There was collective jubilation all around the raposphere when word spread that Homeboy Sandman officially inked to Stones Throw Records two months ago. One of New York City Hip Hop’s most relentless; most unrelenting Emcees navigated independent music’s terrible terra belle successfully, landing squarely in the uber progressive confines of perhaps rap’s last true label bastion of artistic integrity. Without ever pimping negativity for profit; without ever compromising his steadfast moral compass; without ever cowing to conformity — The Good Sun did it his way, shining a light on the virtues of the good fight, inspiring others to remain patient while remaining themselves.   

Homeboy Sandman details his Stones Throw signing to Hip Hop DX in this interview. He talks at length about the plethora of new projects on the horizon as well as his upcoming performance at A3C this weekend in Atlanta. And, in a rare show of vulnerability, ‘Boy Sand unleashes why he feels helpless.

Photography by Robert Adam Mayer

HipHopDX: You’re rocking the HipHopDX stage at A3C.

Homeboy Sandman: Yeah. Yeah. That’s gonna be ill. That’s gonna be fresh. I’ve got some new joints for cats.

DX: Oh, you’re gonna rock some new joints?

Homeboy Sandman: I got 70 new joints. I understand you’ve got to give cats the joints they know and came to see, but [at my recent performance at the Loft], I literally started off with six new joints, then went into some other joints, then brought out some more new joints. I got new joints that cats don’t know. I don’t feel that when I’m doing my new joints, cats are gonna be like, “Okay…, okay…, just get to the shit we know.” I feel like this shit is crazy enough to where I can just do it. I’m gonna mix it up, though. But I definitely got new joints.

DX: How did you get tapped to rock A3C? How’d you end up getting booked, as you see it?

Homeboy Sandman: I feel like I was real lucky to get the [HipHopDX] show. DX has been, not only a supporter of me, but definitely a supporter of good Hip Hop music for some time – since the Internet boom has taken place. And I’m a big fan of A3C. This is going to be my third year. The head of it is Brian Nott. He and I have become friends and I’ve got a lot of respect for the mix that he brings out. He brings out cats that no one’s ever heard of and he respects them. Nobody gets treated like the new-jack at A3C. When I was there three years ago, my first time there, and most of the people there really didn’t know what I was all about, but I was treated with respect by the entire staff. I got put on to a bunch of artists that I didn’t really know about at all from all over — particularly from the South. So I always try to do A3C. It’s a good combination of looks between DX and A3C and I’m a supporter of both.

Homeboy Sandman Explains Signing To Stones Throw Records

DX: This has been all over every website and media outlet, but you’re now signed to Stones Throw Records. Take us through how that actually happened…

Homeboy Sandman: I’ve been talking to Peanut Butter Wolf for over a year. We originally began talking about a collaboration of some sort. Around the time CX Kidtronic – who is a Stones Throw [Records] artist as well, was working on his tape. Wolf said, “CX Kidtronic has all types of different production if you need beats, brother. He can handle all types of different kinds of production that other people might shy away from.” So that’s how we originally started talking. This was around the time when I first started working with R. Thentic. We started working on the Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent [album]. As we would talk, I told [Peanut Butter Wolf] I had a lot of new joints in the pipeline. I already knew the label and I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the artists as I am now, but even then I knew [Stones Throw] was a creative place. The artists were all different. The artists were all different from everybody else. It looked at creativity first. It would be unique first. [Stones Throw] fell in line with a lot of the things I stand for myself: not smoke and mirrors, actual substance. So I told him, “I’m gonna start sending these joints over to you. I would love for you to consider them. Just listen to them and consider them.” Wolf was like, “Yo, this is pretty crazy. We may wanna sign you and put some records out.” And that’s really how it all got started.

Homeboy Sandman Explains Kool Herc Album

DX: Is Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent going to be your first Stones Throw release?

