The Sandpeople crew formed four years ago in Portland, Oregon as a 10-member hip-hop unit. The group's debut album Points Of View was released in 2005 and from there they have gained notable recognition. With their Long Story Short EP out and many other projects on the table Alex Humphrey caught up with members IAME, Gold and Ethic to find out more.
Wookieepedia, the online Star Wars encyclopedia, describes Sand People as “a culture of nomadic, primitive sentients… often hostile to local settlers” does that sum you guys up or can you give us a better definition?
IAME: Thats pretty on point.
Gold: What is Star Wars?
Ethic: Someone really created something called Wookieepedia? But, yea, the definition is suitable.
How did the crew end up forming?
IAME: Craiglist ad… no we started off all doing our own solo shit. Mo-b, Simple and I were in group called Redshield. We wanted to form a larger crew and we started making albums before the crew was completely defined. So there is a little different feel to every album because its a different group of people putting in the most effort. Sometimes its by choice and other times its based on people being too busy or whatever.
Gold: I was lured to studio sessions by half gallons of liquor by mo-b. As long as they keep the liquor coming, I keep showing up.
Ethic: Sapient and I lived in a small hippy town called Eugene. Mo-B went to school there for a short while before dropping out due to Madden NFL & Pabst 40 oz. over-consumption. He recruited us. There was no signing bonus.
What where your childhoods like and what inspired you each individually to get into hip-hop?
IAME: Mine was pretty boring for the most part. I grew up in the suburbs and was somewhat sheltered until I was a teenager. Then I got into drinking and drugs and also hip hop. Turns out it was the one really constructive thing I had. My dad worked hard and probably wanted me to be in the military or something but we grew to have very different views, but he did instill a good work ethic. I went to school with a bunch of rich kids so I wasn't cool because I didn't have all the stupid shit they had. Other than that I was just a fuck up who got into trouble but didn't really mean any harm. When I first started listening to rap I think I just naturally gained a sense and appreciation for the art.
I started writing rhymes when I was 13 but I didn't really have shit to say. It was just a way to express myself but when I started living on my own and outside of the suburbs I think I gained more perspective and that’s when I was able to write whole songs and not just rhymes. As I got older it became more about listening to stuff that was thought provoking. Not only did I learn things through this music and culture but I also had a new reason to want to learn. That’s something I try to achieve with my music. I want it to be entertaining but also I'm trying to make people think.
Gold: I grew up around music. My dad was in a band, had instruments everywhere, records etc. I was to desensitised or inpatient to pick up a certain instrument (a.k.a no natural talent). So I started writing when I was 14 to ward off the evils that were in my immediate surroundings in an attempt to channel all the negatives. It wasn’t really a positive outlet for me at first because I still Fucked up as a teenager and should have been locked up or dead (still might happen, ha) somewhere along the way.
I end up starting a crew back in the day called Secret Society with about 20 fools and that went defunct really quick because 20 teenagers can’t get any thing good accomplished. From there I met the Oldominion crew and they really helped me get an understanding the craft and the “game”.
As a solo artist (w/ no album) I did a good amount of traveling and shows but really didn’t have any direction. From there I connected with SP and the rest is in the ashtray.
Ethic: Coolio’s song “Gangsters Paradise”. It spoke to me.
You are a 10 man strong crew what are some of the benefits and disadvantages of having so many members?
IAME: I think it gets a little competitive but that’s a good thing. Some people are surrounded by wack artists so they think they are dope but don't have anyone to really push them to advance. Its also hard to organize and sometimes there is a clash of ideas or personalities. But these are natural things and I think we function pretty smoothly for a large group. The advantages are endless. Its easier to create music, to market it. I mean really we can do a lot with 10 people. I think we could utilize it even more but it is still a big advantage.
Gold: Some of the advantages are that we can rob a bank in under two minutes. Make a show that no people came out to turn into a show that 10 people came out to.
Disadvantages are trying to make shit happen when they are conflicting schedules and everyone has their own life and their own shit going on with work, family, alcoholism etc.
Ethic: Advantages: diversity in style, strength in numbers, consistent releases (between crew, group, solo). Disadvantages: what they said.
You self-released your debut Points of View how did that album come about and what was the reaction like when you first hit the scene?
IAME: We did that album really fast and it was almost more of a compilation. We were still getting to know each other but it was really the foundation for what we have today. We were still in the developmental stage I guess.
Gold: It came about in a dorm room. I didn’t even know that it was getting any love beyond Portland and Eugene at first but it seemed to be well received.
Ethic: That was a whirlwind project and I hadn’t even met half of the crew before it was released. Some of us didn’t even know it was going to be the beginning of a multi-year effort. It was surprisingly well received and was even the project that first led to interest from Epic Records.
I read a quote from one of you saying you all have a “deeply ingrained work ethic and self imposed high standards” why is that and how does it affect your music?
IAME: We are all solo artists even though some people aren't really putting out solo albums on a regular basis (or ever) but we all want to be in crew if you are hearing stuff from us. So I think we just try to stay on point because you have to be when you are surrounded by talent… other wise you wouldn't be noticeable. I think it makes our music good. We all have different taste but we have high standards and I don't think any of us want to put out music that we don't believe in.
