Talking to Homeboy Sandman by Mtume Gant

I’ve known Homeboy Sandman for quite sometime now. We actually met at an outdoor concert thrown by our homie Tah Phrum Duh Bush in Downtown Brooklyn about seven years ago. I had heard his name swinging around a bit before hand so when I saw him actually rock on stage I was impressed. Sometime that day we fell into a casual conversation and the fact that I was a producer came up, now at that point I mainly had done only production for myself and a few remixes here and there. A few days later Sand came to the studio and I played him some beats and he was feeling them. So I passed them over to him, not really expecting much cause you give cats beats all the time and there is always a MLB style batting percentage with that kinda stuff around .300, well unless you got a name. I mean, you can make the nastiest beats but when you are passing around beats for some reason stuff just gets lost in the ether when no one knows you.  So when Sand just a few weeks later told me he used three of the four beats I gave him I was like, “word.” They ended up on his album Actual Factual Terodactyl (2008) and I will say those joints are some of the highlights of my production career. Sandman turned the beat that later became “Lightning Bolt” to a NY Underground anthem, full with a crowd arm waving body movement that became a staple at his shows. “Airwave Airraid” became one of Peter Rosenbergs favorite joints. He chose that as the song to push Sand out to a larger audience, and with the track “Opium” people still come up to me about that beat. Sand helped my production move out to a larger audience than any other artist I have worked with and to me it’s not so much about the name or his success in my opinion it’s what he was able to do with the music I gave him. We collaborated again on his album The Good Sun (2010) and we are still searching for that next time. Sandman has been doing a lot and I myself have been stepping away from Hip Hop a bit to work on Film and Theatre projects but I’m always aware and conscious of what he is doing, so when the opportunity came up to engage him in a conversation, cause it’s been a while since we have had a build session, I was like, “lets do it.” This really is more of a convo between two colleagues and peers rather than a classic “interview”, which is what I hoped it would be. 

Mtume Gant: What’s been good homie? 
Homeboy Sandman: Everything is good. Life is good. How are you man? 

MG: I’m good man. I’m out here in LA. It’s sunny. 
HS: It’s sunny out here. 

MG: Yeah, it’s not warm? 
HS: It’s not warm. It’s not as cold as its been. 

MG: Yeah I’m out here doing my thing. Things are looking up. I had a little transition for a year and a half. 
HS: You acting a lot or what? 

MG: I’m acting. I’m back out here auditioning right now. I had to find a new manager so I found somebody. I’m writing, trying to shoot a short hopefully in September, I’m trying to get up for a feature sometime next year. I would like to do my own feature by the end of 2015, and I’m shooting a feature with a homie of mine. I’m starring in it in the summer. 
HS: Very cool, very cool. 

Hallways (Stones Throw Reocrds, 2014)

MG: So what’s been going on with you man? 
HS: Everything is good, you know, been writing a lot, all the time. Finishing up the full length [album] that’s set to drop this summer, that’s called Hallways

MG: Always?
HS: Hallways.

MG: Hallways, my bad.
HS: You know I got the White Sands [album coming out] next week. 

MG: Right. 
HS: Got a show in Philly [Philadelphia] this weekend that I’m looking forward to, then I leave for Europe next week or the week after that. I don’t know, well yeah, next week, be out there for a month. Everything is going great man. You know it’s been a lot of writing, a lot of music. I’ve been home for a nice little stretch now. 

MG: Have you been enjoying it. I noticed you’ve been on the road. Within the last couple of years you’ve been on the road heavy right? What, two or three years? 
HS: Oh about two years you know.

MG: About two years? 
HS: Yeah, last year I was on the road the most than I’ve ever been and the year before that I spent a good amount of time on the road to. I got a new booking agent in Europe, and I’m working with a couple of bookers in America. It looks like I’ll be touring again nationally in June, working on that now. There’s been some great road opportunities. I love being on the road though you know. 

MG: I know when I was on the road a lot of it changed my vision of music and the hip-hop culture globally, A: nationally in America, and then globally. Have you seen a similar effect when you’ve been traveling and touring? 
HS: I mean you know I get to experience new things you know. And meet different people and stuff and I have observations about the world. Some things are the same everywhere and some things are different depending on where you are. I don’t really look at it as changing my music cause my music is in a constant state of change all the time you know. I do look at traveling as a really useful inspiration, as a really eye opening thing you know, but I mean, I’m always looking for eye opening things. Whether I’m in New York or someplace else you know, just more perspective and just more conversations to have with people, just more stuff to include in the rhyme. 

