The Gilles Peterson Awards: Introducing Homeboy Sandman

Laura Davis

Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson hosts an awards event every year to praise up and coming new artists. This year’s main act was the runner up to BBC’s Sound of 2011, James Blake. Although winner Jessie J has taken the pressure off the 22 year-old a little, there’s still a big hype around the producer turned singer and there was certainly a buzz in the audience as they waited for his arrival on stage. The classically-trained pianist maintained the slow and soulful feel of the album in his performance and was also awarded Best Single, for CMYK.

Other winners included LA innovator Flying Lotus, who was awarded Best Album for Cosmogramma and Best Session and surprised the audience with a performance which was greeted with excitement. Best Label went to Hot Flush (owned by performers Scuba) who have Mount Kimbie on board, with both acts performing at the awards.

Taking place at Koko in Camden, the club set the scene for an eventful evening. Having moved to a smaller venue for the last couple of years, it’s a good thing the awards returned as the iconic club was filled with fans that’ve been following the underground acts from the start.

The awards show isn’t heavily publicised in the press, partly due to remaining independent of sponsors, but among fans of the music the electronic post-dubstep renaissance is an event worth waiting for.

I caught up with one of the acts appearing with United Vibrations, rapper Homeboy Sandman, to find out a bit more about the Ivy League graduate from Queens.

Where did your name originate?
From the Sandman who brings you your dreams and has the ability to put images in your head that are very detailed and specific, taking you away to another reality, which is what I seek to do with my music.

You attended boarding school, would you say you had quite a privileged upbringing?
Absolutely. Going to boarding school was super privileged, that was my first opportunity to leave the city. I knew all about hip hop in New York, but I really didn’t get a chance to see the other types of hip hop.

You make a comment in God Breathe Fire about being the only student listening; did this set you apart from other kids at school?
Yeah but that’s mainly to do with my parents, I always had to do my homework before I could go out and play. I’m real lucky to come from a two-parent family, I’m not sure what the situation is like here in London and the UK but in New York there’s a serious problem of single parent and broken homes in New York, so I recognised at a very early age that that was something most people didn’t have, so it made me mind my Ps and Qs.

Your lyrics stand out as being positive, do you think it’s important to be a good role model to young fans?
I used to be a teacher before I was rapping and people talk about how being a teacher translates into the way I behave now. We all have an obligation to try and do what’s right because there are people looking up to all of us.

What made you give up smoking weed?
I was dependent on it. It was only when I quit smoking and didn’t smoke for four months that I decided I was going to be a rapper and I started making music. I haven’t smoked now for four years and those have been the most productive years of my life. I used to write rhymes but I had to smoke first. I couldn’t even have a phone call, or talk to girls without being high, I was a corny person.

Was there ever a point that you thought you might be heading down that slippery slope?
No not really, because you don’t know where that other stuff is made.

What did your parents say when you dropped out of law school to pursue rap?
Both of them said maybe you want to finish this so you have a fall-back, but I knew from the jump that I wouldn’t need a fall-back. I talked to them and told them I was serious about it and they came to see me a couple of times and heard the stuff I was doing. My ma took a while to come around because she was like “Why are you always broke?” and I was like “You’re always broke too!”

Who were your inspirations and have you had the chance to meet any of them?
My father, he listened to a wide range of music when I was growing and my family, they’re all amazing people. As far as music my favourite MC is Black Thought from the Roots Crew, phenomenal. Musically I think Stevie Wonder is the most brilliant musician I’ve heard in my life. I love Billy Joel, John Coltrane and Chaka Khan. I did have the chance to rap with Black Thought which for me was a super amazing year.

Do you get nervous before shows?
I don’t really get nervous. I used to play basketball and I used to get nervous before games because you can be real good at basketball but still have a bad game. If you’re good at rapping, you can’t really mess up. Unless you forget all your rhymes or something! I think nervousness is fear and I try to stay away from fear.

What question do you tire of answering in interviews?
Two questions: “what’s your favourite song on your album?” I love all my songs. And also “What sets you apart from other rappers?” I always think that’s a bizarre question as I think “my music?” isn’t that what sets you apart from other musicians?

Do you get people asking you to make up raps on the spot and does it annoy you?
It doesn’t annoy me at all, I think it’s cool. I really love to freestyle as I think it’s kind of a forgotten component of hip hop. I look at like the people that everybody knows like Juice and Supernatural that are brilliant, guys that I’m nowhere near their level but I still like to do it.

Would you freestyle for our Independent readers?

What a gent and a good sport, look out for Homeboy Sandman’s album The Good Sun or check him out on his current UK tour

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