Homeboy Sandman: We called a few audibles since signing. The initial plan was to release Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, which is the album I did with R. Thentic. But actually what we’re going to do now is put out an EP in January or February called Subject: Matter. Then following that, we’re going to put out an album. Subject: Matter is gonna have one R. Thentic joint on it. It’s going to come out in January or February because we’re taking some time. I have 70 joints that are not out. Obviously, now I have an opportunity to work with Stones Throws stable of producers, which is really world class. We’re taking a little bit of time to supplement what I already have with some cats that I haven’t had a chance to work with. Everybody knows about Madlib, but I would love to rap over some Stepkids joints. They’ve got Rock joints that are crazy. Dam-Funk. I rap over all kinds of sounds, so it’s not just dipping into the Oh Nos and the Madlibs and the J Roccs — the Hip Hop. I wanna really dip into the whole stash. We’re just taking a little time and then look back at what we have and revise the first album. But until then, I’m going to be putting out EPs. Definitely look for an R. Thentic/Homeboy Sandman EP. Definitely look for a 2 Hungry Bros/Homeboy Sandman EP. Definitely look for a Paul White/Homeboy Sandman EP following the album. And definitely look for the Subject: Matter EP. The Subject: Matter EP is going to leave cats full like they just ate a double album.

DX: Yo, this sounds like Homeboy Sandman fan’s wet dream. As prolific as you seem, you’ve always been real strategic about releasing music and how you release music. You’re talking about a forthcoming series of projects coming soon.

Homeboy Sandman: I’m talking a series. I’m talking a way to release [these songs]. I’m always creating joints. I’m talking about a constant stream of tunes. I’m not talking about waiting a year and a half for every album that comes out. I’m talking about releasing music in different ways – albums, EPs. I’m talking about having an output of music that is as constant as my creation of music. Really, I haven’t put anything out since The Good Sun came out because I was in negotiations with [Stones Throw]. It wasn’t like we were beefing with each other. It just takes a long time to do that stuff. Particularly when I was very busy. I was six weeks out of the country and then I was six weeks all around the country. It’s hard to just get face-time together and nail down certain specific things. Now that that’s all taken care of, I really have this back catalog that is really a new catalog and I’m still creating everyday. It really is a dream come true. I’m really happy to be down with Stones Throw, man. They think outside the box. I could really go to them and be like, “Yo, it’s going to take a little while for [Kool Herc], so why don’t we supplement and put out this Subject: Matter joint like this,” and have them be like “Aight, that’s what’s up!” Not to say that every crazy thing I come up with they’re gonna go for, but I know they go for crazy things as long as it makes sense.

DX: It sounds like you still have a lot of control over your music. In some ways, you’re the ultimate independent artist. You’ve never cowed to any outside pressure on anything else. That seems to still be the case with Stones Throw.

Homeboy Sandman: I’ve got a bar that says, “I’m independent / No matter if I’m signed / No matter without mind.” My music is 100% under my control and will be for the rest of my life. Stones Throw, they don’t have to put out everything I make. I can make some shit they think is weird and they don’t have to put it out, which is fine with me. I wouldn’t be able to create if there were restrictions on what I could do. I wouldn’t be able to create if there were people telling me, besides myself, what it is that I had to do. I always knew that I wouldn’t be capable of that. It wouldn’t even come out. So anytime something happens in my life that’s on my mind, I can’t even really create unless I deal with it. I would be having to deal with all types issues first because they would creep into my bars. Creative integrity: Stones Throw stands for that. I stand for that. I’m working with a team now so the whole thing isn’t me anymore. It’s a great team to align with. But the music will always come from me.

DX: There was a collective celebration when word spread about your signing. I read a number of articles on various blogs and websites and publications the first few days after the announcement was made and everyone seemed extremely excited. You’ve risen above the frustration that independent artists feel. People feel like there is a lack of recognition or that their efforts go unheard. You’re the exact opposite of that at this point. How’s that feel?

Homeboy Sandman: You know what does feel really good? Talking to people and have them say, “You know what, I’m going to be myself and be patient because it seems like for you, being yourself and being patient has paid off.” A lot of times when you speak to people, one of the big things that human beings do is try to get an idea of what they can do based on what other people have done. I feel like that system can only be limiting, but it is something that many people do. My career is a baby. My music is nowhere near where it’s gonna be. Everything is just beginning.