MG: Well it’s funny, I know you a New York dude and you mad dedicated to the town, but has there been spots that you’ve gone to where you’ve been like, “Man, I love this place.”
HS: Hmm, there’s not been a place where I’m like, “I want to move here.” But ah, you know I really like Philly. I really like London. I really like Berlin. Those three places are the three cities that I like, besides New York: Philly, London and Berlin.  Those spots are really cool man. You know it’s funny when you’re on the road it all depends on who you hanging with and what you get to check out. Like, “Oh, I like Berlin.” I’ve been at like one percent of Berlin you know. Like Paris, I don’t even like Paris. I’ve been to Paris a couple times and I don’t like it. Like I know something about Paris. I know one percent of Paris. But yeah, so far I like Berlin better. 

MG: It’s funny since you talk about your process is evolving. 
HS: You know, look, the joints [beats] that you gave me, I was writing to, then that Ipod got trashed. 

MG: Get out of here. So you lost all those joints. 
HS: Yeah, I don’t have any of those joints. And the rhyme book, I don’t have that either, cause I’m losing all my books. I had some real phat bars for the… it was like “Reflections” or something or it’s like…. I forgot the name of it. 

MG: I’d have to look. 
HS: It was like something like…some reflective joint, or the beat sounded like that. 

MG: Oh, the introspective joint? 
HS: Yeah, that’s what it was. That’s what it was. 

MG: Yeah I remember that one. 
HS: I had great music for that and I lost that. I had some other music…. We had some really solid joints that I was working on, but I lost those so you know, you can resend them. 

MG: You know it’s funny, I still have them on a play list. 
HS: Are you still making beats? 

MG: Yeah. I’m producing right now for Sum for his new album, and it’s become an elongated process cause it’s mixing live music and samples. Its become a longer production. It’s like a classically old production process.
HS: Word.

MG: But what I wanted to ask you is, I remember we worked in a specific way. I gave you the beats, you wrote. Has your process changed at all?
HS: I think my process has kind of grown. I still do that a lot. A man or a woman sends me a beat. If we don’t have an opportunity to be in the studio with each other, then it’s pretty much over the Internet. I call them “Internet Rap Collaborations, Space Odyssey 2014.” [Laughing]

MG: Right. 
HS: That happens a lot, but at the same time I get the opportunity to be in the studio with dudes as well. For songs on the full length [album] coming out I got to be in the studio with Jonwayne, working and recording in the studio together. I got to be in the studio with Large Professor, working together, getting feedback and critique. More and more I’m getting the opportunity to do that, particularly like Mystro from the UK. We got to be in the studio together just because when I visit these other places you know I get an opportunity sometimes to visit people’s studios and work with them. That’s how we like hanging out. You know me I’m still not really much of a man about town, so when I go to a new place I enjoy getting into a studio with somebody from there if time allows. Another thing is early on, when you and I were doing a lot of work together, I was taking my time on everything. I’m a lot more adapt now at writing fast. I remember when we did that song [“The Forum” off Milk & Jade (2010)] that we did with…you know I forget that brother’s name….

MG: With Dana Leong 
HS: Yeah, with Dana [Leong], shots out to Dana. I remember I wrote [the verse] in the studio. 

MG: Yeah, that was nasty. 
HS: Yeah, good look, that song was phat. 

MG: Yeah. 
HS: That was around the time when I was first becoming comfortable with doing that, but now I’m very comfortable and just because time is of the essence now, I look to do that sometimes when ever possible. Whether than somebody sending me a beat and me working on it, just orchestrate some studio time, orchestrate an hour and a half and I’ll come in there. I’ll write for 45 minutes. I record for 45 minutes and we’ll get it done in an hour and a half. 

MG: That must take a lot of confidence in your abilities, cause you know when you go to the lab, that’s usually the time. It’s not just like cats just got cash to be like, “I’ma throw it there. Ah I don’t think it’s that good. I’ma come back next week and rerecord it.” Your confidence is impressive. 
HS: My creative confidence is at an all time high right now. 

MG: Word. Why do you think? Is it a personal thing? Is it the successes you’ve seen? The people you’ve been around, or are you just in a good place on a personal tip? 
HS: I’m in a good place on a personal tip, but I don’t know I just feel like I’ve been doing it for so long. I love rhyming you know what I mean. When I first realized that I could rhyme I was nervous that it would leave. Cause you know that’s what love is like. When you in love, when you don’t really care about something you just say easy come easy go, but when you love it and you need it…I was nervous and I would have anxiety about it. 

Now the love has just been so back and forth for so many years it’s like I’m in this relationship. I know the rhymes love me. I love the rhymes. I know they’re not going to leave. They know what to expect from me. I know what to expect from them. We get stronger everyday; just our communication with each other. We know when to give each other space. We’re just a team right now; me and my creativity. I’m using my whole relationship metaphor but we’re crazy tight now. We’re just crazy tight. I know that she’s never going to let me down. She never had let me down. At this point I know she’s never going to let me down. 

