In late April, rapper Homeboy Sandman posted a controversial essay on Gawker.com, titled “Black People Are Cowards,” in response to the L.A. Clippers players’ turning their shirts inside out to protest owner Donald Sterling.
Sandman’s point was that the players should have done more. He suggests refusing to play would’ve made a much bigger statement.
His argument isn’t solely aimed at African-Americans. It applies to apathetic Americans who ignore or at least feel powerless when it comes to mounting issues like the environment, the food industry, the cost of health care, the escalating number of school shootings and corruption overall.
“Our enemy isn’t white people,” he writes in the Gawker piece. “ It's people who value greed more than human life.”
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“I try to touch on a bunch of different issues,” says Sandman, aka Queens, N.Y., native Angel Del Villar II, 33. “The whole basketball thing was a starting point. I don’t even mention Donald Sterling in the whole article.”
“A lot of people just skimmed it,” says the former high school teacher, who returns to Snug Harbor’s weekly Knocturnal hip-hop series Monday.
Homeboy Sandman is what you’d call the thinking man’s emcee. While mainstream hip-hop is littered with misogynistic and violent tales of drugs, guns, booze, cars and fast money, Sandman writes about real life and social issues, refusing to cover those familiar trappings. He left law school to pursue music after five semesters.
Even as an underground rapper, he’s able to make a bigger impact on kids than he did as a teacher. He still speaks at schools regularly.
“Kids just want to be rappers,” says Sandman, whose next album is slated for September. “The people that are dictating what hip-hop is … that’s what determines what kids want to be, how to act, how to dress, what to buy, how to talk. Kids don’t want to be firemen. They want to be rappers.”
“It’s the pinnacle of black, urban success,” he says. “Adults want to be like rappers, too. They wait until the weekend to buy a bottle and be in the club. That’s all anybody wants to be, so they listen to me more in an hour than they listened to me in two years as a teacher.”
The kids he meets in schools aren’t opposed to thought-provoking new music, he says – they just aren’t exposed to it.
“The conversion ratio is very high, once people hear it,” he says. “Are a lot of people hearing it? No. Because it’s not a record that says, ‘Spend your money on 10 different things before you go to jail.’ There’s plenty of people who get to hear that music. But (socially conscious hip-hop) isn’t going to sell a bunch of cars and liquor.”
Which brings him back to money, greed and who really runs the machine.
“It’s a lifestyle being promoted,” he says. “It’s product placement. You listen to rap music, you hear the same brands over and over – Bentley, Ciroc. Nobody knows what any of this garbage is. ... It’s like if somebody saw a Doritos commercial and said, ‘Oh, it’s a piece of art.’ Um, no. It’s just a Doritos commercial.”