EP Review: Homeboy Sandman ‘All That I Hold Dear’
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
EP Review: Homeboy Sandman ‘Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent’
New York MC Homeboy Sandman had one of my favorite albums of 2012 in First of a Living Breed. It was his first full length album on LA’s famed hip hop imprint Stones Throw Records, following two outstanding EPs (Subject Matter and Chimera) that were also released on Stones Throw in 2012. Sandman’s forging a similar path in 2013 with his initial release, Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, also coming in the form of an EP.
Fertile Crescent was released digitally a couple months ago, so it’s not technically a new release, but I decided to hold off on reviewing it until it got a proper vinyl release this month. After listening to Fertile Crescent for the past couple of months, I can definitively say that is his most consistent release and my favorite Homeboy Sandman project. That’s saying a lot considering the numerous projects he has released in the last five years, but it’s not surprising considering his ability to constantly improve and reinvent himself.
In terms of rapping chops, Sandman has been one of the best MC’s on the planet ever since his first album dropped back in ’08. His writing, flow, wordplay, and creativity have been consistently excellent on each and every project he’s released. Conversely, his advanced writing and ability to tackle topics that other MC’s wouldn’t touch have limited the cohesiveness of past works. You always know you’re going to hear a few songs on a Sandman album that are utterly unique, but this uniqueness (both in his beat selection and songwriting) sometimes makes his albums tough to listen to straight through.
That is not the case on this EP, and it is largely due to the excellent front to back production provided by EL RTNC. EL RTNC has made a handful of beats for Homeboy Sandman over the last couple years and while he may not be a household name at this point, I predict he won’t be staying anonymous for long. All of the beats seem to draw from a 70’s rock/soul template and feel connected, but they never run together. This is helped by the fact that EL RTNC adds short intro and outro beats and samples throughout the EP that raise the level of musicality and cohesiveness.
“Peace & Love” stands out with some of the best songwriting you’ll find on a rap song in 2013. His verse about how easily strong relationships can crumble alternates with a great vocal sample and Sandman builds on the verse with every pass through, giving the verse a chorus-like feel and helping to burn it into your memory. Homeboy Sandman has always been more adventurous with his song structures than the average rapper, but it’s these types of songs that really put him at the forefront of the genre as a songwriter.
It’s hard to single out any other songs on an EP that’s so consistently good, but Homeboy Sandman’s creativity shines through on every song. He breaks down stereotypes he faces daily and sings in Spanish on “Oh, The Horror,” shows off his acrobatic, wordplay driven flow on “Dag, Philly Too” and “Men Are Mortal”, and details the dangers of dating someone and hoping they’ll change on “Moon.” Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent is the best EP I’ve heard this year and a tremendous start to what should be another great year for Homeboy Sandman. He recently released another excellent single, “Give You The World” and has a full length project scheduled to drop later this year. Pick up the vinyl for Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent for only 9.99 over at Stones Throw and get an instant digital download.
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Written by John Bugbee
Album Review: Homeboy Sandman ‘First of a Living Breed’
To say that New York rapper Homeboy Sandman has an unconventional approach to making hip hop would be an understatement. While Sandman has a style that has been lauded by mid ‘90’s rap enthusiasts, that’s more to do with his intricate flow and strong New York accent than the actual content of his music. Homeboy Sandman’s unique rap journey truly began when he withdrew from Hofstra Law School three years in to pursue a career in rap, so you can see why his perspective might be a little different from your typical rapper. For Homeboy Sandman it’s a conscious decision to make unique and original music, even flipping the popular rap cliché ‘last of a dying breed’ on its head for the title of his new LP First of a Living Breed.
