It has only been 19 months since Stones Throw Records released Homeboy Sandman’s Subject Matter EP, his first project for the L.A. based label. But because of all the material he’s put out in that short time span (4 EPs, 1 LP), it feels like he’s been there a lot longer. The most recent EP, All That I Hold Dear, is his second EP of the year, following the outstanding release Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent. Like Fertile Crescent, All That I Hold Dear features one producer throughout. This time Sandman enlists M. Slago, a little-known producer he previously worked with on his album The Good Sun. Homeboy Sandman really seems to have found his groove with the EP format and choosing to stick with one producer for his last couple projects have made them the most cohesive works of his career.
As the title suggests, All That I Hold Dear is a personal affair. Homeboy Sandman has never been afraid to write about his personal life, but M. Slago’s understated, soulful compositions set the table nicely for Sandman to write some songs that capture the same aesthetic that Slago achieves behind the boards. Because of this, the EP feels like a welcome downshift from his usual intricate, in-your-face rhyming style. There are still plenty of the creative and skillful rhyme schemes that Sandman is known for, but on this EP in particular he sounds less focused on proving himself as an MC than ever before. Songs like “King Kong Got Nothing On Me” and “In A Daze” feature simple but effective choruses that sound meant for M. Slago’s beats, and verses that largely consist of playful boasts. While the songs aren’t nearly as ambitious as some of Sandman’s material, they stand out as memorable songs and are prime examples of Sandman’s versatility and ability to make any kind of hip hop song sound fresh.
The EP’s standout song “Musician” is one of my favorite songs of the year and instantly one of my favorites in Homeboy Sandman’s catalog. He uses the song to address the notion that a large portion of the world doesn’t view him as a musician because he’s a rapper. When Sandman raps “16 bars, 3 verses long/ it’s the output of Beatles album in one song/ No disrespect to Bob Dylan, but show respect for Madvillain” he’s speaking for a lot of people who treat hip hop like the amazing art form that it is, but are frustrated to continuously see its name dragged through the gutter. In the third verse Sandman pens some of the best bars of his career, summing up the existence of a modern hip hop artist from the inside, as well as the outside- “Musicians be amongst the greatest in the world/ but caught up in a game that’s being degraded by the world/ even though it’s imitated by the world/ don’t ask me why I’m jaded by the world”.
Homeboy Sandman has always been able to condense complex ideas and emotions into straightforward lyrics that are easily relatable, and “Musician” is certainly not the only example of this on All That I Hold Dear. He has put out several great relationship/dating based songs in the last couple years and “Relapse” follows that trend. He compares a failing relationship to a junkie who has kicked the habit and keeps finding reasons to relapse. Not only is it an interesting angle to use to write about a relationship, but features another fantastic hook sung by Homeboy Sandman that really gives the song a classic feel. His vulnerable musings on the tricks the relationship has played on him fit perfectly with M. Slago’s soulful piano based beat and really puts the listener in Homeboy Sandman’s shoes. He goes even deeper in analyzing his relationships with women and his mentality as a musician on “Knock.” The song features a great guest appearance by Gob Goblin, but Sandman makes sure that he doesn’t get outshined. He starts the first verse by stating that he wants “a girl darker than me” before contradicting himself and revealing at the start of his second verse that “I had a girl lighter than me since I wrote that.” The honesty continues as Sandman analyzes how the intense, bordering-on-arrogant, belief in himself and his music might make relationships (both romantic and with fans) difficult, but he remains “content to shoot warning shots over your head” and stay true to himself.
Even though Homeboy Sandman hasn’t released a full length project yet in 2013, with the two EP’s he has dropped he has put himself squarely in the conversation for the best rapper of the year. As he raps on “Musician,” “I’m not concerned with being the best or being better than you, I’m concerned with better than me”. Competing with himself has been good for Homeboy Sandman and forces him to adjust his approach on each and every release. While an uncompromising musician like Sandman may never receive the respect he truly deserves, he sounds like he’s having more fun making music than ever before, and might be settling into an artistic zone that could last a while. Just like Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, All That I Hold Dear is being released on vinyl and is a unique opportunity for record collectors to pick up a great piece of vinyl for only 9.99. Check out the EP release single that Sandman put out to commemorate All That I Hold Dear’s release below as well.
Also, Indianapolis residents have a unique opportunity to catch Homeboy Sandman on tour with fellow Thought On Tracks favorite Open Mike Eagle a week from today at Sabbatical in Broad Ripple. Tickets are only 10 bucks and considering Sandman and Mike Eagle’s reputations as outstanding live performers, this is one hip hop show you don’t want to miss.
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Written by John Bugbee