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Top 40 Over 40.26: Homeboy Sandman & Edan’s “The Gut”

My favorite track to come out over the past year or so is from the album Humble Pi, which is a collaboration between two great artists, Homeboy Sandman and Edan.

 

There’s a big contrast here between the discographies of these two guys:  Homeboy Sandman’s been putting out records regularly over the last dozen years, while Edan has been in recluse mode aside from sporadic stray collaborative tracks. YouTube comments on his awesome 2005 album Beauty and the Beat frequently wonder if ever he would return with a complete project, and/or beg him to do so. HomeboySandmanI’m glad he did after 40 (barely), and I’m glad he did with Homeboy Sandman, who at 38, technically doesn’t qualify for this series, but let’s round up on this one.  In addition to the obvious black/white long hair/no hair contrasts, there’s an appealing Ernie & Bert height differnetial that seems related to their vocal approach. Edan’s pops more pugnacious “P’s” on the mic, reminding me of a short kid I knew in school with a Napoleon complex who socked me on the chin in the bathroom.  Sandman – whose father was first a pro boxer & then a lawyer – tends to hang back more with the confidence of the tall kid in class, demanding you think carefully about a line before delivering the next one, ensuring the connection between them is clearer.  Sandman’s tracks tend to lay out principles / arguments / ironic scenarios, whereas Edan’s deal more in scattershot surreal images, (an oversimplified dualism that breaks down on closer inspection like any other, of course.)  They’re both frequently funny & unafraid to be weird, though – like in the following track where Sandman tells a love interest “I’ve got you under my skin, but nothing fungal / Perpetually I keep it on the humble,” and Edan claims “I frolic in the sand with a colony of ants / my particles expand building oxygen in plants.”

 

The psychedelia of the oxygen half of the latter rhyme from Making Planets matches Edan’s choice to sample the 60’s garage band Music Machine’s cover of Hey Joe, & is typical of his consistent interest in mining obscure 60’s psych rock.  This is certainly a preferable path for a white DJ versus sampling Funky Drummer à la George Michael, Ed Sheeran, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, or Rick Rubin remixing Queen, and he sticks to it with the sample for The Gut, which comes from the oddball musician Bruce Haak’s Incantation, from the 1970 album The Electric Lucifer:

 

Similarly psychedelic samples are scattered throughout Edan’s 2005 opus, which has been on regular rotation chez moi since I got into it a few years ago, and is one of my all time favorite albums.  It’s a concise LP in terms of length, clocking in at 34 minutes and 8 seconds.  But like a skyscraper, it condenses a lot of human psyches into a small plot of land.  Sampling can be amazing when it’s really sparse – think No Diggity –  but here it’s really dense, with a lot of distorted sonic degradation that comes off as adding mystique rather than machismo or sloppiness.  The grime never takes away from the hooks, of which there are many.  The sonic density seems to fit a focus on musical history, which of course is a frequent topic for DJs and producers. imagesThis impression begins with the canonical cover art collage of great hip hop heads juxtaposed with a drawing that looks like a Fillmore West poster, or the cover of the Zombies’ Odyssey & Oracleproving Edan’s boast “I use pens like hallucinogens.”  

But it’s no nostalgia trip – Edan makes it clear on I See Colors and in this interview that his aim is to be “Psychedelic without the drugs,” & his rhymes are actually much wilder and astonishingly creative than a classic 60’s psych track like You’re Gonna Miss Me or Lucifer Sam.  It’s more like if Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds was a grotesque & absurdist American masterpiece, rather than a grandiose, elegant and very very British one.  Think Rabelais instead of Edward Lear.  There’s also something of the heroic ballad about a lot of it, calling to mind Bob Dylan’s sober assessment that his lyrics had a certain gallantry to them, even if they may not have had much else. Consider this:

Out the dungeon of the brain pain I came
With the sell-a-lot plot from the megawatt mainframe
With a suit made of electricity
I ran through the Great Wall of China, convincingly
That was after the World Tour
When I travelled through gravel and battled matter at the Earth’s core
I did the show on a fireball, a pioneer
Ran into the jungle and jetted wearing a lion’s ear
I fought fear with the Hammer of Thor lent me
And tangled with the Angel of Death for four centuries
Put a nameplate on a asteroid belt
And I ran through the future with an android’s help
That’s when civilians were made of metal
I received the Coronation cause I had the last flower petals
My power settled a clash between races
And put good people on the magazine faces
Substituted television scandals with elephants and pandas
Tell ’em it’s the elegant commando
With a hand so big, I punched a sphinx in the nose
In the nose, decomposed, and so the story goes
I smacked a 40 ounce, out of a young man’s hand
And fed him lessons of life to formulate a plan
I wore the Prime Meridian as a wrist band
And gave away my riches but I still remained a rich man
I thought of freedom and I jetted to the Promised Land…

The psych and hip hop strands of influence get separate tributes with two tracks that play the history of hip hop and rock like grand pianos, with dense and creative references to a long list of greats acting as the keys. Rock and Roll samples Black Sabbath’s War Pigs & remixes rock band / LP names like samples – (“the Underground is made of Velvet, My Aqualung Cult-ivates the Blue Oyster shellfish“).  The whole thing encapsulates the Historia De La Musica Rock much better than any rock song I know of.

Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme picks up where the cover art left off in paying respect and tribute to the black genealogy of hip hop. Edan opens by admonishing the listener “Class is in session, master this lesson” which “The teacher studied like a Buddhist, Reviewing all the best to do it” from Coke La Rock on down to Nas.  & Unlike Beck or the Beastie Boys, Edan doesn’t need to hire a DJ because he knows what he’s doing on the turntables.

