The first record we released with Homeboy Sandman earlier this year stated his intentions in text all across the front cover. "Six rap songs dealing with content no one has ever rapped about before in the history of rap music. Unfortunately not a difficult thing to do." Today he takes this subject a little further in an excellent piece on the state of hip-hop for Huffington Post. Read an excerpt below.
I love going into schools and talking with kids. Before making music I taught high school full time. Ironically, students pay infinitely more attention now that I'm a rapper. Class always begins the same way. "What is hip hop? When you think about hip hop, what comes to mind?" I'm good at asking in a tone that suggests I'm curious to hear what their answers are, but I could write them all up on the board without calling on a single student.
"Money!" The class murmurs in agreement.
"Cars. Clothes. Jewelry. Watches." I suggest that that kind of falls under the money umbrella. They agree.
"The streets." I play dumb to flush this answer out. "What do you mean the streets? Do you mean like, concrete? Driving directions?"
They laugh, then correct me. "No. Street stuff. Ghetto stuff. Drugs. Crime. Shooting people."
I thank them for the clarification, and ask if there's anything else. Everyone knows what the last answer is, but depending on the grade, it may take some cajoling on my end to get a student over the embarrassment of blurting it out.
"Sex!" And the room erupts in laughter.
If my opening question were asked to 100 people on an episode of Family Feud, it would be pretty easy to sweep the board. To the casual listener (or the avid listener obsessed with what is most popular), hip hop has become pretty much devoid of topical diversity. Moreso than ever the genre is defined not by sound or musical composition, but by the actual content being covered. Simply put, certain subjects are seen as way more "hip hop," than others.
But it wasn't always that way. Themes like sex and violence have always existed in hip hop, but as a child my first deep connection to the art form came in 1987, when I first heard DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's "Parent's Just Don't Understand." Only seven years old, I couldn't relate to L.L.Cool J and Big Daddy Kanes' harems of door knocker clad women, or Kool G Raps tales of shooting people in the belly just to watch them bleed. But when I found out that a famous rapper hated discount department store school shopping as much as I did, I was hooked. Children are bright shining balls of insecurity, craving validation at every turn. Here was a famous rapper, clearly deemed "cool" by societal standards, who shared something in common with me. I must be pretty cool too I thought. Good feeling.
Homeboy Sandman's album First of a Living Breed has just been released. He's on tour in the US through October with Brother Ali.