The album is Sandman’s first full length offering since signing a deal with Peanut Butter Wolf’s west coast label Stones Throw. He released two excellent EP’s earlier this year (Subject Matter and Chimera), and a song from each is featured on First of a Living Breed. “Mine All Mine” from Subject Matter and “Illuminati” from Chimera are perfect examples of Sandman’s versatility and it’s easy to see why they were chosen to be featured on the LP. “Mine All Mine” is as straightforward a hip hop song as Homeboy Sandman will make, but his rapid fire delivery and sharp wordplay (“my roots underground like veggies”) make it a creative and fun take on your traditional rapping-about-yourself song. “Illuminati” on the other hand finds Sandman showing off his conceptual side penning a song from the perspective of a ruling class that is casually detailing strategies to keep the underclass in their place and predicting the desired outcome. Sandman’s brilliant writing shines throughout the song, but especially in the last few bars- “They will never form alliance they’ll be content to live a lie/ as long as they’re alive the sirs and madams will surmise/ that it’s on us they rely they will never realize that we rely on them/ at any moment they decide they could make it end/ instead just make some ends because life is hopeless times is hard/ and keep it focused on religion so they never look for God”.
“Illuminati” is a great example of Homeboy Sandman’s ability to think critically in the political and government realms, but on the album’s high point “Whatcu Want from Me?” he makes it known that that world is something he’s trying to avoid- “All them politicians are frauds and just an awful lot/ Coughing up they mouthful but they never do an awful lot/ If it was up to me I’d throw all them suckas off the docks/ I don’t give a damn if my opinion is unorthodox” Later on the same song Sandman shows off his DOOM influenced pop-culture associative flow- “Maybe I’m like Pee Wee looking for the Alamo/ All I know is it’s in fashion treating my fam like animals/ And that ain’t gonna stop regardless of who’s dating Amber Rose”. Homeboy Sand’s rhythmic flow and breath control are enough to grab any casual listeners attention, but once you start to break down his bars you quickly realize he doesn’t leave much room (if any) for filler.
A song like “Couple Bars” might sound like a typical song for the ladies at first, but the concept behind the song and Homeboy Sandman’s craftsmanship make the song something much greater than that. In an interview with Village Voice Sandman revealed that the song was based on and written following a dream he had about singer Nikki Jean after they met at South by Southwest a couple years ago. On the song Homeboy Sand pokes fun at his political indifference and makes great use of metaphors, matching the songs imagined inspiration- “Baby run for prez, I’ll vote/ I’m fearless from the feelings you evoke/ Okey dokey you can open up my nose/ I’ll never put you second for a second, you’re no Robinson Cano/ I don’t know if you’re into sports but I am hoping so”.
Although Homeboy Sandman puts forth a lot of effort to differentiate himself from typical rappers, he usually finds a way to do it while maintaining his overwhelmingly positive perspective. The ‘same as it ever was’ track “Not Really” has Sandman rapping about his no frills approach to life which has allowed him to stay grounded regardless of how much money or fame is gained. Sandman raps- “Far as money I was always out/ Now it’s always money coming in/ I never worry about money now/ I never worried about money then”. Instead of trashing the “get money” rap mantra, Homeboy Sandman simply offers another perspective, his. Homeboy Sandman’s honesty is always appreciated because even when it’s off the cuff, it seems well thought out and grounded.
Along with other albums released in 2012 like billy woods’ History Will Absolve Me, Open Mike Eagle’s 4NML HSPTL, and Aesop Rock’s Skelethon, First of a Living Breed is a fully grown album for a fully grown rap audience. Maybe even more so than those three albums it possesses the ability to captivate even a casual listener because of Homeboy Sandman’s undeniable rapping talent and sense of melody. Despite signing with Stones Throw, Homeboy Sandman hasn’t rhymed over a single beat from their in-house maestro Madlib (the title track was produced my Madlib’s brother Oh No), but it hasn’t seemed to affect Sandman. He’s shown a great ear for beats, enlisting several no-name producers for all of his recent releases while still maintaining a cohesive sound that never finds him sounding uncomfortable. Homeboy Sandman has also earned a rep as one of the best live performers in hip hop over the last few years and his effortless flow is on full display throughout the album. Pick up Homeboy Sandman’s new LP over at Stones Throw Records and find out why he’s a strong contender for my rapper of the year for 2012.
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Written by John Bugbee