Everything seems to work out for Homeboy Sandman.
A couple weeks off a cleverly arranged West Coast tour, the six-foot-five-inch Queens lyricist swags across the Fifth Avenue veranda of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building exactly on time for this interview. Its a blazing ninety-one degrees outside. Midtown banker’s and lawyer’s and other corporate citizen’s decked in business suit pants and rolled up button-downs or those fancy T-shirts women get away with wearing to the workplace; sit sporadically around the two of us, escaping the office for a too brief bite to eat.
Trademarked Fu-Manchu reaching from his chin, unshaven head revealing a young man’s George Jefferson-style bald spot, walking like a ball player. Visually, Homeboy Sandman is the picture of earnest confidence. He smiles when he talks to people. He speaks with a calm yet shifting cadence, complete with detailed sidebars and supportive tangents, always managing to bring the conversation full circle.
After a quick exchange of ‘what ups’, we migrate down 40th Street towards the library’s backyard - Bryant Park - this conversation’s location.
Armed with a perpetual positive attitude, hater-proof humility, and an inherent charisma designed for the bright lights; one would expect the artist born Angel Del Villar (Jr) to be successful in any field of human endeavor. His boarding school education at New Hampshire’s Holderness School (part of New York City’s Prep For Prep 9 program) taught him the value and breadth of perspective. His Ivy League experience at the University of Pennsylvania reinforced the fact that, in life, “things are the way you see them.” His father, prize fighter-turned-lawyer, Angel Del Villar Sr., instilled the virtues of relentless determination. With that type of pedigree, supplanting a legal career for a life rocking the mic wasn’t a risk for Homeboy Sandman. It was a necessity.
“I withdrew from law school to be an Emcee. And I can’t even fathom...I say to people do you think it would’ve been more crazy to stay in law school and become a lawyer when I wanna become an Emcee? I mean, I WANNA BE AN EMCEE! How can I stay in law school? But people are very nervous and stuff.”
Such a loaded decision came rather matter-of-factly for Boy Sand. His combination of seemingly limitless confidence, self actualization, and an envious work ethic has yielded an impressive amount of success in a rather short time frame. In the two and a half years since The Pterodactyl first took flight he’s already graced The Source’s Unsigned Hype section, the Chairman’s Choice column in XXL, Loud.com’s $100,000 Rapper Challenge finalist, and received critical praise for his two full length LPs (Nourishment Second Helpings and Actual Factual Pterodactyl). “I love [my career trajectory], man. Everything’s going according to plan. Everything that I’ve expected to happen is happening. All I’ve expected from the beginning is to make Hip Hop music that I would love to listen to. I know that people who love Hip Hop are going to love this.”
Stylistically, Homeboy waits for the beat to dictate the delivery. Where a rugged, tongue twister flow, on the rumbling “Comrade Punski” for example, screams of Big Pun, a melodic, beat embedded delivery such as the one mastered on the jollily genius “I-tunes Song” or “Kain News” embodies Eminem. Even his slow flow has Internet commentators kicking JadaKiss comparisons. The irony is that none of those legends truly rhyme like each other. So when Sandy states that he’s “a poet with no flow in particular. / Lines of parables parallel, / perpendicular,” that's exactly what he means.
But whats most refreshing is the conscious blend of style and substance. Neither is sacrificed for the other. Every panache laced lyric is loaded with contextual relevance. Hilarious tales of impromptu Mambo dance offs; or “Extreme Measures’” detailed depiction of a radio station hijacking; or “City Darker’s” vivid image of the New York City under belly; or scathing, braggadocio cypher rhymes like “Us and Them” or “Lightning Bolt. Lightning Rod” all connect directly with the listener. All flow like a cascading fountain full of words. This marriage between rhymes and style is intentional. Homeboy describes it as “lyrics so dope you don’t need the flow; flows so dope you don’t need the lyrics.” And as he sees it, as long as his records remain fresh, then nothing else matters.
“The only way you can lose what I’m building up is by putting out wack records. I don’t have to worry about anything else. I don’t have to worry about how I dress. I love wearing comfortable clothes everywhere. I don’t have to worry about what I say...The first song of mine that Peter Rosenberg ever spun was “Airwave Air Raid.” And he spun that on HOT97. The first line of that song is “First you got your HOT97 arsenic.” I don’t even have to change that! The first time I did the S.O.Bs. “Whose Next” I did that song. I don’t have to change anything. I could go straight up to people and say ‘Yo, I’d love to do your showcase but I’ma diss your thing’ cause my music is what I fall back on. People want to be strategic. I’m not for all that. [Fear of] ruffling feathers is for the birds.”
