Hip-hop doesn’t tend to breed team players. Time after time, great hip-hop crews have imploded under the weight of their own egos, shattering distinct creative teams and destroying what made them great in the first place. That’s why it’s refreshing to watch Sandpeople perform. The Portland hip-hop collective, composed of nine MCs and one DJ, know the proper way to rock a stage, despite their intimidating numbers.
Hip-hop doesn’t tend to breed team players.
Time after time, great hip-hop crews have imploded under the weight of their own egos, shattering distinct creative teams and destroying what made them great in the first place.
That’s why it’s refreshing to watch Sandpeople perform. The Portland hip-hop collective, composed of nine MCs and one DJ, know the proper way to rock a stage, despite their intimidating numbers.
At a recent show in support of Jedi Mind Tricks, there weren’t enough mics to go around (likely a common problem). A lesser group would have stumbled their way through a set, jockeying for control of the spotlight. But not Sandpeople.
Their set was a fluid, well-oiled hip-hop machine.
“That’s really a conscious effort on our part,” says Ethic, an MC in the group. “We want to be something different. We set out to be a congregation of rappers; none of us thinks we run the show.”
That news is surprising, considering the talent-pool Sandpeople have drawn from. Illmacculate is Scribble Jam winner and 2006 World Rap Champion. Sapient is a master beatsmith. In fact, a number of the Sandpeople have solo or subgroup records to their credit–which means the plan is working.
Ever since the 2007 release of Honest Racket (what Ethic calls the beginning of Sandpeople’s “professional” phase), the crew’s profile has been on the rise. And while their albums so far have been self-released, that’s only the first step.
“The ultimate plan is that our subgroups would get the support of a label,” says Ethic. “But as Sandpeople we’d still come together under our own umbrella. A 10-person group isn’t necessarily the most attractive thing to a label.”
This mindset certainly echoes the RZA’s famous 10-year plan for the Wu-Tang Clan, which, maybe you didn’t know, worked out pretty well. And there’s no reason to believe Sandpeople can’t achieve lasting success using the same methods.
Honest Racket ably demonstrates the group’s command of modern hip-hop’s lexicon. Fans of Ryhmesayers Entertainment, and artists like Atmosphere and Brother Ali, take note.
The production, handled by the group’s own Sapient and Simple, bangs and clamors with life, only occasionally losing its way (“All in Your Head” and “Sandman” veer especially close to tediousness). The rapping and lyricism on display is generally spot-on, with songs ranging from straight-up bangers (see album opener “The Count” or “Air We Breathe”) to thoughtfully emotive ballads (“I Don’t Care” is one of the most masterfully constructed hip-hop relationship songs you’d ever hear.)
Ethic says that when the group is creating songs, there’s not necessarily a set formula. Some songs are just meant for certain group members.
“We’re 10 people who are like minded. We have similar work ethics. But we don’t necessarily have similar styles,” says Ethic. “Basically, it’s the beats. Who likes what beat determines who’s on each track. We like to shoot for balance, but we’re not confined by it.”
But what happens when there’s a song everyone wants to be on–are there ever any arguments?
“We’re all adults. And we act like it. We know we’re not always going to get our way, or be on every song,” says Ethic. “No one’s looking to forcibly change something in a way that doesn’t make sense.”
Which brings us back to teamwork. Right now, Sandpeople doesn’t have room for ego trips–they’re too busy ruling Portland hip-hop.
“We’ve established ourselves as a presence,” says Ethic, “and we don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Sandpeoplew/ Living LegendsSept. 18 At Berbati’s Pan, $18, 21 pluswww.myspace.com/sandpeople