy Sandman ably displayed as guest writer for the Huffington Post last week (Attack of the Clones: How Lack of Topical Diversity is Killing Hip Hop and Its Listeners), in which the articulate hip-hop artist discussed the state of rap today, the NYC school teacher turned emcee is not your stereotypical pop rapper obsessed with fame and material things. This fact is further evident on the thought-provoking lyrics throughout Homeboy Sandman's recently released 14 track album First of A Living Breed which is the third of three Stones Throw Records releases (preceded by the two EPs Chimera and Subject Matter) released this year by the prolific artist who is currently on tour with Brother Ali. They play the Fillmore in San Francisco on October 25th, the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on October 26th, at El Rey in LA on Oct 27th, and at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara on October 28th. A couple of months before heading out on the road I caught up with Homeboy Sandman at his East Village apartment to talk about the new album and the state of the world today.
"It's getting crazy," answered the artist not known to mince his words when I asked him about living in modern day New York City. "The police presence is really crazy. I think of imprisonment as slavery and I think it's crazy that they lock people up. You hear a lot about when Europeans first came over here and they tried to enslave native Americans but they refused and said they would rather die……And I think it is coming to a point when people [today] are going to have to decide if they would rather die or continue to have somebody's foot on their neck. And I would rather die and I hope a lot of other people would rather die. And it is only through a lot of people been willing to die that a lot of people are going to survive in a way that can live their lives the way people are supposed to lead their lives as free people."
The subject of freedom is something that Homeboy Sandman contends many Americans get confused about. "There is a lack of freedom going on in this city [NYC] and in this country; freedom to move about freely and do whatever you want. You know there is a lot of talk about freedom of speech. People talk about 'Oh it's a free country. You can say whatever you want. But saying shit don't mean nothing. That just goes to show how much we value talk which is nothing. Talk is cheap. Talk is nothing without action. And in this country people are always going on about 'We can say whatever we want.' But we've got to be able to live however we want."
Homeboy Sandman never shies away from telling it like it is in his lyrics. In his song "New York Nights" (his first recording for Stones Throw) he addresses the political power structure of New York City. I asked him this song and its subject matter. "We got this cat, [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg, who bought this city. And I got this line in 'New York Nights' that goes 'Mayors don't change. The do-gooders just can't pay for the campaigns.' You know it is like where the rich are getting richer," he said. As for the current lackluster economy Sandman's stance is that nothing has changed that much. "People are talking 'bout recession and the economy been so bad. But it seems to me like people are broke like they always been broke. I know people are complaining about it but I don't see too much of a difference."
Homeboy Sandman "The Miracle" from Subject Matter (Stones Throw, 2012)
Getting back to music and his new album I asked Homeboy Sandman about collaborators - or lack thereof. "Yeah there's only one feature on the album, Chase Infinite," he laughed noting how similarly his previous releases did not have too many features from guests emcees either. "I've never been big on features." As far his writing process in the song "The Miracle," in which he shouts out God a lot, he discusses how as a writer he come into its own. "I'm stronger than I have ever been in that regard," he said. "Right now I can be writing four or five different songs at once. [As a writer] I am really learning to just be myself and just open up. I just sit with it and see what comes and a lot of the limitations that I put on myself creatively were all in my head. And I really feel very strong and very capable right now as far as my writing."
Part of this creative awakening when it comes to his writing is how Homeboy Sandman employs a more Zen approach to his craft. He said that in the past he might be struggling working on the lyrics to one song that he had on his project schedule regardless of what might be going on around him at the moment. But not anymore. "Now if I have, say, a melancholy [feeling] from some argument I just had and that bothers me, then I am not going to try and write a song about something fun or something happy in that state. No, I am going to concentrate and try and capture that state and create something new that is that not happy state. So the writer's block I had in the past was coming from what I was trying to resist, which was what was coming natural to me. I was trying to resist my natural emotions," he said adding of this new approach to writing. "This is all relatively new to me, maybe in the past six or so months, where [once] I write about what's happening, I will always be able to write."
Homeboy Sandman's recently released 14 track album First of A Living Breed is available from Amoeba Music as are his previous releases: Chimera, Subject Matter, and The Good Sun.
Homeboy Sandman "Mine All Mine" from Subject Matter (Stones Throw, 2012)