Now stepping into the next career phase; shifting from necessarily seeking out opportunities to show case his talents to his talents bringing opportunities directly to his inbox; Homeboy Sandman has reached the point where his raps clock revenue. Word of mouth and a live live show has generated constant growth in online and in-venue CD sales. The name Homeboy Sandman is now large enough to ensure audience turnout, allowing him to include a performance price. And his rhymes calculate enough buzz and Internet hits that he now charges for verses. “Its not untrue that featuring me on a song is gonna get people excellent exposure because people that love real Hip Hop are gonna wanna listen to it to see what I did on it. That's a valuable thing. And I’ve always said that I won’t charge for verses, I’ll charge for time.” But the biggest contributor to his finances is the influx of private investors.
“This is where a lot of my income has come from, this is why I was able to go to SXSW, this is why I was able to get my trademarking done. And this works for stuff that costs money. This is why I was able to get a computer. When you believe in yourself and you’ve proven yourself to be an uncompromising person, that inspires people so much that people want to fund some of the stuff you’re doing, man. I’ve not had to worry about so much of the money that's involved in this because I have people that literally contact me from hearing me on Squeez [Radio]...being impressed enough to do more research, being impressed enough by the research they did to say, ‘this guy is different from everybody else, anybody else. If I can help this kid, I’m going to, man.’ I have a couple of people that help me on a regular basis.”
Two and a half years in, write ups in the two major Hip Hop magazines, two critically praised LPs, four rap related sources of income, one uncompromising positive outlook; it is all going according to Sandman’s plan. “He doesn’t feel avarice.” He’s certainly not average. Everything seems to work out for The Mayor. Even potentially devastating situations are intersected by the forces of favor and opportunity.
Unbeknownst to most in attendance at this year’s Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, Homeboy Sandman was abnormally unprepared for his solo set. “I had to do these Shawn J. Period records...I got the beats a week before and...didn’t get to finish the verses up until 1AM the night before the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. I’m never nervous before a show, but before this show I was nervous because I was like ‘dag, I don’t know if I know this stuff.’” After spending the hour and a half between Second Stage hosting duties and Main Stage show time attempting to learn the lyrics to his songs, he persuaded himself to attempt an extremely risky strategy. “Maybe I’ll just read out the book, yo...I said to myself ‘would Black Thought do this?’ And I was able to visualize him doing it. I was able to visualize him doing it! When I told myself yes he would do it, I answered the question for myself, I was 100% gonna do it.”
As celestial intervention would have it, on his way back to the festival grounds while practicing how he planned to open the rhyme book without dropping the mic, Sandy improbably crossed paths with his mic idol, Black Thought himself talking to DJ J. Period. “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t expect to see him. Fifteen-seconds ago I made a decision based on thinking, ‘what would Black Thought do?’ Here’s Black Thought standing right here on this corner!” He quickly interrupted the conversation and posed the question to The Roots’ legendary Emcee.
“He’s like ‘aight, whats the situation?’ and I broke it down to him. He said, ‘I don’t think I’d do it. And I don’t think I’d do it given the type of show it is and given the grand stage of it. I wouldn’t do it. Don’t let me tell you what to do.’ I said, ‘Yo, you ain’t telling me what to do. I just asked for you to be here and there you were. I’m not going to spit in the face of destiny.’ The only thing in the whole world that could’ve stopped me from doing that was Black Thought telling me not to do it.”
Then theres the time he was nearly evicted from his Queens apartment. “The first time I was supposed to be evicted...I owed over $4000 and I was about to give up in court.” Taking advice from the court clerk, he decided to fight a little bit more. “I got until the next month [to pay the back rent]. I got home that day, saw the email for the Tag Records competition in Harlem that I did and won a $5000 prize. That same day! I kind of knew...that I was going to win $5000 that day.” Not only did he pay off his debt, but once he returned from his west coast tour, a friend offered a great rent on a house in The Bronx. “I’m getting a crazy deal on two floors. I’m living larger than I was before! Granted I need to take the train to the bus and its a little ways, but that don’t bother me. I’m writing rhymes the whole time anyway. Everything always falls into place, man.”
Success seems to be in the cards for Homeboy Sandman. From his upbringing to his education to his innate confidence to his sonic originality to rocking as a cornerstone of one of the hottest online rap teams (the AOK Collective); luck intervening before disaster strikes is a product of preparation uniting with opportunity. His laser aimed focus on growth supersedes the burden of besting himself. “Doing new things is whats very important. I’m not trying to best what I did yesterday. I’m trying to grow.” He’s even rocking mics and interviews without hiding his bald spot these days, a visual testament to his maturation. Whether its his unique rhyme technique, or his crowd drawing live show, or his critically praised albums, The Mayor has “Mixed and Mastered and mastered all the disciplines”; bringing rhymes to life while making it seem routine. In the world of The Good Sun, there truly is no spoon.
As we bid our ‘Peace Outs’, simultaneously exiting this interview and Bryant Park, Homeboy noticed that his wallet (containing his cash, ID, and Metrocard) was missing from his mesh camouflaged shorts. The two of us urgently searched the park grounds, retracing our steps for seven minutes or so, all to no avail.
Scratch that. Most things work out for Homeboy Sandman.
Read The-Quotable's review of ACTUAL FACTUAL PTERODACTYL HERE