Philadelphia veteran emcee Sandman is one of the city's biggest forces. Once signed to Interscope by way of a Clark Kent discovery, the Cannons Inc. founder is known to many for his tenure with the Re-Up Gang throughout numerous mixtapes and last year's album. Fully independent now, the DXnext alum spoke with HipHopDX late last night about his latest street album Heart Of The City (hosted by Don Cannon and Ace McClowd), made available just minutes ago.
Speaking about the direction of the album, Sandman said, "I'm a lyricist first. I love tellin' stories. I'm from the origins of Hip Hop where if you couldn't tell stories, you couldn't rap, yanahmean? I like to keep my beats east coast. Shout out to all my friends in the west, the south and the midwest; I create music with people all over the place. But I grew up on east coast Hip Hop and that's where my heart is primarily. He continued, pointing out one song that defies this theme. "On Heart Of The City, I'm gonna give fans 100% east coast Hip Hop. There's one song on there called 'Bout My Bread,' it's got a Busta Rhymes sample, and it's featuring my Cannons Inc. bandmate and lil' cousin Spazz Cannon and Reed Dollaz. I did not want to rap on the beat at all, 'cause it's not what I do. But my lil' cousin Spazz loved it, Reed fucked with it, and it made for a good record. So I did it. Outside of that, I don't really step out of my element." Sandman premiered "East Coast Bounce" on DX this evening as well.
Speaking in depth about his brand of Rap, Sandman pointed to artists he looked up to for their pioneering ability to be both lyrical, and what he called "fly" in Notorious B.I.G., Cool C and Big Daddy Kane. "When Biggie said [on 'One More Chance'], 'I stay Coogi down to my socks,' the fucking word 'swag' did not exist in Hip Hop." Sandman, who recently released single "Just An MC," bemoaned the popular 2008 and 2009 term embraced by youth. "You know what I think 'swag' is? A substitute for talent." Sandman countered that his word of choice is "thurr" or "thorough." "I'm not lettin' that 'swag' shit invade my vocab," he asserted
Another trend that Sandman's music goes against is the blurred lines between street credibility and lyrical skill. Known to many for his hard-nosed delivery and vivid past-life references, Sandman the b-boy explained, "I grew up in the era where Rap wasn't Rap, it was Hip Hop. And Hip Hop was something you lived. KRS-One said that shit clear as water. I just think a lot of niggas got misconceptions. If all you wanna do is be a hard emcee, and being hard means bustin' ya gun, sellin' some coke, and you're tryin' to convey this to niggas around you who might know you to be something different, the only way you can convince these mothafuckas is to start doin' what you're talkin' about. Ass backwards."
Looking at his former life, Sandman even admitted that during his hustling days, he refused to even mention his dedication to Rap. "I understand this is entertainment. I understand all the things I did to risk my freedom, my life for a buck, a couple of 'em or what-have-you. That shit ain't got nothin' to do with Rap. If I sold some coke, it wasn't to look thorough or talk about it. It was to pay a bill, feed a kid, cop some Coogi's, whatever the fuck I wanted to do. It wasn't about Rap. I remember being on the corner and niggas were askin' me to rap, and I'm tellin' 'em no. We wasn't thinkin' about Rap. Hip Hop was more real when I was younger. The four elements. You had to live this shit. If you was wearing two-tone Lee jeans and a windbreaker, you'd better know how to backspin."
Having left a comment on DX's site yesterday praising Philadelphia Rap pioneer Schoolly D, Sandman reminisced with his deep love for the golden years of the Hip Hop culture. "[Laughing] It's so deep, man. Imagine this: I had to have been maybe 10, 11, somethin' like that. [My cousins and uncle] were some real money-gettin', street hustlers. They had all the flashy cars and the flashy chains. All I heard playin' from them cars was Cool C and Schoolly D. My first name is Datwon. My cousin Barry would always be like, 'Come here Lil' Schoolly D.' [Laughing]" "One of my favorite songs as a kid was 'Saturday Night.' [I can also remember the first time I heard MC Breeze]. That was the first time I heard somebody mock somebody [else] in a rhyme. [In the song], he went to the Chinese store. He was [mimicking Mandarin Chinese language], and then the nigga said, 'Do you want a soda / With ya order?' That shit was hot! I was just goin' off that shit. As I got older, Cool started poppin' off with 'I Gotta Habit', and it was just crazy. I was real fashion-aware as a kid. Cool C, man, them niggas used to be fly as far as the Van Grack sweatsuits and that whole thing. That was our look. That was some Philly shit, flat-out! It was part of our culture, it was somethin' I'd seen everyday of my life, and I thought them niggas was dope." Cool C and Schoolly D both remain pioneers for representing the Philly streets that Sandman holds so dear.
Just as early Philly rappers formed crews, to today's unions of State Property or The Aphilliates, Sandman spoke confidently about his Cannons Inc. unit. "My blood sister is an emcee, she's the only female emcee on Cannons Inc. Housewife, she's fuckin' phenomenal. There's only one bitch in the Rap game that can [compete with] my sister. Her name is Shawnna. If your name ain't Shawnna, don't even talk. I put the house on that. Any bitch!" Housewife, who is prominently featured on Heart Of The City, will see her debut release in January, titled I Am H W "This Cannons Inc. shit is serious," he adds, also noting rappers Kawshen and Spazz as part of his roster.
Speaking with HipHopDX, the rapper pointed to his past ventures - a verbal agreement with Diddy, a time when Jay-Z and Damon Dash pursued the rapper, and his uneventful tenure at Interscope after being signed by Steve Stoute. At 32 years-old, having recorded since 1992, Sandman asserts that a label will properly release his next album, and that he's been fielding offers for these free download projects. Pointing back to the history, he says, "Niggas don't know all that. I let that out the bag just now. That's how confident I am in my emcee skills. I'm not trying to get signed off no propaganda or bullshit, dog. I'm dope. Just listen. I make ill records. Real rap. I'm just east coastin', period."
Heart of The City features Big Lou, Reed Dollaz, Kokane, Glasses Malone, Mistah FAB and Cannons Inc. It can be downloaded for free as of today [click here].