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Homeboy Sandman/Edan - Humble Pi Music Album Reviews

The long-dormant rapper/producer Edan is coaxed out of hiding by Homeboy Sandman, one of rap’s most irreverent characters, for a short, playfully psychedelic album.

Edan’s Beauty and the Beat was a glorious record. A full clip of kaleidoscopic samples, rumbling electronics, and streetwise bars rooted in the classic lyrical tradition, it encapsulated the inventiveness of independent rap in the early 2000s, before labels like Definitive Jux evaporated into dust. I threw Beauty and the Beat on recently and can happily report that the album is aging beautifully, 13 years after its release. (To its great credit, the label behind the record, the small UK outfit Lewis Recordings, still has its doors open). But as underground hip-hop crumbed beneath his feet, Edan disappeared into the soil. The short 2009 mixtape Echo Party is his only release since his sophomore record dropped. So like Master Yoda, forced into exile on Dagobah to wait for another opportunity to strike, the rapper/producer’s been biding his time. Waiting. Training.

Does that make Homeboy Sandman Luke Skywalker? Not quite. Angel Del Villar II is no apprentice, with a prolific, decade-long recording career that’s earned him a reputation as one of rap’s most irreverent characters—an emcee not minded to shed his lunatic tendencies for anyone (not that he could if he tried). Sandman’s strong three-part Lice series alongside Aesop Rock has already proved how buoyant he can be when teaming up with a fellow alt-rap king. On paper, joining forces with Edan makes perfect sense, and the elusive star is tempted out of hiding for Humble Pi, a short record that shows flashes of both artists’ indomitable abilities.

Rap has shuffled through many cloaks in his period away, but little has changed in Edan’s galaxy. He produces all seven cuts on Humble Pi, all of which boast his trademark proclivity for grubby loops and off-kilter grooves. The beats are layered and complex, and they never stop evolving. On “Grim Seasons,” Edan plays with rugged spaghetti-western and kung-fu movie flavors, throwing in some electric guitar squiggles halfway through to keep his orchestration mutating. The twisted, psychedelic “Rock & Roll Indian Dance” works in an interpretation of Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” one of the most sampled records ever. But Edan’s song is a unique voyage, riding a pinging, almost abrasive metallic pulse before releasing that building tension with Ayers’ warm words on the hook. It’s a fine example of how Edan can alchemize a rap arrangement in ways that would never flash into another musician’s brain.

Edan and Sandman’s easygoing chemistry is palpable: On “Rock & Roll Indian Dance” they pass the mic like a hot potato, their voices interlocking with zero friction. Edan’s lyrical contributions are sparse, though, with Sandman picking up the slack. Some of his most grabbing moments come on the brawny boom-bap of “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain,” an amusing smackdown of social media, blogs, and other online portals. It sounds like Sandman likely recorded his verse before the controversies that hit Facebook earlier this year, and he mostly sticks to the kind of arguments college freshmen unleash at parties when asked for their usernames—social media kills productivity, dating websites are impersonal, and so on. He’s deeply pissed off here, as is Sandman. His berzerk tirade sounds half righteous, half hilarious.

Ultimately, the album is held back by its lack of ambition. Kanye West’s spotty Wyoming odyssey wasn’t the strongest argument for the validity of the seven-track rap album, but it’s clear that diamond-cut records, like Pusha-T’s Daytona, can work if the focus is laser sharp and no motions are wasted. But not all of Humble Pi is as strong as its best moments. “The Gut,” with its swarming 8-bit electronics, lacks the breeziness of Edan’s best cuts, while there’s a straight misstep on “Unwavering Mind,” with Sandman’s double-time rapping refusing to fuse with the rasping beat, which resembles a cymbal falling to the floor on repeat. With the slight running time, these flaws are magnified. Not to worry, though. Humble Pi might be thin, but there’s enough here to spark hope that this is the origin point of Sandman and Edan’s cracked journey, and not the final destination.

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