REVIEW: Homeboy Sandman & Paul White - White Sands

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Homeboy Sandman & Paul White - White Sands
Label - Stones Throw Records
Release Date - February 25, 2014

When Homeboy Sandman spontaneously shouts out "Paul White made this!" before his verse comes in on "Bad Meaning Good" you can sense his excitement about working extensively with a producer like the London based White.  While Sandman and Paul White have worked together in the past, White has become one of the hottest producers around the last couple years thanks to some memorable collaborations with Detroit rapper Danny Brown including "Side A (Old)", "The Return", "Wonderbread", and "Lonely".  White might not be a household name yet, but he's the type of emerging talent that Sandman should be working with.  Because of Homeboy Sandman's strong non-conformist persona his music has never really been "hip" despite his immense talent.  But Paul White, in addition to being a true producer in the Alchemist mold, is a buzz worthy beat maker in 2014.  Working with White on their new White Sands EP still might not be enough to make Sandman's music hip in the same way that Danny Brown's is, but it's one more step towards obtaining the type of artistic cache that allows him to work with the producers he wants and ultimately make the type of classic hip hop that he strives to create.

Sandman's second of two EP's from last year, All That I Hold Dear, saw him reign in the densely packed, verbose style he displayed on the majority of his previous Stones Throw releases in exchange for a more heartfelt, direct approach.  White Sands fits somewhere in between, there's plenty of complex, intricate wordplay on songs like "I Saw A World" and "The Butcher", while "Fat Belly" and "Wade In the Water" are some of the most universal and fun songs that Homeboy Sandman has ever made.  Overall White Sands feels like a piece of music that could have been released in 1991.  Not because it's trying to be a throwback album or Sandman is mimicking any particular style, quite the contrary, but in the same way that several MC's from that era were able to speak honestly on all walks of life and still have fun making a highly skilled form of music, Sandman is able to.  He's a unique artist, but he's clearly studied the greats and loves the form.

Paul White is equally responsible for the album's classic era feel.  He brought a level of polish and creative integrity to the project that is often ignored by so called hip hop "producers".  He builds his beats through his amazing ear for obscure psychedelic samples and then adds little flourishes around Sandman's verses to make the tracks feel full.  His layered pianos on "I Saw A World" build the tension for Sandman's pointed barbs, his simple use of maracas on "Echoes" gives the beat an itchy uneasiness that compliments Homeboy Sand's horrific depiction of a homeless prostitute/junkie, and his aquatic bass sample for "Wade In The Water" immediately made me think of De La Soul's "Tread Water", not directly in sound, but more in overall feel and ability to convey an environmental mood.

Homeboy Sandman is still the king of the concept track, even if the concept tracks are starting to sound less like concept songs and more like songs that happen to have concepts.  "Fat Belly" is basically a cleverly rapped list of all the delicious vegan food Sandman gorges himself on, point being, vegans have appetites too.  Sometimes Sandman gets a little too cute with his more lighthearted songs, but "Fat Belly" works and is a great example of the artistic balance he demonstrates throughout White Sands.  "Echoes" and "Last Rites" are more somber in tone, but again are great examples of Sandman making concept songs that don't really sound like concept songs.  They both have defining topics (a homeless woman on "Echoes" and soul searching/making peace with yourself on "Last Rites") but Sandman's seamless hooks and more understated flows ensure nothing sounds forced.  

White Sands closes with its two strongest songs in "The Butcher" and "Bad Meaning Good".  The beat for "The Butcher" is my favorite on the album and features some fantastic vocal samples from Paul White enhanced by Sandman's refrain that sits flush against the vocal samples.  The track features some great wordplay, "I say good luck/ but luck ain't ever trumped me taking lumps" and "check the corner for a dunce" as well as Sandman revealing some details to a new relationship that seems to have recharged his batteries.  "Bad Meaning Good" serves as the albums second single after "Wade In The Water" and is probably the most traditional Homeboy Sandman song on the album.  His "I'm a nice guy, but I don't take any BS" steez is on full display, which of course comes with his trademark tongue in cheek wit.  This is the essence of Homeboy Sand's appeal, he's a nice, funny guy who makes observational, hard, call-you-out-if-you-ain't-dope throwback rap music.  He knows his lane and sticks to it, focusing on improving his craft.  This limits his widespread appeal in some respects, but ensures that new fans turn into long term fans.  If your looking for positive, grown up hip hop that's both entertaining and intellectually challenging, you'd be hard pressed to find a better release in 2014 than White Sands.

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