One thing that has excited me about the conversations I’ve been having about this alliance with Stones Throw is that there are still bastions for creative integrity and if you stand firm on your music and on what it is that you’re willing to do, and take your time with it — these people are looking for us. I’ve always said, “Let’s play it cool. These people are out there looking for us. They’re out there just like us. Let’s just play it cool.” Then cats would be like, “I played it cool for six months. It didn’t work. Let me make a corny record; a corny ad; a corny something else.” Something corny. These are good people. Now, I feel the difference when I talk to people because they’re saying, “Yeah, he’s right because we can see it with him.” Even though I haven’t put out a project or anything yet, just a Stones Throw stamp and I understand that it means a lot to people.

DX: With all of the success you’ve had independently, and all of the excitement generated with the announcement, is there any pressure now?

Homeboy Sandman: There was a hoop’s star — maybe it was [Michael] Jordan — but he said, “There’s no such thing as pressure.” What I read that as is that there’s always pressure. I never could afford to not come off correct. Ever. I’ve always known that. I’ve always had the state of mind that the pressure’s always on. I’ve been like, “This record’s gotta be big. This rhyme’s gotta be correct.” On one hand, I don’t feel any pressure because I’ve been feeling pressure. Everything’s been high stakes from the beginning. I was never half-assing it or feeling like it didn’t matter or it didn’t count. You’ve got dudes that can hit their free throws but when the game is on the line, they can’t hit their free throws. Maybe if you realize that every free throw gets you one point. This free throw in the first quarter gets you one point just like this free throw in the fourth quarter. So when you get to the fourth quarter it’s like, “Hey, I just did this same thing a few quarters ago. This isn’t that difficult.” People are talking to me about pressure and I can’t wait for these cats to hear what I’m working on. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been! My production is crazier than it’s ever been! I’ve got cats sending me beats from the far reaches of the universe! Crazy sounds! I’ve got diversity crazy. I’ve got raw new sounds and I’m rapping stronger than ever. So, my free throws now are not even hitting the rim or none of that because I’ve been under pressure.

DX: I’m not sure which quote exactly that you’re referring to, but I know Jayson Williams used to say he doesn’t feel pressure. Rather, he feels opportunity. You consistently maximize every opportunity. The big ones and the small ones. Of course when it comes to releasing full length projects and putting on a quality live show, but also showing up to other people’s events; showing support for independent artists of all types. I said this years ago and the reasoning behind it still resonates in the same ways: you’re the mayor.

Homeboy Sandman: Good looking out for that. I like that nickname. Actually, on a limited seven-inch vinyl that’s been in the works for a while that’s going to go to all the Puma stores. Shouts to Puma, they hooked up this limited seven-inch that’s going to have “The Carpenter” on one side, and on the other side it’s going to have this joint called “Same Number Same Hood.” It samples the [Notorious B.I.G.] line “Same number / Same hood.”

I love [the movie] 300. I love how the generals are the first ones on the front [lines] and Leonidus is out there chilling. I feel like I’m a general, but I feel like there are many generals. I feel like the generals are with the soldiers all the time. This is what we really love. We really love being amongst our people. People tell me they think it’s bazar that I’m very accessible. I tell them, “This is where I want to be.” I don’t understand why other people don’t want to be here. Where are they that they don’t want to be here? They’re not where the real stuff is going down because that’s where I’m at.

Homeboy Sandman Reacts To Troy Davis, Recent Police Brutality

DX: You and I Am Many came on Brooklyn Bodega Radio during the press day for the 2011 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. We talked a little bit about Smif-N-Wessun and what happened during their Tammany Hall album release party. Last week, the Troy Davis verdict came down and unfortunately a man was sentenced to death despite questionable evidence. What did you think about the Troy Davis verdict if you had a chance to think about it all?

Homeboy Sandman: I definitely did. To be honest with you, we talked and I told you that I think that most things are very choreographed. I actually thought and was very hopeful that the Troy Davis case was going to be stayed. The reason that I expected it to be stayed is because [everybody was talking about it]. I actually didn’t hear about the Troy Davis case until a week and a half before the date of his execution. Around that time, it seemed like that’s when everybody heard about it. It seemed like that’s when it hit the mass population. You know, I’m not on Twitter so maybe I was out the loop. But, after that what I saw was people saying this was bad on Twitter and Facebook. I saw people saying things, and I know there were people working behind the scenes, but I actually thought the execution was actually going to be stayed to create the illusion that just talking a lot would actually do something. That’s what I actually thought.