Gold: Was he talking about women? I like my women to have a good work ethic but low standards hence being my women. Because I like them to work hard but not expect much. It effects the music because it brings more listeners blue collar birds like blue collar power lines ya dig.
Ethic: What IAME said pretty much captures it. We are hard workers and self-motivated. It doesn’t take one or two people to keep us moving, as we are all in this to further ourselves as artists.
Another quote I found interesting came from Ethic who said “Because we’re isolated, our music doesn’t reflect what’s ‘hot’ in the rest of the country… And due to our geographical challenges, we know we have to make music that is better than what's out there in order for us to get equal recognition.” Can you expand on that further?
IAME: If we put out music that isn't really recognized outside of a local fan base than we would only be local artists. I think we have already proved to be larger than that. We have toured outside of the region but beyond that we are selling music and getting recognition in other parts of the country and in other countries so even though we aren't rich and famous we still are international artists. But we have to work hard and make music that is capable of keeping our fan base's attention and is accessible enough to attract new fans.
Ethic: What I meant by that is that we are likely miss out on situational opportunities up here as Portland-based hip-hop artists. For that reason, we had to burst onto the scene with nothing but our music to speak for, and introduce, us. With that in mind, we had to be doing something that was not only of a high quality, but also that stands out amongst a crowd.
You are all based in Portland, what is the scene like there and how does hip-hop differ there from other places you have visited?
IAME: We have a good scene here. I have been to places where artists get a lot more local love but I have also been places where there is no scene at all or there is a small scene full of wack artists. I think we have a lot of good artists here and they are all pretty cordial with each other so that is dope. You can go to a show that is popping and see a bunch of familiar faces.
Do you tour much and if so what has been your favorite show so far?
IAME: I tour as much as I can. Some of my favorite shows have been in Denver / Boulder Colorado. We opened up for Wu-Tang in Portland on new years a couple years ago. That was pretty ill. I think everybody was there. Maybe RZA wasn't but still that’s pretty good for Wu-Tang.
Gold: We do tour but not enough. Again, it’s hard to get everyone’s schedule synced up. So we have been doing the fall and spring runs for the last three years and hope to continue doing that. We are also hoping to get overseas as soon as possible. Denver and Boulder are definitely holding us down. We had a dope stop in Yuma @ openaired last run.
Ethic: We tour a bit, but wish we could get out more often. Favorite shows outside of Portland have been last year’s ABB Records showcase at SXSW, anything in Denver / Boulder / LA, or shows with bountiful drink tickets.
The track Strands, which opens your Long Story, Short EP is a great introductory group banger as it has 7 of your 10 members on it. Can you talk us through the process of creating such a logistically complex track from coming up with the idea to each writing your verses to laying down the final mix?
IAME: Most the time it starts with the beat. Sometimes we decide that it sounds like a crew song. Other beats might sound better with a smaller group of people on it. Then we write our verses. Sometimes together but a lot of times it isn't. For Strands, Gold and I wrote our verses together to kind of trade off with each other. Then we just record whenever its convenient and Sape works his magic. Thats pretty much it. Some songs are more concept based but songs like this are kind of just choose your own adventure songs – meaning we can do whatever we want.
Ethic: The “Strands” style tracks have become almost second nature for us. It’s something we can do regularly that most crews can’t – having 7-10 fuckers attacking a beat. We usually just let the beat dictate what we’re gonna do. On songs with fewer dudes and more structure, we usually take a more calculated approach to concept and sequence.
On the flip side The Dapper Mob is written, produced, and performed entirely by Sapient. How did that track come about?
IAME: I had nothing to do with this song except I am pretty damn dapper.
Gold: I Mob.
Ethic: Sapient has made a tradition out of ending our projects on more of a rock vibe. This started with “Last Time” on All in Vain and has since been a part of every crew release. he Dapper Mob was actually an 11th-hour addition to Long Story Short, as it was written, recorded, and mixed literally hours before Sape began mixing the entire project. He kills it like that.
Are there more solo songs or even albums planned for other crew members in the future?
IAME: I have a new solo album called I Am My Enemy that drops July 21st. It is produced by Sapient.
Gold: Working on some musical hi-jinx right Now called AU (Hey You).
Ethic: Debaser (Sapient and I) have some shit in the works. New project features Cage, The Grouch, Eyedea, Luckyiam and more.
What is next for you guys?
IAME: Again, (shameless plug) – new IAME solo album I Am My Enemy – in stores July 21st! After that I am working on a self produced project and changing my name to Lame because that’s what the universe wants.
Gold: More Jameson (You’ll understand later). Hometown heroes mixtape & 2010.
Ethic: Mixtape and then new album. We plan to keep it moving.
And lastly finishing with the Star Wars theme from the start if you could be any character in the movies who would it be and why?
IAME: Jabba the Hut seemed to live a pretty full and rewarding life.
Gold: What is Star Wars? Did we start a war on Hollywood?
Ethic: Jar Jar Binks. He and I have similar accents.
Thank you for your time.