Excerpt from an interview with Homeboy Sandman by PremRock published at Audible Hype, April 2012
When I moved to NYC almost 4 years ago, there was no name or figure more ubiquitous in the underground hip-hop scene than Homeboy Sandman. Everyone I met and everywhere I went they were talking about the Queens MC. After taking the NY scene by storm Sands dropped numerous well-received projects, gained an incredible amount of buzz nationally and internationally and even inked a deal with the prestigious Indie Stones Throw. Always one of the most magnetic people in the room, and seemingly always in the room, Sands built his name not only through an undeniable skill set but also through a tireless work ethic and sharp business acumen.
Recently, Sands graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to tell me about the journey from open mics to being one of the most buzzed about MCs today. Take notes…
PremRock: You’ve taken many unique forms of guerilla style DIY marketing in your career. What can you tell us about these methods and how’d did they assist in helping you reach your goals as an artist?
Homeboy Sandman: They assisted me because they got more people to listen to my music. With a cat like me, a one of a kind talent, it’s really about people hearing the music. It’s not really about a marketing campaign or anything or any type of media blitz. Before everybody in the world wanted to be a musician, only the musicians wanted to be musicians. Because one of a kind music is an undeniable thing. I’m one of them dudes. So we had the train campaign flyering the trains so people could see my website where they could go to listen to my music. On the flyers it just said that other dope musicians would be down for me, so it piqued the curiosity of people that love real musicians. We had me writing lyrics on the sidewalk in sidewalk chalk. So people could appreciate my one of a kind songwriting. We had me passing out song lyrics in the train for the same reason. We had me going in to Circuit City and Best Buy and PC Richard and such and blasting my music on the radios there. We had me going to the Apple stores and setting all the web browsers to my website where people would hear my music. We had me putting flyers for my shows in the pages of all the music magazines at Barnes and Nobles and at Hudson news. We had a zillion things. All directed at getting people who are interested in music, to hear mine. My goal as an artist is people hearing my music. So, goal achieved right off top. I mean, my greater goal is changing the entire world, but that happens through people hearing my music.
PremRock: Being involved in the NY scene I’ve managed to take note of how visible you regularly are. You support many local acts and in turn have gained their support. How did local support play a role in your recent rise to broader recognition?
Homeboy Sandman: For one I’ve become friends with a lot of these acts. Genuine friends. And I support my friends and I hold my people down. Secondly, I love dope music and dope shows, so it’s a pleasure for me to attend these shows. Thirdly, these cats support me, are my foundation really, so I make it a point to return that love whenever I get an opportunity. I definitely recognize that there’s an element of “Homeboy Sandman came to my show so I’ma go to his,” but I hope that the majority of it is, “Homeboy Sandman thinks that talent is something worth supporting, and so do I.” So the same way I’m grateful that people support my talent because I support theirs, I’m happy that people support talent that isn’t mine. Talent needs support. Supporting real talent is what will lead to the overthrow of the glorification of the talentless.
As far as my recent rise to broader recognition, I just celebrated my 5 year anniversary (my first show was March 30th, 2007 at the Bowery Poetry Club). In those 5 years I’ve been evicted, I’ve been 70 lbs lighter than I am now. I’ve slept on countless couches. I’ve eaten popcorn for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I could go on an on, but the point is, I’ve never given up. And I’ve gone for broke (a good way to tell if you’re going for broke or not, is if you’re broke). Local support is key, but I see too many acts, acts that are genuinely talented, get tired of only getting local support and so they give up. They’re impatient. Appreciate and embrace local support long enough, and one day, it’s not just local anymore. Cats even run around like “yo, NYC is too tough. Cats don’t support shows enough. Cats ain’t repping the real hip hop enough. I’m going overseas. I’m going someplace where it’s easier.” Fuck all that. Frank Sinatra knew it. I know it. NYC is the most important place in the world to have behind you. You get NYC behind you, everything else is cream cheese. You can get the rest of the whole solar system behind you, but if you can’t get New York, you ain’t really the real deal.
