You think its that easy? Just show up on a pair of Clinton Sparks-backed mixtapes with Clipse and get glowing write-ups in national publications, then scores of year-end props? It takes years to get to this point, takes years to make opportunities fall into place. Talk to Northeast Philly native Sandman, and hell tell you it all funnels back to his hometown streets. Or, as he calls them, the asphalt.
Sandman grew up in the rough neighborhood of Germantown before moving to Northeast as a teenager. He spent Saturday nights at a local skating rink with a cousin, rapping in cyphers and getting tight with the rinks DJ and owner. By the time he was 16, Sandman was a paid performer ($400 a weekend) who was doing radio spots on local station Q102 FM.
But roadblocks were up ahead. Like his fellow Re-Up Gang members Clipse, Sandman built career momentum only to be sidelined by label setbacks (his was with Interscope Records in 2001) and learned quickly to trust his own instincts, not those of others outside of his crew.
On a late night by phone, Sandman talked about staying close to Philly, why he prefers to stay independent, and what the future holds for the Re-Up Gang.
AllHipHop.com: I was at Power 99 when Clipse played Philly back in May, and all you guys freestyled on the air. The DJ was saying, Im so glad you guys did that. Nobody freestyles anymore.
Sandman: I dont even know what the term freestyle means anymore. When you come up to the radio, its not kicking a freestyle, because a freestyle means off the top of the head. What we were doing was just spitting over instrumentals live. All that s**t was just rhymes — we all got rhymes galore.
AllHipHop.com: What are some of your first memories of Hip-Hop?
Sandman: My mother was actually my liaison to Hip-Hop, when I was like seven years old. She had all the records that was the s**t back then: [Gransmaster Flash and the Furious Fives] White Lines, and The Message. When I was doing my chores on Saturday, this was what I was growing up to. It was the soundtrack to my life.
AllHipHop.com: How did you get the name Sandman?
Sandman: Ah, man. A female gave it to me. I was in high school and I had this girlfriend. We used to kiss every morning and every time we would finish kissing, she used to start humming the song Mr. Sandman. I was like, Why you be doing that? And she said, Because youre my Sandman, your kisses make me sleepy. They make me wanna be where youre at. So she started calling me that. But I played football in high school, too, and they used to say, Yeah, Sandman! when I made a good hit. So it rolled over to the field.
AllHipHop.com: At what point did you hook up with Clark Kent and start taking rap seriously?
Sandman: I was recording with my man Artwork; he had a studio, and Clark got a hold of all my s**t. I was into song-making very early on. Like, when I was 17, I sounded like I was 28. They were comparing me to great n***as at an early age.
AllHipHop.com: So you could actually write songs, not just rap?
Sandman: Man, Ive got hundreds of songs that no ones ever heard. I got six mixtapes, heavy mixtapes, in the street right now.
AllHipHop.com: When did you start doing mixtapes?
Sandman: I think it was 99 or 98. It was with my man Filthy Rich; hes another rapper from uptown [Philly]. Hes locked up right now; hes got 20 [years] in the Fed. It was me, him, my man Cheech Myers, and my sister Housewife, whos on my label, C.A.N.N.O.N.S. Inc. We did a mixtape called Uncut Entertainment. But me doing my solo mixtapes, that happened after my deal went bad. I was signed to Interscope when [record executive] Steve Stoute got fired. I was lookin at nothin, for real.
AllHipHop.com: When were you signed to Interscope?
Sandman: It was around 2001. It was me, Eminem, and Ms. Jade on the label. [Interscope] was making they shift to Hip-Hop. I got signed off of four songs. We did an album — Trackmasters was on it, Clark Kent was on there. But the thing I was most proud of is that I put so many Philly producers on there, dudes that aint really get they light [before]. We gonna release that album [eventually].
AllHipHop.com: You had the album done and they dropped you?
Sandman: Yeah. When Steve Stoute got fired, it was a wrap. Eminem had Dr. Dre, so Dre would push him forward; Jade had Timbaland, so he would push her. I had Clark Kent, who was making his re-emergence [at the time]. But without Steve, everything was a wrap.
AllHipHop.com: So what happened between then and 2005, when you hooked up with Clipse?
Sandman: After all that bulls**t with the label, my love for the music had me wanting to record [again]. I knew a lot of hot MCs [in Philly], so I formed a crew, C.A.N.N.O.N.S. Inc. I had a team when we were making my album, but my dream of being a C.E.O. and having people come up under me — to be big as the Wu but fly like Junior M.A.F.I.A. — that got pushed to the rail when I did my album. It was like, No, youre gonna sign here, we gonna do this with Interscope, and then you gonna blow and come back and get them. So when it didnt quite go like that, I said, Im gonna do it my way now. I went and got the company done up and started hittin the streets. Heavy mixtapes, all crazy f**kin with dudes I respected, some known, some unknown. If you respected by me, you need to be known, because I dont like nobody. I think everybody is wack.
