Homeboy Sandman - Survival of the Freshest

When the rhymes didn't cover rent, New York emcee Homeboy Sandman faced eviction. He decided to take his music full time. His latest work "First of A Living Breed" is one of NPR's 2012 top 50 albums.

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT. From PRX and NPR, the "Making It Work" episode. My name is Glynn Washington and today we're digging into stories from people who don't have it just handed to them on a platter. For our next story, we go to the heart of what's happening - New York City, Queens, where MC Homeboy Sandman tells his story.

HOMEBOY SANDMAN: The year is 2008, when I found out what my true inner passion was, that I was a musician - I said, yo, I'm not losing focus. For me, I'm like, I'm not getting caught up in a rat race. Right now the things that I'm going to do for money, it's all got to be related to my rhymes.

(MUSIC)

SANDMAN: I'm nickel and diming it, selling CDs, doing shows. I'm trying to make it work. You know, I had managed to pay some rent. I got this fat crib, but then, you know, soon after moving in, fell behind. Falling behind, falling behind, and the landlord is like, yo, I'm not feeling it, trying to evict me all types of times. I've been to court on multiple occasions. Comes to a point where I am five months behind on my rent. I'm five months behind, all right? At almost a grand a month. Five grand in the hole. So I make the decision when I go to court tomorrow morning, I'm going to tell the judge I give up. I ain't got no money.

I'm going to get out of the place, right? OK. So next morning I wake up, walk over to the courthouse. When I get into the courthouse, I got to speak with the court clerk, right? I speak with this woman and for some reason - who knows why - she's like, yo, what are you going to do? You're not going to give the place up, right? Like what do you mean? You know, you have the record in front of you. I have no money. She says, don't give up. You have to tell the judge you'll get it. Tell the judge give you 15 days. Whatever you got to do, you can't give up. This is the court clerk, mind you.

She's supposed to be on their side. I said, miss, what am I supposed to do? She looks at me with a look in her eye like she cares about me, like she feels real concern for my well-being. And she's like, yo, trust me b, get 15 days. So I say, all right, fine. She just talked me into telling the judge that I was going to have the money in 15 days. I go in front of the judge. I say, judge, 15 days I'll have it. Judge of course says, what do you mean 15 days you'll have it? I say 15 days, boom, you know what I'm saying? Despite the fact that I clearly have no idea where the money's going to come from, the judge says fine and he gives me 15 days. It doesn't make any sense. Nothing that happened in court that day made sense.

I leave just flabbergasted and when I get home, sat down, turned the computer on, took the internet that I was stealing from somebody else's internet in the building - and the first e-mail I see, Tag Records MC competition today, this afternoon, Rucker Park, grand prize $5,000. Grand prize $5,000. And when I see this, I feel like a feeling washing over me and just like, you know, magic of some sort - or divine intervention for real. You know what I'm saying? The prize money was what I owed on this very day.

I feel like all I got to do is show up, win - which is obviously going to happen based on the psychosis that just took place in the courtroom. And this is crazy to me. It's Jermaine Dupri's tag records, right? And I go over there - this place is packed - Rucker Park, jam packed, fence to fence. OK? And the crowd was nuts. It's deranged out there. This particular competition - it wasn't a rap battle. It wasn't predicated on dissing each other, trying to cut each other down, which is something I personally do not get down with.

Instead it was a, let's see who could rap incredible competition, which of course, I was built for. It started off with like 40 MCs, right? Each round - the winner was determined based on crowd noise. The cats who get the loudest response are going to go, you know, to the next round. And everybody got up in the first round and spit their bars and all that. Of course, I get up there - boom, I shut it down with a verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF MC COMPETITION)

SANDMAN: From the beginning, the crowd is loving me like crazy. Obviously, I'm on to the next round, next round.

(SOUNDBITE OF MC COMPETITION)

SANDMAN: Can't nobody rhyme like me and it's always been that way. So it becomes apparent that I am the crowd favorite with the exception of one other person. There's this kid named Cashflow. I remember the kid's name - Cashflow. And Cashflow was from across the street. He was from the building across the street and knew half the people in the park. I get to the last round - comes down to me and Cashflow.

Cashflow and I were going back and forth, and the crowd was just maximum noise, couldn't get no louder each time. The judge just keeps going, all right, go again. So we go about three extra rounds. And there was really no way to differentiate his crowd noise from my crowd noise. So they had to go and get this decibel noise meter reader. Once they brought the noise meter out, they had us do one more round and I went first.

(SOUNDBITE OF MC COMPETITION)

SANDMAN: And I got bars until the earth stops spinning. So I spit all types of bars, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MC COMPETITION)

SANDMAN: And the crowd made gigantic, stupendous, enormous noise. And you look on this device, and it was super loud. And I'm like, yo, he's not going to top that, this kid. You know what I mean? So then he gets up -

(SOUNDBITE OF MC COMPETITION)

SANDMAN: He spits his bars and, you know, I'm not trying to downplay him. He could rap. And, like I don't know if his cousins was there - mothers, brother, aunts, uncles, aunts, sisters, sister-in-law, grandparents, whoever was there, they went berserk for him. They was screaming, people was getting nosebleeds. They went as wild as they can. And you look at the device when he was finished - I was down by .02. When they announced that he had beat me by those .02, you know - I try to never feel bad if I do my best and I know I had done my best, but it didn't even make sense.

I was like no, this can't - it can't be, it can't be that I didn't win this. You know what I mean? Like he got it by the most slenderest of margins that it's just like if a bird flew overhead, the bird's wings - it determine the outcome of the competition. And that was it. And he read it off. And the crowd was majorly like, no, hell no - yeah, hell yeah. This is TAG Records when Jermaine Dupri was doing the TAG Records thing. A couple of minutes later, Jermaine Dupri emerges. OK, he comes out, steps out on the stage, and he says, yo, it's a tie. Jermaine Dupri, you know, 'cause he know his hip-hop, he said, this Sandman kid is not going to lose to this kid, Cashflow. It's a tie. Done deal. They both going to get the money. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. Maybe we'll have to split this and I get a nice 2,500. I'll go back to the judge with 2,500, he'll be like, all right, I'll get you a little more time. Yo, they gave me the full five g's. They gave me the full five g's, OK? As if I had won the joint out right.

As it turns out, I got evicted five months later. OK, I got evicted five months later, but in the five months that winning that competition bought me, such significant things happened in my career. The day that I got evicted, the next day I was leaving for three weeks to be on the road. The moral of the story is go for it, son. Go for broke. You know you going for broke because you broke. And when you go for broke, God is going to look out. And Jermaine Dupri is going to look out, too. Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAP)

WASHINGTON: That's how Homeboy Sandman gets down. His latest record, "White Sands," is out right now on Stones Throw Records. And understand, the music from that piece, all of it, was taken from Homeboy Sandman's catalogue. We'll have links on our website - snapjudgment.org. And if there was any question, that piece was produced by Pat Mesiti-Miller.

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