Homeboy Sandman Talks Writing Methods, New Subject Matter In Rap

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Homeboy Sandman Talks Writing Methods, New Subject Matter In Rap

Exclusive: Boy Sand explains how he wrote "The Good Sun" and why rappers are so limited when he's rapping about health, homelessness and the environment.

Listening to a Homeboy Sandman verse makes Rap songwriting fun again. The Ski Beatz-produced, "Yeah, But I Can Rhyme Though" , from his The Good Sun album releasing tomorrow on Fat Beats/High Water Music serves as an example. The DXnext alum's delivery is a circus of flow, cadence, content and character. HBS' third official release and first label-backed project calls to mind the versatility and range of albums such as Mos Def's Black On Both Sides and J-Live's The Best Part. In a year filled with Recession rap and darker subject matters, this release is unique simply for sounding happy.

Earlier this month, HipHopDX asked Homeboy Sandman about his writing methods, particularly when the tempo of his flow appears to have the acceleration of a Japanese sports car. "When it comes to editing, I do a lot of outlining in my head," answered the Queens emcee. "By the time the pen hits the paper, once I write something down, it’s very seldom I go back and cross it out. It’s because I think things through at length before anything hits the pad. Before I start writing, I’m thinking about technical stuff, like what the tempo is going to be. I always say I start with the melody first. So is this going to be something where a rhyme is really intricate, where I’m going to have line after line with seven out of 10 words rhyming with the next seven out of 10 words in the next line? Or is it going to be something with just the end of the bars rhyme, something that’s not going to be as dense."

The subject matter often dictates the techicality, he said. "You know it all depends on what the song calls for, it all depends on the feel of the song and the vibe of the song. Me, myself, I feel one of my strengths lies in my versatility. As a fan, I love listening to [The Roots'] Illadelph Halflife, 15 years later, and discovering something that I didn’t [notice] before. I really love records that are dense, [the ones] you have to kind of pick apart. On my album, [the song] 'Calm Tornado,' it’s really really dense, and I love albums like that for people like me, who maybe want to write it out, or read the lyrics to see where is he hiding, what is he saying in this, you know I love stuff like that that you really have to breakdown."

With such an in-depth approach to songwriting, Boy Sand was asked if his notebooks are filled with scribbles and crossed-out bars. "Most of my editing is pre-editing. I have a lot of confidence that I can do whatever it is that I decide to do with a verse." 

Besides flow, subject-matter is an important part of Homeboy Sandman's music. The Good Sun features songs that tackle homelessness ("Angels With Dirty Faces" ) to environmental and health concerns ("Strange Planet"). In a culture that loves topicality, whether it was Big Daddy Kane's "Erase Racism" verse that responded to Yusef Hawkins' 1989 murder in Brooklyn, to Chuck D's "By The Time I Get To Arizona" outcry over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, HBS was asked why he thinks more emcees aren't tackling these issues in today's Rap world. "Right now, one of the big problems is that somehow we’ve been convinced that there’s certain things that people want to hear," he said, elaborating, "that we can’t deal with certain subject matter, that we can’t rap about certain things. The reasons why I’m dealing with different topics of health or of education [is that] I’ve always said, that diversity of content is key. That’s why I love to have a song about people making mean faces ('Mean Mug'), love to take content that hasn’t been covered before"

"Mean Mug," produced by Ben Grymm, looks at the culture of people not willing to smile, and without being preachy, Homeboy Sandman looks at the simple effects on day-to-day life because of this.

The University of Pennsylvania graduate, who said that he and classmate, Double-O from Kidz In The Hall briefly worked together, added that emcees feel limited. However, those limitations are self-imposed. "When you talk to people about Hip Hop records, people are acting like there’s only five or six things you can rap about. You can only rap about money - even if you're not rapping about money and crime, you rapping about how you don’t rap about money and crime. People are nervous, they are nervous, like nobody’s going to listen to them if they do a record about subject matter. People are scared to rap about things that haven’t been rapped about before. It makes us as a culture very… one-dimensional."

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