 

Compelling and affectionate as this tribute is, Homeboy Sandman has gone beyond Edan’s musical history of hip hop by speaking out about the political history of how hip hop was corrupted by the larger power structure of the United States of America, and about related topics such as resisting police brutality and what he sees as the milquetoast politics of black athletes and other celebrity culture figures.  I first heard of Sandman in 2014 via an awesome interview he did with Jared Ball on one of my favorite websites, imixwhatilike.org, posted under the title Hip Hop, Prisons, and Mass Media: The Evil Triplets of Corporate Ownership.  The interview followed up on an article Sandman wrote called Jailhouse Roc: The FACTS About Hip Hop and Prisons for Profit  about “an art form reduced [by media conglomerates] to product placement, the selling of a lifestyle, and ultimately, a huge ad for imprisonment.”  (The misspelling to the second word is intentional, a reference to Jay-Z’s now defunct Roc-A-Fella label.) The article’s argument is based on calling attention to “two underlying facts” that “become clear very quickly” when light is shown on “startling overlaps in private prison/mass media ownership,” namely that:

“The people who own the media are the same people who own private prisons, the EXACT same people, and using one to promote the other is (or “would be,” depending on your analysis) very lucrative.”

Towards the end of the piece the argument is spelled out in greater detail:

“Before our eyes and ears, a “web of business relationships that now defines America’s media and culture” has one particular business raking in billions of dollars while another defines the culture of a specific demographic as criminal. Both business are owned by the same people. Mainstream media continue to endorse hip-hop that glorifies criminality (most notably drug trafficking and violence), and private prison interests, long since proven to value profits over human rights, usher in inmates of color to meet capacity quotas. The same people disproportionately incarcerated when exposed to the criminal justice system are at every turn inundated with media normalizing incarceration to the point that wherever there is mainstream hip-hop music, reference to imprisonment as an ordinary, even expected, component of life is sure to follow.”

As you might guess, taking these stands doesn’t go over well with the media he’s talking about – on his track Talking (Bleep) from his 2016 album Kindness for Weakness there’s a verse about a music journalist ignoring this side of what he wants to say and push him in the direction of petty gossip:

The other day I got a call from the people at HuffPo
That made me think they dumb slow
They wanted to know
What I thought about some rap beef
Between and a dude that’s mediocre and a dude that’s okay
I was like oh, you don’t say?
Didn’t I just send you an entire article about the link between mass media and private prisons
That I thought was really important but you was like “No, it isn’t”
Next instant you got the gumption
To hit me up to try and talk about some dumb shit
You sound like this:

 

Later in the track an anonymous but famous MC is held up for criticism for chasing all the clay pigeons the media industry asks him to.  Sandman describes a familiar scenario of shit floating to the top of the music biz river, as recounts how he has been advised by the nameless rap celeb to turn his identity into a commodity through social media:

I met a rapper that sucks who is way more famous than I am
Can you believe sucka tried to kick some knowledge to the Boy Sand
Telling me that I was a brand
And I should think about rocking with a band
And it’s a good thing I got on Instagram
And a bunch of other, meaningless nonsense
Shut up dick you sound like this

This agitprop about 21st century music biz marketing kicks off one of Sandman’s tracks from this new collaboration with Edan, called Never Use The Internet Again: “I swear I’m about to motherfucking lose it / YouTube has ads on all the best music / For all the worst music, YouTube Awards? / Did you forget? You can’t have awards, you’re the fucking internet!”

 

Cathartic as the smashing of cell phones and computers is at the conclusion of the above video, the one for The Gut goes deeper while remaining very funny.  The track feels timely in a day when there’s widespread interested in 978-0-8223-5970-8_pr-1somatics among many of my activist and/or Buddhist friends, a school of thought that advocates for the therapeutic and creative benefits of practicing mindful awareness of bodily sensations.  “Believe what’s in your gut, and not watcha see” goes the refrain, reminding us that sometimes our bodies hold more real knowledge & make more reliable choices than our brain does.  Our internet age brains spin around chasing after the latest attractive thing our eyes latch onto like “The thinker drinking up pickle brine” until we believe in “Flying saucers, iron horses, lying reporters, falsifying sources, ignoring higher forces.” Edan’s first vocal entry in the cut admonishes “Life is all of this, simultaneous, they tryna play with us, just listen to your gut!”  When his voice cuts back at the end of the video – in a hilarious Enlightenment era get up that satirizes western logical intellectual pomposity – he admonishes a perhaps imaginary friend who gets caught up in chasing after quick wealth via the drug trade and ends up incarcerated, trapped in the media and drug policy generated cycle of greed and misery that Sandman has critiqued so well in print:

Your man is saying he got some grams on the way in
Asking if you wish to participate in the mayhem
Your bank statement is saying nathan, you contemplating
Play it safe or chase papers in great denominations
Initially, your shit’s amazing, fast cash
‘Til a cat flashes a badge in your face, you facing incarceration
You see your mother’s pain at the arraignment
Like what the fuck, I should have listened to my gut (gut, gut, gut)

The call to wake up echoes one Homeboy Sandman made in the first verse, announcing himself as a (better than) Socratic gadfly come to wake us up:

I come to poke you like a porcupine
Face of poker, pop up like a Pokémon, c’mon
I’m Papa San, bopping to the Bach and Brahms
And fricking Rick the Ruler, playing it cool like I’m the fucking Fonz
My Uzi weigh a couple tons, aimed at Uncle Toms
So you can call me capitan more than a couple times

You should pick up this record and welcome their provocations.

This entry was published on August 7, 2019 at 11:19 am. It’s filed under Record Reviews, Top 40 Over 40, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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