All too often when an up-and-coming rapper gets a certain amount of buzz, his momentum becomes a period instead of a comma. Their snowballing careers either melt in a sea of mixtapes without a proper release, or their output becomes a homogenized unthreatening let down where, in an effort to reach more fans, removes everything that made them great. With Queens-born Homeboy Sandman being one of the most unique voices in recent memory, the question of whether or not his eclectic electric eccentricities will continue on his new album The Good Sun is a valid one. Fortunately for us, Sandman is making music for an audience of one – himself, and we’re all the lucky crowd who overhears it.
Homeboy Sandman’s place in today’s New York Hip-Hop scene is that of a meteor that studied the Earth for several rotations, gaining momentum before the moment of impact in early 2007, effectively rendering the stagnant boom-bap dinosaurs as fossils who would either have to evolve or face extinction. He’s become such an accessible and beloved figure not because he’s studied his favorite records, but because he loves them enough to leave them in the past. He isn’t someone who has just heard a lot of rap music, he’s someone who really listened. He understands what makes his favorite records great and why they’re great, and then turns around to apply what he’s learned to his own music. Following two hugely successful underground albums in Nourishment and Actual Factual Pterodactyl, Sandman became the face of a new generation, landing in The Source’s Unsigned Hype and countless other magazines, blogs and media outlets. Instead of this success going to his head and altering his sound toward more commercial affairs, Sandman has instead faced something of an existential crisis and lucky for us he’s put it all on record. I’ve always believed, especially in Hip-Hop, that a changing man is infinitely more interesting than a changed man, and The Good Sun is 50 minutes of socio-studio therapy tackling everything from the food he puts into his body to why people look at him funny. Imagine Resurrection-era Common Sense recording The Marshall Mathers LP and you have an idea of how engaging this record is.
As engaging as the “message” or “content” of The Good Sun is, what puts it over the top as one of the best albums of 2010 is Sandman’s incredible performance. His manta for years has been “flow so dope, don’t need lyrics with lyrics so dope, don’t need flow” and he has both down to absolute perfection. Something of an East Coast one-man Freestyle Fellowship, Sandman is the type of listener who has become an absolute virtuoso of his craft who is still constantly challenging himself, always innovating and making himself better in the process. Sandman has described his writing style in the past as listening to a beat, hearing what Jazz melodies (which he grew up on) would sound best over them, constructing a flow of vocal inflections and then writing rhymes to best match that flow. He approaches every track with his ear first and lets his mouth follow. While he makes it a point to describe himself as “not pop,” the melodies and hooks on The Good Sun are among the catchiest in modern rap music, underground or mainstream.
What’s refreshing about The Good Sun is precisely that a rap album in 2010 can still be so artistically bold and groundbreaking without sacrificing being a pleasant, enjoyable listen. While his aforementioned previous efforts showed shades of this, they were often marred by an uneven sound quality and missteps caused from Sandman getting a little too outthere. On this record, however, Sandman has set some very specific boundaries for himself allowing his experimental energy to flourish within these conventions resulting in a much more cohesive listen. It’s the moments he drifts from this formula that the record’s few flaws surface. Songs like “The Essence” (produced by 2 Hungry Brothers) which has a tremendous beat and great verses is marred by a hook that is too busy for its own good. By that same token, the album opens with the two minute completely instrumental overture “Core Rhythm” (named after the track’s producer) and while it sounds good out-of-context and would make for a nice intro for the album in a smaller dose, its length really bogs down repeat listens. But these missteps are few and far between as Sandman has made a tremendous effort in polishing and perfecting The Good Sun as not just a statement, but a manifesto.
The album closes with “Angels with Dirty Faces” (produced by Grind Time Beat-Battle champ J57 of the Brown Bag All Stars) a touching exploration of the plight of the homeless in modern society that pulls no punches (“Imagine you was dying, nobody helped you / if ain’t nobody listen you might talk to yourself too / turning up you nose holding your nose going ‘phew’ / church, all in the front row, filling the whole pew”) and stands a great example of the Homeboy Sandman aesthetic. While he raises a heavy hand at times, it’s just to face palm the forgotten absurdities of the world around him. The Good Sun is the result of a genuine Hip-Hop fan understanding what makes a rap album great and then putting his own spin on it. With his great ear for production choosing further gems from the likes of Ski Beatz, Psycho Les and Ben Grymm, as well as making the best possible use of guest appearances from Fresh Daily, John Robinson and Daniel Joseph, it’s the type of album that’s the surprise gift rap fans didn’t know they wanted. It’s proof that Homeboy Sandman is The Good Sun that will not be eclipsed.
We give The Good Sun a Four Out of Five.
So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!