-Written by Vinny Guarino
Sand is one of New York rap’s most important voices in 2017.
I’m happy that LoveLife is your introduction to Homeboy Sandman, because my first impression of him was a bit unimpressive. Don’t get me wrong — the Queens MC was flowing originally and spitting some really intricate material, but he was in the cypher with lyricists like Blu and Oddissee — reading bars off a notepad…
Actually, it’s going to be your first impression, too.
Sand comes on at 2:33, you can’t miss him.
Sometimes first impressions can be misleading. When I think of rappers reading rhymes as they perform them, I think of Drake’s cringeworthy freestyle at Hot 97 where he read off of his Blackberry, and I think of Canibus’s battle against Dizaster where he choked and decided to read the rest of his verse off of his notepad. Homeboy Sandman’s performance wasn’t like either of those though. Drake read off of his Blackberry because he was probably nervous that he’d mess up on New York radio, and Canibus read off of his notepad because he couldn’t remember any of his rhymes in the field of battle.
Sandman’s book usage was more of a style choice. It was an essential part of his performance. The notepad was there to show you that Sandman is a writer’s writer. His lyrics are eloquent and his verses are always cleverly crafted.
His newest project, LoveLife, is a 10-track mixtape of — you guessed it — love raps. Don’t let that drive you away though. Sandman never approaches songs in a trite way. Plus, there’s a lot to love on this mixtape.
First thing I love? The fact that it’s actually a mixtape! On SoundCloud, it’s just a continuous 32-minute track. Songs lead into each other only to be interrupted at points by the voice of Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg and various ‘Real Late’ interviewees like Amber Rose and Swizz Beatz. I love this element because it’s reminiscent of the mixtape era where people like DJ Drama and Don Cannon ‘hosted’ the listening experience.
Now back to the lyrics. Sandman flows so effortlessly that it’s easy to think that the rhymes he’s saying are basic or obvious. Don’t be fooled. His flow is the equivalent of Allen Iverson dribbling through defenders. It’s taken years of dedication to hone those skills - he’s just making it look easy on the court right now.
Once you start listening closely — the head-turning lines appear relentlessly. “Seam by Seam” is a particular standout from Side A (the mixtape is split into Side A and Side B — Side A being older love songs from his catalog and Side B being his new love songs that are exclusive to this project).
Take a listen to “Seam by Seam.”
The way that Sandman dances through this beat is so meticulous. The whole first verse is maniacally tight. He must have rewritten it 10 times before he locked it in. Then again, he’s been writing this way his whole career so maybe this style comes naturally to him now. One of the more creative lines about love comes in the beginning of the second verse when he says, “The definites are us and taxes/Dust to dust and ashes to ashes.” In other words, the relationship he has with his girlfriend is more certain than death.
Another great track from Side A is “Couple Bars.” This was originally on the First of a Living Breed album which was the first project of his that I really delved into. The song is a rather innocent exploration of a normal guy’s thoughts as he imagines a relationship with a random girl that he sees walking down the street. The way he says “Next time I see you, I am definitely gonna shave,” and “I’ve got you under my skin, nothin’ fungal” are just really funny and genuine moments that I’ve come to appreciate and expect from the New York rapper.
From the collection of new songs on Side B, the two best are “FU” and “You and Myself.” The latter is a reflective song on a toxic relationship — he starts off by saying “This is the hard part/Imagine having your heart broken when you’re all heart.” Homeboy Sandman definitely could rhyme about love all day — he’s comfortably in touch with his emotions. Sandman never gets too bogged down though — he makes sure his music doesn’t become overly serious. On “FU” he raps about dating an escort on the first verse and then his girlfriend attacking him with a fork at 4 in the morning on the second verse.
In 2017, there’s a lot to complain about. Might as well close the world off for 30 minutes and dive into LoveLife. And stubborn hip hop heads, stop waiting on Jay-Z or Method Man to bring New York rap back. They’ll probably never outdo their past work. Take the time to appreciate an MC who has been grinding on the same label as MF DOOM for years, ascending new levels every time he touches the mic. Live in the present and give this dude from the same borough as Mobb Deep and Nas a chance. I think you’ll love it.