Homeboy Sandman and the crucial nature of consistency
There’s a completely cogent reason why Homeboy Sandman’s always effusive reviews are continuously paired with a strong but not news-making rating, hovering just below the 8 range on a scale to 10: He has to be kept in check. While the Queens rapper is live-and-let-live as all get-out, he is a purist. “Nothing I do’s embarrassing me,” he punctuated a verse on 2014’s “Activity,” because he has never kowtowed in his life, which means he doesn’t play the game. On 2016’s audacious, scolding laugh-riot “Talking (Bleep),” he mocks a “rapper who sucks that’s way more famous than I am” who insists he get on Instagram. He’s an absolute marvel of a rapper and thinker, usually simultaneously, but he would not survive a beef with, say, Juice WRLD.
Homeboy Sandman is simply not mawkish enough to match the closest thing the rap mainstream has to a teacher type, J. Cole, and he’s not reinventing the genre like Kendrick Lamar. An actual former teacher himself, Sand is simply a 38-year-old who’s comfortable releasing the even more audacious and scolding laugh-riot “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain” in 2018, a year when we all felt old enough to perhaps not even find it even remotely controversial. Except where emo-rappers fantasize about conquering their addictions and logging off, Sand was never glued to a screen in the first place. This is the kind of rapper who brags about how few possessions he has and makes a convincing case that his life is far more rewarding than Drake’s or Future’s.
One reason for this is that his discography is more consistent than either of the above-named: counting collaborations, there’s nine full-lengths and nine EPs since 2007, about 18 of which are good. You could start with virtually any record he’s made since 2012, like that year’s First of a Living Breed or the even better Subject: Matter EP, or perhaps 2016’s cerebral Kindness for Weakness or the previous year’s Linkin Park-sampling bull session with Aesop Rock, Lice, which has spawned two more equally great volumes, or 2014’s hilarious Hallways, which tried to pinpoint the exact amount of enjoyment he has for independent movies.
You could also start with the new Humble Pi, co-produced by the wah-wah-wielding “Talking (Bleep)” mastermind Edan, which has the endlessly quotable “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain” (“Social networks are not the only infection / GPS be fucking up cats’ sense of direction”) but for the most part brightens the music and dims the lyrical spotlight a little, and not a moment too soon in a catalog this word-dense. And even “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain” would be nowhere near what it is without Edan’s Archer-style horn blats, speakeasy upright bass, and sneaky piano hook.
The opening duo of “Grim Seasons” and “The Gut” are more impressionistic than Sand’s usual, while psychedelic, Love-style strings and guitar squeals swell and scramble around the verses. The aural spectacle is worthy of a Tarantino driving scene in ways Homeboy Sandman records usually aren’t, from the squeaky-door synth and children’s backup chorus on “Rock & Roll Indian Dance” to the scraping, Endtroducing…-style effects loop on the triple-time “Unwavering Mind” that follows, all fresh and all proudly behind the times. With the addition of Humble Pi, the richest hip-hop oeuvre you’ve never heard remains a bullseye almost wherever you land. You might even consider giving it an 8.