That day on [Bodega Radio] we talked about the shame I feel and how I feel I’m a part of weak team that does nothing. That [Smif-n-Wessun and Pete Rock police beating at] Tammany Hall was a complete shame. People who have records about how tough and hard they are are on video watching an old woman get mashed up by police. I feel ashamed about being a part of crew that’s known all around the world as being the softest crew in the world. I’m not sure what to do [about the Troy Davis verdict]. I don’t even feel right talking about it because I know that’s doing nothing. I’m taking part in a rally right now that’s called New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence. My homegirl’s aunt was murdered by her boyfriend 10 years ago and now they do a march every year about domestic violence. There’s a bunch of people here. We’re walking through Harlem and no one even gives a shit! The girls are wearing white. The boys are wearing black. People are looking at us but it’s not soaking in. I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure what to do, man. The Troy Davis situation, after I found out he was executed, I almost feel helpless. I’m looking for an opening or something. What do I do? I know talking ain’t it.

I don’t separate my career from my life. This is just me. I rap. I do what I can all the time. The one thing I can say is Pete Rock‘s [wife] wouldn’t have gotten stomped out in front of me. If she would have then I would’ve got stomped out. That’s all I can say. I’m looking for an opportunity. I don’t know where it is or when it’s coming or what it is. But what do I do about Troy Davis? People talk about Troy Davis because he’s going to be executed for a crime where seven of nine people switched their story. They don’t talk about Rap records that say money is everything and not having honors in school. They don’t talk about that so I try to talk about that. There’s racism that’s going on so fighting racism is fighting for Troy Davis. I’m trying to do that. I wish there was something I could’ve done that was more direct; more exact for Troy Davis. I’m trying to do what I can. I’m trying to turn off the radio when there’s music about killing niggas on. I’m trying to talk to people and be nice to them. I’m trying to smile at strangers. I’m trying to do whatever I can, man. The shit is fucked up. And it isn’t just “fucked up, let’s move on.” I mean, I feel stupid saying, “Let’s do something,” when I don’t know what it is to do.

Before I was rhyming, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But doing what I wanted to do with my life started with knowing what I didn’t want to do with my life. That’s how it started and then I started to cut the fat and realize what I wanted to do. What do we do about Troy Davis? I’m not sure. But I know that we should stop doing the shit that we know we’re not supposed to be doing. Maybe then it will become obvious how to help Troy Davis. There’s all type of people on death row that are alive. Troy Davis — it sounds real bad — but he might be better off dead than fucking with a crew of cats that don’t do shit but watch him die.   

DX: With everything we’ve just discussed about Troy Davis, under this paradigm – like in the 1950s or 1960s or with old Negro spirituals – can music still change the world?

Homeboy Sandman: Yes. Music is changing the world. Negative music is making the world worst. I do believe that good music makes the world better just as bad music obviously makes the world worse. Like I’ve said many times, I’m not the dude that thought nobody sold drugs before Rap made selling drugs cool. But I definitely have a homegirl who’s brother’s gonna wind up locked up for a long time because he sells drugs because it’s cool. People talk about the education system and media as if media is not the education system. People are doing what the media tells them to do, straight up and down. Some people separate the news from music videos. It’s the same people deciding what gets to us on a mass level, for the most part; or 99% of the time. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to break through there. I’m not saying that no truth comes through. A little truth comes through in everything because you have big Hollywood blockbuster movie’s like The Matrix that have truth in them. They have lies in them, too. But this whole media thing is about a bunch of people who are insecure in this world and just want to be cool. They don’t know how to be cool, so they’re looking to the media to find out. The media knows that. 500 years ago, the dude that was cool wasn’t the rich dude. It wasn’t the famous dude. It was the dude that stood up for his family. It was the dude that was righteous, that was honorable. It was the opposite of what the media teaches us now. The worst thing you could say about a Samarai is that you have a price. Money is more important than doing what’s right, that’s the worst thing you could say! And it’s become money is all that’s important through the media telling people that and the people not knowing any better. All we need to do is let people know. Good music always over shines bad music whenever it gets a chance to be compared. Good music will always change people and people change the world.