AllHipHop.com: Who are some MCs you respect?
Sandman: DMX was a n***a I definitely felt he gave his heart The L.O.X. been ridin for awhile. I always respected their rhyme status but I also respect the business, like, Im not suckin nobodys d*ck. If it takes long for me to get on but I [still] get on, then Im with that. Always been a fan of Nas B.I.G is probably my favorite rapper; I always thought he was extra slick and clever with his s**t, just like, real, real cocky. I like that.
AllHipHop.com: Being from Philly and being around Hip-Hop, you know what the scene is like there. You see people: Beans, Eve, Freeway, The Roots, Will Smith; they break out of Philly. But why do you think the Philly scene hasnt taken it to the next level? Why hasnt it caught on more?
Sandman: Ill answer that for you in a real thorough way. Everybody you just named — name me one Philly rapper, outside of The Roots and Will Smith — that doesnt have their name associated with a company thats either out of town or with a company that has a lead, number one rapper. Name me one MC. Besides myself.
Sandman: This is real s**t. And you can say, Well, Sandman, youre with the Re-Up Gang. But then I can say that when I met Pusha, he had four of my CDs in his hand. That meant I was on my f**king grind. So that dont count [laughs].
AllHipHop.com: Im trying to think of rappers from Philly, like Kurupt, but he was with Death Row
Sandman: Listen to me: you cant answer that question. You have to go back to the early 90s and late 80s [to find someone].
AllHipHop.com: [laughs] What, Schoolly D?
Sandman: Now you went damn-near mid-80s.
AllHipHop.com: So youre saying anyone whos coming out of Philly already has a bigger connection outside of the city?
Sandman: Nah, that doesnt even matter. Its just, if youre not the focal point of the situation, theres something bigger than you. You got to want to be the biggest in the situation, and the situation has to want to make you that big. Unfortunately, nobody from Philly has been in that situation. I can honestly say that 50 Cent makes it where his artists blow the f**k up. I havent seen Philly dudes get that shot. My thing is I want to be a focal point. I dont wanna ever rap on another rappers f**king label. That is bulls**t.
AllHipHop.com: So if Interscope wanted to pick you up again, or Shady/Aftermath, G-Unit
Sandman: Nah, Im not takin none of them deals. An Aftermath deal is something different because I believe Dr. Dre has a creative vision and he knows what it takes. I think 50 Cent got a vision, too, but the G-Unit movement is more of a brand, like a team within itself. Im not willing to succumb to another mans team. I got my own team. When you hear me say, Yeah Cann-ons! — its like me puttin a bat light in the sky and everybody know when Im comin. And that only represents the asphalt of Philadelphia. Thats it.
Im on some cold independent s**t. Like the Re-Up Records thing with Clipse: those are my n***as first and foremost. We have a brotherly bond. We ask how each others mothers is doing, check on each others kids. Its real with us. Them brothers been through the same thing Ive been through as far as the label limbo. And me and Liva had a rapport before both our camps came into existence. We knew each other just from being Hip-Hop dudes.
AllHipHop.com: Everyone wants to know about the next We Got It 4 Cheap and the Re-Up Gang album. What can you say about those projects?
Sandman: You can expect a volume three in early September. The Re-Up Gang album, look out for that in the first quarter [of 2007]. We not gonna rush nothin, cause the Clipse have a classic — quote me when I say that — a classic album coming out.
AllHipHop.com: Youve heard the whole album?
Sandman: Yeah, Im on it. The Clipse aint playin no games. Mr. Me Too is a fluffer. They just snuck back in the game with that. But, man, when they turn the f**kin heat up on yall you gonna understand what Im tellin you. We gonna ride the success of that and We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 3 into the top of the year, then give yall the Re-Up Gang album.
AllHipHop.com: It looks like things are finally coming together for everyone.
Sandman: Hell yeah. The snowball is beginning to build. Its comin downhill full-steam ahead. As far as my solo thing, all my [mixtape] CDs is getting ready to be available on MixUnit.com. Ive been making a lot of DJ-friends on tour, too. Dudes that feel me and love what Im doing. Im gonna be poppin up [everywhere]. Plus, I got my company and my squad. We just gonna keep floodin the streets. While the Re-Up Gang s**t is buzzin, Im always gonna be pushin Sandman.