MG: Its good you have someone you can lean on, especially if it’s your creativity. It’s always there for you. Talk to me about Paul White. 
HS: Paul White. You familiar with his stuff? 

MG: I’m not and I’m curious, put me onto him and also how yall hooked up? 
HS: When I first went out to London in 2011 in the early part of the year. This dude Paul White reached out to me. He was doing an EP then called Rapping with Paul White. He let me know that he was appreciative of my rhymes and wanting to collaborate on something. I didn’t know who he was. All I knew was that he was professional about it and I was thinking we going to go[tour] over there[London]. We going to need a little pocket cash over there. You know a dollar is fifty cents over there right? 

MG: Right [chuckles]
HS: Plus let me go over there and meet up with him. His beats were so…I want to say they whisk you away. They just reminded me of Zelda, or The Neverending Story. They reminded me of something fantastic that’ll just put you someplace else. He built a whole scenery around me, and it was all different landscapes. The first joint[song] we did was this joint called “A Strange Day.” I wrote it the day after I got to London. It was just about how crazy London is, about the cars coming from the wrong side of the street and everybody’s smoking everywhere. The beat had so much character. His beats have so much character. And you know people look to push the envelope and sometimes they push it in the wrong direction, but this is a dude that pushes it in the right direction.  I look for the same things in producers that I look for in MC’s as a listener. 

There’s people that you go to, to get what they have. You want some Paul White type-ish, you can’t go no place else. His production is not sounding like anybody else. You want that mode, that’s where you got to go, because nobody else does it, nobody else can do it, nobody else has done it. 

The record we have right now, the sounding landscape of it is rich. To me it’s the most visually stimulating music I’ve made. 

MG: Is your next album going to be a one-producer album or are you back to doing different producers?
HS: The full length is different producers. I already talked about [Jon]wayne on it, and Large Pro[fessor] on it. We’re still whittling it down so we have some remarkable talent on production; some that are very well recognized and others who are not well recognized, but will soon be. It’s going to be fantastic. 

MG: It’s interesting cause I was having this conversation with someone years ago and someone did an article about it. I think it was a Complex article. They said even though Illmatic was brilliant, the multi producer record has hurt hip-hop. 
HS: Yeah I remember, I think my boy EL RTNC was passing that around or something. 

MG: Yeah, I remember that. And I was always a proponent of like, not necessarily the whole album should be one producer, but the majority of it, but granted it’s Illmatic (Nas, 1994), there’s Black On Both Sides (Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, 1999) there’s The Good Son (Homeboy Sandman, 2010). There’s albums that are dope with multi producers. I’m not going to say that hasn’t happened, but what was your choice to do the single producer records? 
HS: Like you and I have worked together and if I still had that Ipod by now we’d have six joints and I’d be like, “Yo I want to put these joints out.” I’m really lucky to be with a really understanding label that is letting me have all these different releases. I got a bunch of releases with M Slago I said “let’s put them out.” I got a bunch of releases with EL RTNC a bunch of music with Paul White. I got a bunch of music with J57. I got a bunch of music Jonwayne. I got a bunch of music with 2 Hungry Bros. I got a bunch of music with DJ Spinna. These are all going to come out at some point. Just trying to figure out a way to put stuff out. 

MG: That’s dope. A little bit of a switch; you know I have this conversation about speaking and not speaking out on things. One of the things that’s funny to me, cause in the last year and a half I always see you speaking. The Huffington Post joints[articles], the Chief Keef thing, the Mithcel and Ness, the Rap Genius thing, and I’m not trying to rehash any of that, but I feel like so many people are overly concerned with bridge burning so they don’t speak. It don’t seem like you’re concerned with that, or is that just who you are? 
HS: Well you know I got the rhyme on “The First Of A Living Breed,” People tell me I should not burn bridges before/But why I need a bridge some place I ain’t trying to go? 

MG: Real talk. 
HS: Yeah, I don’t worry too much about any of that. I do sometimes, especially more and more these days, like especially in these last couple days I’ve had to check myself two times. Not because I’m afraid of burning bridges but just because nobody cares. Nobody’s going to change their behavior. I’m trying to focus on just having actions and saying words, just doing stuff that’s going to have an impact of some sort. I’m not just trying to vent anymore. Checking myself is something I’m trying to become better at or something that I think has just happened. The more I realize that even if you say something, or even if I say something to people, that to me, makes so much sense…I don’t know everybody’s different, everybody’s brain is different. At the same time it’s very difficult to have something to say and be asked about it…

MG: And not say nothing. [Laughing]. You know me man I’m similar. Yo there was this thing about athletes that came out, about all these athletes talking shit about other athletes. You know, “Ah this dude’s game is wack” in their respective [sport]. I think this dude was in the NBA. I respected it because I know how cats are. You know when you’re with other producers and MC’s in private and they’re always saying, “Oh this producer is overrated.” But then in public it gets very P.C. [politically correct]. I do appreciate that someone can be candid, like [you with] the Rapgenius thing. I had discussions with people about that after. I found that interesting cause the discussion ended up happening. The discussion wasn’t happening before. You do have a prominent voice. Now the discussion is happening. People are looking a little different. 
HS: For me though, I saw that as being something, I was like, if I say this, people are at least going to know that those lyrics on Rapgenius are not correct. No matter what else happens, that’ll happen. 

