It may have come on Big Sean’s album, but “Control” belonged to Kendrick Lamar (apologies to Jay Electronica as well). Kendrick managed to call out the varsity roster of up-and-coming rappers while also declaring himself the king of New York. He threw down the gauntlet in today’s rap game and inspired a few responses of varying quality.
I couldn’t help but think of that verse when I heard, “you know who sucks too/every single rapper that I used to look up to.” These are the inflammatory words of Homeboy Sandman from his latest album White Sands. Sandman doesn’t have near the profile to warrant rappers trying to clap back at him for this, but it almost seemed more hard-hitting than Lamar’s words. Kendrick’s verse was an open challenge, a “bring it on” to his peers. It was practically good-natured fun. Sandman’s words ring out as disappointment and disillusionment over his heroes. It was plain stated, yet biting.
That’s part of Sandman’s character though. His monotonous flow—like that of a less abrasive Kool A.D.—plays as a lecture. It’s dense and quick-jabbing and turns on a dime, but is able to deliver substance when necessary. “Perhaps the truest self can’t take a human form/perhaps it’s like a unicorn,” he posits on “Last Rites,” a sentence that I’m sure could be cribbed for an existential literature paper. But it’s not all professorial postulating. “Fat Belly” swerves into Action Bronson’s food lane as “pasta” gets rhymed with “imposter” and “Bad Meaning Good” presents an STD scare that turns into an opportunity to get a girl’s phone number (warning: don’t try this at home).
White Sands pairs Sandman with Paul White, a British producer who contributed five tracks to Danny Brown’s well-regarded Old. White’s tracks are low-key, more decoration and dressing for Sandman’s lyrics than anything else. They swirl and captivate, but never overwhelm or disrupt. And this is fitting for the style of Sandman. He requires a little flavor around the edges, but nothing that will get in the way of the material at hand.
“When I was drinking formula I loved you/son, you had a formula that you should’ve stuck to,” Sandman instructs later on “Wade in the Water.” With low-key production, few hooks, and a whole lot of verbal acrobatics, Sandman has found his formula, one which will allow him to continue disseminating his teachings. I’ll be interested to see what the next lesson plan holds.