Homeboy Sandman has long established himself as a forward thinking emcee. His uniquely off-kilter voice and delivery often yields an inspiringly experimental set of flows and cadences. And despite the fact that he has long grown into his own, his relentless progress and enthusiasm as an artist is consistently on full-display.

Last year, after signing with Stones Throw Records in 2011, the Queens rapper released three full-fledged projects, two EP’s and the LP First Of A Living Breed. Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent was first announced the year of his signing—and before the release of any other Sandman Stones Throw material—and now serves as “Boy Sand’s” first official outing with a single producer behind the boards. This latter fact has yielded an effect that is no doubt compelling, and with the single-producer EP format HBSM may well have found his perfect niche. With previous releases characterized by a diverse but sometimes scatterbrained aesthetic, Fertile Crescent benefits from a solitary producer throughout. The relatively unknown beatsmith Rthentic RTNC—who has pulled a production credit on all but one of the rapper’s recent releases—provides a backdrop of simple but deftly chopped loops and breaks that feel pleasantly bareboned without being stripped down. RTNC has an obvious knack for letting a sample breathe and the album boasts a mix of clever switch-ups and nonstop motion. And while there are plenty of immediately enticing sounds—the breaks ooze unabated Funk, Soul and Psych rock—the project begs for further dissection the whole way.  

The first track, “My Brothers,” finds the Ivy-League grad rapping over a cowbell heavy break that launches into a riffing guitar and prominent bassline psych sample as the chorus. The lyrics here, like much of the rest of the EP, drive at a call for self-reflection and community: “Black, White or Red man, you are my brother…or my sister / Mrs. or Mr. should be insistent on fightin’ the system / May I assist ya’?”  The next track, “Oh The Horror,” is a Sandman lamentation of the stigmas and stereotypes attached to a rapper’s identity; while he has broached the subject many times previously, his own brand of wittiness avoids the dreaded preachiness that might otherwise be associated with the topic. “Oh The Horror’s” Latin-tinged beat collapses into a simple loop beneath the verses and quickly re-launches into a layered chorus of horns, Jazzy piano and the rapper’s Spanish-sung hook. Of the six other tracks, “Dag, Philly Too” and “Men Are Mortal” stick out, if nothing else for their instantly gratifying samples and understated delivery: “Big up to Marsupials, carrying fam / I move like Maid Marian’s man” or “Say, what’s the happenin’s / I don’t mean up in the Hamptons / Nah, I’m not here to share a wheel with the hamsters / I’m looking for answers” (“Dag, Philly Too” is probably the EP’s funkiest number with its wah-wah laced guitar loop). Throughout, the release mixes radical politics and street culture (“You could tell I read Fidel and listened to Big L”) with the emcee’s obviously cathartic bars on a song like “Moon”: “Wow, did I really just write that? / I know I got ain’t acknowledged it was that bad / Dag.”

Fertile Crescent is as dense and well-executed as EP’s come, and with a nod to Hip Hop’s preeminent forefather in Kool Herc, the record manages to celebrate the culture’s original creativity in its artist’s own avant-garde fashion. The album’s historically-minded title seems less interested in reproducing an aesthetic—as is so often the case with nostalgic boom bap these days—than it is a celebration of Hip Hop’s potential vivacity. Homeboy Sandman has managed to function as an exceedingly competent and witty cultural critic without succumbing to the tired trope of a rapper rapping about rappers. Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent is at its root empowering, challenging and subversive, most strikingly, it’s simply an incredibly rewarding listen.