MG: I can’t front though, I loved those HuffPost joints[articles, here, here, and here] that you was doing. 
HS: I don’t know if you know what happened? 

MG: Sketch [Tha Cataclysm] told me. 
HS: They wouldn’t publish my last piece. 

MG: To be honest with you, those were dope. I was really impressed. I mean forget HuffPost. I just like the content. 
HS: Yeah you know I got a whole rhyme and this rhyme was actually banned. I’m not even going to say who it was for. I’ve done a little bit of writing and the story that HuffPost wouldn’t publish, I did publish it on my own and a couple other people did publish it. 

MG: Yeah I read that too. 
HS: I was a little disheartened at the fact that for a lot of people it appeared it wasn’t as important cause it wasn’t published on HuffPost. Nobody asks me if I’m still writing. People ask me if I’m still writing for HuffPost you know what I’m saying.  I could write all the time and I could post something new on my Facebook. When I write something, when I put something out, I want it to have impact. I want it to have impact. And it’s so sad that I could write the most groundbreaking, insightful, well researched, greatest article essay of all time and if I put it on my FB, they’re going to be like, “Oh there’s some cat posting something on motherf…ing FB.” 

It doesn’t matter. But if HuffPost puts it out it’s like HuffPost put it out. Like, “We bow to these masters.” I still have things I want to write about, but I put them in bars (musical notes). Bars have always been my primary vehicle for expressing myself.  I’m always expressing myself in bars. You’ll hear a lot of that in the Paul White [album], you’ll hear a lot of that in Hallways and everything I do. It’s not like I feel like I have this tape over my mouth. I obviously do interviews and I get to talk about all different types of things. When I get an opportunity to write that I know it’s going to be impactful from the standpoint of where it’s published at, I’m going to seize it. I’m going to seize every opportunity. I’d like to think I’m good at recognizing what to accept and what to pass up. I just want my stuff to hold weight. With a lot of these clowns it don’t hold weight just cause of how much it weigh. [Laughing]

MG: Naw I hear you.  I hear you 100. I know you write bars. I know that’s your thing. Do you dabble in any other thing actively? Do you have an active hobby, an active vocation other then MCing right now? 
HS: I go through exercise phases. I go through relationships. Sometimes I watch movies. Sometimes I watch documentaries. Sometimes I read. I write all the time. When I get some time, I want to write. I just want to make so many joints. I just have so many beats that I want to get to and make joints out of. When I get a little time I like to kick it with somebody special to me. Kick it with some fam[ily] or something, but not really. 

MG: It’s the boss, naw I hear that. I always wonder. I know cats who are artists.  I got a friend who’s a painter. He really does nothing but paint. 
HS: Cause he loves to paint. 

MG: Yeah, exactly. Then there’s other artists who do they stuff, but then they do this, then they do that, then they do this, then they do that, just different personalities. I’ve always been intrigued because lyrically you have so much. You draw from so many different places. I think people are always looking at artists wondering where does the source of their stuff come from? 
HS: Sometimes I’ll write may be a little bit less while I’m doing more of other things. I guess to soak in some stuff, to run through the filter and put back out. I was talking to someone the other day about writing all the time. They were like “Wow that’s really discipline.” For me it’s like for your boy that paints. He paints cause he don’t have discipline. I don’t have discipline that’s why I write. I can’t do nothing but write. A little kid going to the park, he ain’t discipline for playing in the park all day. He wants to play in the park. So it’s kinda similar to that. 

Representing Queens, New York, Homeboy Sandman was signed to Stones Throw Records in 2011. Late last month he let go White Sands with UK producer Paul White. This is Sand’s latest and last release in a series of projects where he recorded one-producer EP’s. The first two projects were Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent produced by El Rntc, and All That I Hold Dear, with M Slago. Sand’s full length album, Hallways is set to drop in the summer. 

Mtume Gant (Core Rhythm, Sir Tumez) is an actor, emcee, writer, producer, and filmmaker from New York City. As a renaissance artist, he has dedicated his life to the fashion of multidisciplinary expression. Follow Gant on Twitter and stream his must-watch films here. Read TMG’s interview with Gant talking about his film, Spit.

This article was first published in March of 2014.

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