Homeboy Sandman is, in the famous words of Whodini, a stone cold New York rap machine. Yes, the lanky Latino from the Q-boro’s word wizardry, compositional wit and elastic cadence have set the bar high for bars on champion sounds like 2009’s The Good Sun . But the U. Penn grad and former high school teacher’s also lately exhibited his commitment to hip-hop’s artistry via his thoughtful pieces for the Huffington Post . With his debut LP for Stones Throw, First of a Living Breed , showing Sandman’s creative juices still flowing as unabated as his verbiage, we asked him to share his thoughts on the recordings that changed his life.
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1. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper (Jive, 1988)
Homeboy Sandman: Everybody was listening to BDP, Kane, Run-DMC. Them cats were all ill and I felt the sounds, but I didn’t quite feel that they were mine yet. I hadn’t established that personal connection. Kane was talking about women. G Rap was talking about being a mobster. I was 7 years old, b. But when I heard Fresh Prince complaining about his parents buying him discount school gear on “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” I was finally like, “Oh snap, this ish is about me.”
The produce was sensational throughout. Prince caught mad flack for being so comfortable having fun, but on tracks like the title track he shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could rhyme wit’ anybody. ANYBODY. He was mad nice. “Pump Up the Bass” was vintage boom-bap and you had Jeff scratching you had Ready Rock Cee on the beat box. This was a thorough and sensational conduit for me for full submersion into hip-hop.
2. The Roots - Illadelph Halflife (Geffen, 1996)
Homeboy Sandman: I can honestly say that this album is the reason I emcee today. Black Thought’s barchitecture changed the way I looked at hip-hop, at music, at life. “What They Do” became my blueprint for never selling out. “Concerto of the Desperado’s” my high school hoops pregame adrenaline rush. I’ve talked about this album so much it’s like I’ve run out of things to say. This is the most amazing lyrical album that I have ever heard. I’ve purchased it over 10 times. I’m always giving it away. My boy Bass put me on to this in high school. I went to high school in New Hampshire, and plain and simple cats just weren’t up on The Roots back home. I was like, wow this dude can go bar-for-bar with anybody I’ve ever heard in NYC and don’t sound like none of them. And these beats don’t sound like none of those. My mind was blown. The Roots are the standard.
3. The Roots - Do You Want More?!!!??! (Geffen, 1994)
Homeboy Sandman: I’m not trying to turn this into a Roots fest but I’d just be lying if I didn’t give them 2 out of my top 5. And right after this I promise I’ma leave Philly and start representing NYC, but having absorbed Illadelph Halflife I was like, yo I’ve gotta find whatever else these cats have done and at that point it was just Organix and Do You Want More?!!!??! . Organix was very braggadocio – Black Thought constructing crazy bars over the band playing mostly other people’s beats but with the live band flavor. But conceptually/thematically there wasn’t too too much going on. But Do You Want More?!!!??! really opened up my mind to how unique and individual hip-hop could be.
The New York aesthetic was way grittier, and while it always clear that Black Thought was no pushover The Roots introduced so many different atmospheres that to me I was like, “wow you can make dope hip-hop records about this ish?!” You had “Silent Treatment”: all about a girl making you wait for the buns – which by this time I was in high school and all about the dynamics of buns. You had “Lazy Afternoon” an all-time gem with one verse delivered three different ways as the beat switches up and is really just a clinic in delivery and how it can be altered to achieve a certain feel. “Swept Away” was a whole ‘nother atmosphere and Thought’s verse on “I Remain Calm” became my favorite of all-time it was so relentless. You had “You Ain’t Fly” which was about kicking it to girls in the street and having your game fall flat. You had everything, yo. Yo, you had “Essaywhuman?!!!??!” – which I’m probably spelling wrong – but it was pretty much clear after hearing this record that I would have to be as creative as I possibly could be for the rest of my life.
4. Mos Def - Black on Both Sides (Rawkus, 1999)
Homeboy Sandman: Thought’s verse on “I Remain Calm” held the title until I heard Mos’ verse on “Thieves in the Night,” off the Black Star album, which still remains my favorite verse of all time even to this day. I might have been more excited for Black on Both Sides than I’d ever been about any other release, and I bought it the day it came out and two days later I had it memorized. The thing about this album is when I first got it I was a young punk, but I loved it. I loved “Fat Booty” and I loved “Speed Law” and I loved “Love” and I loved the whole record basically and Mos’ musicality on joints like “Umi Says” and “Climb.” My sister and I seriously used to do interpretive dance to “May-December.”
But the knowledge! I revisited this album during one of the lowest points in my life and played it super heavy for like a month. The wisdom seeped into me like it never had before and like no album ever had before. He said it right there on “Hip-Hop” that hip-hop was ad space for liquor. He broke down right there on “New World Water” the corporate takeover of earth. “Fear Not of Man” made me be like, yeah I should never do that again. “Mathematics” was just the dopest record. Dag I think I’ma go listen to “May-December” right now.
5. LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam, 1991)
Homeboy Sandman: Other day I was listing my influences to a kid and I said LL Cool J and the kid says, “I don’t know. I think Canibus got him,” and I swear it took a lot to contain my rage. But I just took a second and channeled that anger into the response, “LL was already 5 albums deep into being a legend when that nonsense took place. And we talking music anyway, not WWF Wrestling.” The best of those albums was Mama Said Knock You Out and I readily admit that it was integral to me forming my “cat from Queens” identity.
“Booming System” blasted out of every single car in New York City. That was just a fact. I’ve rejected a number of promising females in my day because they were not “Around the Way” enough, personality wise. Name a better girl track than “Around the Way Girl”? I dare you. Marley Marl was on fire with the produce. The title track dropped heavier than any other track had ever dropped in my life to that point. I specifically remember hearing “Mama Said Knock You Out” like 8 or 9 times a day literally for months. “Jingling Baby” you can throw on in the party right now. Tracks like “Milky Cereal” I loved for the creativity. Tracks like “Illegal Search” I loved for the social commentary. Tracks like “Power of God” I loved for the faith. Dag yo, this album was crazy.