Homeboy Sandman

Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman speaks about his upcoming album on Stones Throw Records and having kindness for weakness

In today’s cultural climate, there is a recurrent problem of important voices not being popularly recognised. A prime example is Angel Del Villar II AKA Homeboy Sandman, an MC with one of the most insightful minds in contemporary music yet little mainstream success.

I'm kind of recognising that regarding kindness as a weakness is a weakness in itself

Villar was born in Queens, New York in 1980. He is half Puerto Rican and half Dominican, is Ivy League educated and has worked as a journalist for the Huffington Post – a position that was short-lived after his article Jailhouse Roc was removed from their website due to its record company-baiting connections between mainstream hip hop and the prison system.

While a fan of the “hip hop luminaries” of his time, Villar’s decision to be an MC did not come until he was 25, while taking a law scholarship at Hofstra University, a few miles east of New York City.

Before this, he had not been rapping seriously. In fact, he had only been rapping to entertain and express himself while he was smoking weed. But, after quitting his habit four months before, Villar realised his talent for the first time.

In an interview with The Guardian, Villar remembers how one rhyme he wrote helped decide his future: “The first verse was really technically ill, like mad wordplay. It was called ‘Cheese Children’, about how people be lusting over money – ‘cheese' like slang for money. And I thought, this is really fly but can I be a little more insightful and not so technical in the second verse?”

After finishing the track, he went on to release both his first EP Nourishment in 2006 and debut album Nourishment: Second Helpings a year later. Since then, he has released five albums and seven EPs.

His latest album, Kindness For Weakness is out this May. With tracks such as ‘Sly Fox’, which speaks about failing to impress a woman and the obsession that follows, and ‘God’, about Villar’s faith (“I don’t refer to God as ‘he’ because God is not a male”), he provides an honest insight on his insecurities, personal weaknesses and the world he sees around him.

For the promo for the album, Villar wrote a motto to explain the meaning of its title: “mistaking kindness for weakness is a weakness that I want to have more kindness for”.

Is positivity an important element in your music?

There's the well-known phrase "mistaking kindness for weakness'". For myself, being somebody who is not particularly out there with too much bravado or machismo, people have looked at my kindness as a weakness. And, I've looked at others’ kindness and my own as a weakness. I've also looked at kindness towards myself as a weakness. I've thought you've got to be hard, you've got to be stern.

But I want to be more accepting of myself. You know what I mean? I'm a unique artist and a lot of times I've really struggled with not being part of the norm. I've felt insecure about all the differences that I have from a lot of people.

I thought that if I allow myself to have these differences, then that's being weak. I guess it's a confusing thing. But I think that kindness is a strength. The ability to be accepting of others and yourself, I think that's a strength.

At this point, I'm kind of recognising that regarding kindness as a weakness is a weakness in itself. It's an insecurity and a mistake.

Writing for me is like a mental synthesis that I'm able to do on a day-to-day basis

It's an unfortunate thing that so many people regard kindness for weakness. When people do that, I want to have kindness for them and kindness for myself. It might be the most confusing-ass thing you ever heard in your life but...

That's why it's a good statement because of the way you've phrased it: it's confusing. What you’re speaking about refers to the confusion that some people experience because of their pride. Perhaps your album can help them out?

That's the hope. Verses are a diary for me; they're me trying to figure out what to do in my life. By sharing them and for other people to relate and maybe take something away from me trying to figure things out is an ill reward.

In one of your tracks you speak about how people can't look up from their phones.

Yeah, that's in 'It's Cold'. It goes: 'if only you can pull your eyes away from your cellphone'.

Concentration is a big problem these days. But when someone listens to your music, they concentrate.

I'm hopeful of that. What I try to do is just give an honest presentation of whatever it is I'm thinking and going through. It's valuable that someone can take something away – even if I don't know what I'm talking about.

On the track 'Sly Fox', you speak about obsessing over a woman. It's cool to hear something like that when you compare it to how commercial artists speak about interacting with women.

I feel good about putting that record out because there have been times where I wouldn't have shared that stuff. But that record is all true man. I wrote that sitting on homegirl's stoop.

Are you always writing rhymes?

Like I said before, writing for me is like a mental synthesis that I'm able to do on a day-to-day basis. I'm always thinking, oh that would make a hot rhyme.

I write on my phone now for the most part. But sometimes I carry a pad with me. I'm always jotting down an idea or a rhyme.

Since this Monday – even though last week I wrote about five verses – it's been about three or four days that I haven't written anything. But I'm pretty much constantly working on something.

I actually just celebrated my nine year anniversary of rhyming on 30 March. It's really been nine years since I've been constantly looking for inspiration.

I’ve heard you say before that you don’t write rhymes to make albums, that it's just something you have to do.

Yeah it's definitely a kind of obsessive or addictive activity. I'm somebody who goes to extremes with things. I used to have habits that I didn't think were very productive, so I had to develop habits that were more productive for me.

I would have these different habits where I would feel empowered or at ease. Some of the ways that I would do that weren't productive. For me, rhyming makes me feel confident, it makes me feel cool, in control – even if I think it's an illusion, which I mention in the 'God' record.

I'm not a huge believer in everybody being the same; I think everybody is not the same

In the time since I've started writing, more than anything else, it's just to keep in touch with myself, my faith and everything about me that keeps me from being some type of maniac.

It's like a behaviour pattern. You've got this sort of frame to react to things in.

It's a lot like that.

You mention the 'God' record there. Is religion a big part of your life?

I don't have anything defamatory to say about religion but I don't think of religion and God as the same thing. God for me is the foundation of my existence and everything that I do. I can recognise that He is in control of my life.

I just wanted to make that differentiation because I'm not a religious person. I don't subscribe to any religions or have any ceremonies or traditions that I adhere to – except for ones that I made up myself.

Around the time I decided to begin rhyming, it was when I was feeling closer to God than I ever had in my life. I guess that throughout my career, and as time goes by, I just feel closer and closer.

The enrichment, the value, the piece of mind, the lack of concern and worry, the growth, the faith and trust: these are the things that benefit me. These are things I find happening in myself and can help me move around the world.

I'm not a huge believer in everybody being the same; I think everybody is not the same. I think everybody has a completely different journey. When I talk about that 'God' record, it's just me looking to share my journey, my approach to God.

Could you speak about DJ Sosa.

Sosa's my engineer and DJ but he's also my brother. His son is my godson. I met him right before my first show. He was a renaissance man of all things sound and technology. We just clicked and he put so much faith in me.

When I started, I was recording two, three times a week just trying to build a body of work. I was in his studio all the time and we were together at all my shows, he helped me with stuff like my newsletters. People get paid tens of thousands of dollars for the stuff he was doing for me for little if any money.

I let him know, this is going to take off at some point and you're going to be with me the whole time. And he believed. We just moved forward and when we started making money, that was me and Sosa's money.

Even to this day; I split 50 per cent of my last show money with my boy Sosa. You might not find another MC who gives 50 per cent to his DJ. Sosa deserves it man, he really holds me down.