With hip-hop now essentially established as the world's dominant cultural influence, success in that industry is, paradoxically, harder than ever before. To stand out in such a saturated market — and remain standing once you are — requires more than simple mic mastery. It takes a skill set even a Swiss Army Knife would envy.
Homeboy Sandman is a great example of how successful careers are forged — with hard work, discipline and — above all else — patience.
Angel Del Villar II was born in Queens, N.Y., in September 1980. He initially walked a more conventional professional path, taking his undergrad degree at the University of Pennsylvania and teaching high school for a couple years before enrolling at Hofstra University's law school. "I focused on criminal (in)justice. Defense side, of course," he wrote via email from Los Angeles. "I was just tryna use my time wisely before finding my true passion."
After three years, he dropped out to pursue music full-time, with impressive results: four albums, five EPs and a mixtape in just six years. Under the name Homeboy Sandman, he's toured the country, worked all the major hip-hop festivals, hosted an open mic series at Nuyorican Poets Café on NYC's Lower East Side, and written for Gawker and the Huffington Post. He was even a coach on MTV's "Made."
The Sept. 14 gig at 1904 Music Hall skims the cream of the country's independent hip-hop scene. Opening for Villar on this tour are his friends Random (aka Mega Ran) and Open Mike Eagle. The lineup also features regional rap icons Paten Locke, Willie Evans Jr. and the local Big Buck$ DJ crew.
Folio Weekly: What was the first record you ever bought? Do you still have it?
Homeboy Sandman: "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince on cassette tape. Yes, I still have it.
F.W.: What are your thoughts on the other artists performing here with you this week?
H.S.: I love Ish [Ishmael Butler of Open Mike Eagle]. Mega Ran and P.SO are champions of
men. I'm not super-familiar with Willie or
Paten, but the stuff I've heard has been impressive.
F.W.: What is your personal favorite Homeboy Sandman song?
H.S.: Right now, it's "Musician" [from his 2013 EP "All That I Hold Dear"], but it changes frequently.
F.W.: Do you feel that hip-hop has a broader social/political responsibility to its audience and the country? If so, how good a job has hip-hop done in living up to that responsibility?
H.S.: People have those responsibilities. Hip-hop music is something people create. Do I feel that people have the responsibilities? All people? Hell, yeah.
F.W.: Why has no one from the hip-hop community made any formal move into the political realm anywhere, but especially in New York, where hip-hop has such influence that it could translate to real electoral gains?
H.S.: Politics are fuckin' fake [B.S.] celebrity culture for people who wanna feel like they care about shit.
F.W.: There's a line in "Illuminati" ["First of a Living Breed," 2012] where you say, "Think they're tapping your computer/Your computer is a tap. …" With what we've seen and heard to confirm the reality of the surveillance state in the past year, can your words be considered prophetic?
H.S.: I'd say so.
F.W.: Do you have any concerns about surveillance/tracking related to the sometimes-overtly political nature of your work?
F.W.: What can society do to enhance the credibility of our public school teachers?
H.S.: Make it harder to become a teacher, and raise salaries. Right now, it's crazy how easy it is to become a cop or a teacher. Teachers are not underpaid. GOOD teachers are underpaid, but GOOD teachers are the minority. Most teachers are overpaid. They shouldn't be paid at all. They suck. Make public school teaching difficult to get into and then well financially rewarded, and then only people who actually have passion about it will pursue it. Then, they'll deserve what they're paid.