Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, Sandman’s new release with producer El RTNC, celebrates the format and original purpose of the EP. There are no singular tracks that stick out as much better or more focused than the others. The whole EP fits neatly into the niche area of music that Stones Throw Records has been occupying for years now, making it a complete effort with very little confusion as to how the songs sound compared to each other.
“My Brothers”, the first track on Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, starts with a bit of psych rock circa late 1960s’ (think Captain Beyond with a touch of the Beach Boys), which persists throughout the entire EP. After this tease, RTNC lets the real beat in, a break with cowbell and ample snare. Cut with the odd psych rock samples to differentiate verse and chorus, the break and psych bit mashing together melds the two very different genres in an odd yet intriguing way.
“Oh, The Horror”, an Afro-beat instrumental bred with some Latin influenced jazz, may have snuck off the tracklist of DOOM’s Special Herbs series. “I rap peace but peeps first assume when we meet I’m a athlete/When I answer back to the rap then they ask me, where my fitted cap be?/When I was busting caps over cash, where the casualties?/I reply ‘um, not exactly’ followed by actually…” Following that line is where RTNC shows the listener what he can achieve musically by playing musical red-light-green-light, stopping and going, bringing in a much more dynamic piece of sampled music to battle the emptiness of the prior, more static piece. When returning to the emptier initial beat, Homeboy raps “I wish you wouldn’t assume I was a goon cuz of my rap tunes… or that I left school, and that my section’s a cesspool, and I hate homosexuals.” The power of assumption ain’t nothing to fuck with! Thankfully no references were made to the awfully corny/admittedly witty expression “don’t assume, you’ll make an ass out of u and me.”
“Lonely People” is a fascinating to departure into genre-lessness. Homeboy Sandman is in no man’s land when he slams this jam. The only things tying this beat to hip hop are the tempo and arguably the drumbeat, which almost halves in tempo every few seconds. Again, psych rock elements appear with trembling tremelo guitar and bass notes, plucked with care to create a vibe like this song is being played on loop in a haunted playhouse. Elsewhere, you have tracks like “Dag, Philly Too”, which is funktastic like Blaxploitation film score funktastic. Again, RTNC harshly juxtaposes the sparse breaks against a musical and wholesome piece that generally acts as a chorus of sorts. Homeboy is nearly breathless in this song, taking very few rests and leaving very few syllables empty.
Acoustic guitar is usually a red flag when it comes to hip hop, but it works on “Peace & Love”. This is the most rock-oriented song on the EP as it has no traditional aspects of hip hop at all. Instead it favors the pairing of acoustic and a moaning electric guitar with a simple drumbeat played live on a likeably sloppy rock kit. Sandman still manages to rap comfortably on the track, but it does sound a bit weird over such an aggressively non-hip-hop track.
The EP ends with “I”, a cucaracha style medley of Spanish horns. “Peace & Love” seems a more fitting end to the experience, but “I” doesn’t sound out of place, it just takes a second to reconfigure after the previous song. Homeboy raps against conformity and for originality; “I start a lot of verses saying ‘I’/Why would I lie, my oh my/ I live and breathe the fight for freedom/A cinco-de-mayo-guy/No teacher never got me in a single file line/I never bite a style or look in a style guide.” The last lyrics of the song are “dog, you too eager to ball, go fetch.” Not until the word “eager” is it clear how refreshingly unconcerned Homeboy is with fame and commercial success. He genuinely speaks what he believes to be the truth, and when paired with such great production, it is easy to listen to him truth-stomp a game full of fakers and gimmicks. There is no time to waste in this eight-song EP, and consider it a favor to the listener that Homeboy and RTNC made the best of the time they did have to make a great standalone release.