“He only lives a 45-minute walk from me.”
Homeboy Sandman is describing his commute to Edan’s lab in Brooklyn where the duo baked its brilliant 2018 EP, Humble Pi.
“Edan is a special talent, and for me, 45 minutes ain’t no thing. I write a rhyme there and back. A lot of the rhymes for the record I would be crafting while walking there. I can always write a rhyme in my head; I was watching Papillon the other day, and if they locked me away [on Devil’s Island], I’d come out with a big chest from pushups and a couple of records.”
Sandman knows how to identify unique talent. He’s a rhyme diamond himself, and as a stalwart solo artist for the vaunted Stones Throw Records, the Queens native has spent his career dropping creatively adventurous recordings with a rainbow coalition of producers and MC accomplices.
“It isn’t mandatory to know people that good,” he says, “but I think people that I’ve done whole entire projects with—Mono en Stereo … Aesop Rock, Paul White—these are people that I’ve spent time with on a personal level getting to know them, and who I appreciate as people.”
In this most recent case, Sandman first met Edan in a New York bowling alley.
“Peanut Butter Wolf introduced me right after I first signed up with Stones Throw in like 2011,” he says. “Little did we know then that it was the genesis. I had probably heard some of his stuff, but it wasn’t until later on that a friend of mine—named Genesis—showed me that [Edan] had this crazy live show, and I followed up on that.”
Edan heard similar tunes about Sandman, and went to check out his storied call-and-response party in person.
“I saw him live [at Southpaw in Brooklyn, RIP] and it was refreshing,” Edan recalls. “He’s somebody who doesn’t play around—great stage presence. Since that time, he’s been putting records out, and people would talk about him and praise him. And then eventually I was doing a DJ set and he introduced himself, and it was just natural after that.”
The pair finally made something happen in 2016, five years after they first crossed paths, with the Edan-produced “Talking (Bleep)” showing up on Sandman’s sixth solo outing, Kindness for Weakness. It was an exciting moment, particularly for fans and reviewers (ahem) who sweat everything that either of these exceptionally clever cats claw. But none of us expected very much; while a young Edan performed with Insight, Moe Pope, Dagha, Raheem Jamal, and Anonymous in the Boston rap supercrew Electric while living in Allston and attending Berklee in the early aughts, he hasn’t been much of a team player in the time since. His only proper release since the brilliant Beauty and the Beat debut in ’05 was the artistically audacious Echo Party acid trip he dropped with a companion movie four years later.
So nobody was really waiting for this effort. Except for Sandman.
He kept walking. And waiting. And writing. And walking…
“It was his dedication and coming through [that made the project actually happen].” Edan speaks highly of the only artist he has ever split billing with. “I’m less enthusiastic about the cyber collab—I don’t want to live my life that way. So just the fact that he was down to make the trek repeatedly and be here, and even be here in those instances when I’m looking through records, he was patiently just around. And he could appreciate that—the whole process of, Do you like this? It’s just a more gratifying way to do everything if you come by and make the music.
“Reflecting on the process in all these interviews, I think one of the major things was his willingness to sit through all that. Without that sort of willingness, this project doesn’t happen.”
One joint led to two, which led to three, which led to more than music.
“We talk hoops,” says Edan, “but mostly Sand is just a positive influence overall. I’m trying to get more into fitness, and he’s already daily with it. Anything that I’m aspiring toward, I can just hang out with him.”
“We meditated in the studio,” Sandman chimes in.
“I’m generally on board with the Sandman lifestyle,” Edan adds. “I appreciate him a lot.”
That dynamic and mutual respect bled deep into the beats and bars, and ultimately begat Humble Pi, a seven-song stone soup with contributions showcasing the superhuman talents of both chefs.
“The whole thing is very organic,” says Sandman. “There wasn’t any groupthink. It was just hopping in the booth and we see what happens.”
One thing that happened: Edan picked the mic back up. In interviews he acts like this is no big deal, but for Beauty and the Beat junkies who sadly came to accept it as an unfortunate (though unconfirmed) rap fact that he would never rhyme again, the development was tantamount to learning that your favorite Trump official is getting out of his prison sentence.
“I rap, so why not rap a little?” Edan says. “I don’t always write as swiftly [as Sandman]—it’s more challenging to me. Sometimes, listening to a track like “The Gut,” it just felt like, You know what, maybe I should throw a little voice in there and add that.
“I like to collaborate,” Sandman says, “and there isn’t any Edan substitute out there. The payoff was always so rich.”
As for all the walking. And the waiting…
“Any time that I put into [commuting on foot],” Sandman says, “it’s paid off in dividends.”
The proof, according to the mumble-free Humble Pi duo, shows up on every stage in every swamp and city they perform.
“For the majority of my career, it’s just been me up there rapping with my DJ,” Sandman says. “I love that—I was always able to do a lot with two turntables and a mic. But Edan is capable of doing so much up there that there are so many other options.
“I’ve always had fun rocking, but it’s never been anything like this.”
HOMEBOY SANDMAN + EDAN. ONCE, 156 HIGHLAND AVE., SOMERVILLE. FRI 12.28. 8PM/$17-$20.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.