PremRock: In the era of Youtube, blogs and an ever-evolving market what would say is the most important lesson you gleaned from the years of making it happen yourself?
Homeboy Sandman: That true talent is undeniable. And that true talent that finds patience through faith, cannot be stopped.
PremRock: To me, the Stones Throw marriage is a perfect match, how did you come to get connected with such a successful indie? How do you feel being a new addition to a label with a rich history of quality and success?
Homeboy Sandman: I love Stones Throw. They’re a label founded on creative integrity. I’m an artist with creative integrity. So it figures I found out about them and they found out about me (granted, it took them a bit longer to find out about me than it did me them). And it figures that once we found out about each other, we got along great. I feel great about the partnership. Birds of a feather flock together and it’s cool to have people unfamiliar with me see me with Stones Throw and be like “this kid must not be selling out, ‘cause Stones Throw ain’t selling out.”
PremRock: You’ve maintained a close and consistent relationship with one engineer your entire career (Alexandro ‘Sosa’ Tello Jr.) in the age of more and more releases becoming self-mixed by the artist or whatever cousin has Pro Tools, how important has sound engineering and attention to these details been in your ascension from a previously unsigned artist?
Homeboy Sandman: Sosa was sent to me by God. I met Sosa I had mad rhymes and little bread. A lot of cats don’t even know Sosa’s background but he’s got a history of having his hands in the mix of some real high profile ish, but he don’t talk about that ‘cause except for the sound quality it was complete garbage. That’s my boy too. I was like damn I need my ish sounding crispy like this cat be hooking it up. I said to him straight up, “yo man I ain’t got much scratch, but can’t nobody rap like me and if you hold me down now, if you believe in me now, I’ma hold you down forever, because I’m not gonna fail.” Sosa believed in me. Currently he’s mixing my first full length on Stones Throw.
He believed in my talent and I believed in his I told him I know you’re one of the best engineers in the world and I know we’re never going to get to a point together where your mixes aren’t good enough. He believed in me and it’s paying off and on my end it was much less of a gamble, and I don’t know jack about mixing but I’ve listened to enough music in my life to know what sounds good sonically and recognize when I first heard was Sosa was capable of doing that he was top tier and I’d be real smart to rock with him starting as soon as I could. My ish sounds professional, and it always has, because of Sosa. That’s a very important thing.
PremRock: Obviously a successful hip-hop career is something only a few can achieve in a sea of so many. What words of wisdom do you have for the aspiring artist reading this now?
Homeboy Sandman: To be honest, if your music is part of a sea of so much other music, maybe music isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s architecture or maybe it’s marine biology. I think that only a few can achieve it because only a few are supposed to be able to. Only a few are actually good enough. I’m not in a sea of many. Anybody who thinks that about me hasn’t heard my tunes yet. Moment they do they’ll realize I’m one of a kind. The genuine article. For the aspiring artist I’d say, make sure you’re really an artist, because there’s a lot of confusion these days on what being an artist means. It doesn’t mean somebody that wants to be famous. It means somebody who can’t stop from doing something. Who has to do it everyday. Who is obsessed. Who’d better make a living doing it, otherwise they’re going to die. This isn’t a job. This isn’t something cool to do. Is there anybody else in the world that does what you do, like you do it? If so, sorry to break it to you, but you might not be an artist.
But if you find that you are an artist (and if you are then you knew it way before applying the test I just gave you) then never give up, because true talent is an undeniable thing, and if you have patience and you have faith and you have integrity, you can’t fail. Failure is a myth. I don’t know one person who had what it takes to succeed, and never gave up, that failed. Not even one. Neither do you neither does anybody reading this. It is impossible. Cannot happen. Some cats give up. Some cats lose focus. Some cats never had the goods in the first place. Some cats half ass because they’re scared to spend all night riding the train because they have no place to sleep. They’re worried more about their paycheck than their art. But if you are truly an artist, and you go as hard as you can every minute of every day, you can’t fail. It’s impossible.
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