story told by Homeboy Sandman
photography by Brad Ogbonna
Place: Rucker Park, Harlem (NYC)
Date: August 14th, 2008
This was the year when I found out what my true inner passion was – that I was a musician. I am not losing focus. I’m not getting caught up in the rat race. Right now, the things that I’m gonna be doing for my money, it’s all gotta be related to my rhymes. I’m nickel and diming it – selling CDs, doing shows, tryna make it work. You know I had managed to pay some rent, I got this fat crib.
But then soon after moving in, I fell behind and the landlord is like – “yo, I’m not feeling it.” Trying to evict me. I’ve been to court on multiple occasions so it was nothing to me.
It comes to the point where I’m five months behind on my rent. At almost a grand a month, I’m five grand in the hole. So I make the decision – when I go to court tomorrow morning, I’m gonna tell the judge I give up, I ain’t got no money, I’ma get out of the place. So the next day I wake up and walk to the courthouse. When I get to the courthouse, I’ve gotta speak with the court clerk - basically the judge’s secretary - about the history of the case.
I speak with this woman and for some reason, who knows why, she says “what are you gonna do? You’re not gonna give the place up, right? Don’t give up! You have to tell the judge you’ll get it, tell the judge give you fifteen days – whatever you’ve gotta do – you can’t give up!”
This is the court clerk, mind you, she’s supposed to be on their side. I said “Miss, what am I supposed to do?” She looks at me with a look in her eye like she cares about me, like she feels real concern with my well being, “trust me B, get fifteen days.”
So I said alright, fine! She just talked me into telling the judge that I was gonna have the money in fifteen days. I go in front of the judge. I tell the judge “Fifteen days, I’ll have it.” Despite the fact that I clearly have no idea where the money is gonna come from, the judge said it’s fine, and he gives me fifteen days. It doesn’t make any sense. Nothing that happened in court that day made sense.
So I leave flabbergasted, get home, sit down, turn the computer on, and connect to the Internet that I was stealing from someone else in the building. The first email I see says “TAG Records Emcee Competition.” Today. This afternoon, only a couple hours from now. Rucker Park. Grand prize... five thousand dollars. And when I see this, I felt a feeling washing over me just like magic or divine intervention or something, for real! The prize money was exactly what I owed on this very day. I feel like all I gotta do is show up and win, which is obviously gonna happen, based on the psychosis that just took place in the courtroom, and this is crazy to me.
It’s Jermaine Dupri’s TAG Records so when I go over there the place was jam packed fence-to-fence and the crowd was nuts, it was deranged out there. It wasn’t a rap battle. It wasn’t predicated on dissing each other, tryna cut each other down, which is something I personally don’t get down with. It was a “let’s see who can rap incredible” competition – which of course I was built for. It started off with like forty emcees, none that I knew personally. Each round, the winners were determined based on crowd noise. The cats who get the loudest response will get to the next round.
Of course, I get up there, I shut it down with a verse. From the beginning, the crowd is loving me like crazy. I’m on to the next round, and the next. Can’t nobody rhyme like me and it’s always been that way. I came with a new style every single round - started out crazy strong with a lot of energy. I was spittin’ fast, I was spittin’ slow, I was spittin’ choppy. It becomes apparent that I’m the crowd favorite, with the exception of one other person – this kid named Cash Flow, he was from the building across the street, and knew half the people at the park. I get down to the last round and it was down to me and Cash Flow. Cash Flow and I were going back and forth, and the crowd was just maximum noise, couldn’t get no louder each time. The judges keep going “alright, go again”. It was hard to differentiate his crowd noise from my crowd noise so they brought out this decibel-noise-meter-reader. Once they got the crowd noise meter out, I spit all types of bars. And the crowd made gigantic stupendous enormous noise and I was like, he’s not gonna top that.
Then he gets up, spits his bars and I’m not trying to downplay... he could rap. And I don’t know who was there- cousins, aunts, brothers, mother, sister-in-law, whoever was there went berserk for him - they went crazy, wild as they can. And you look at the device when he finished and I was down by .02 decibels. When they announced he had beat me, I tried not to feel bad because I had done my best but it didn’t even make sense. He got it by the most slender of margins, it was like if a bird flew overhead the bird’s wings woulda determined the outcome of the competition.
The crowd went wild but then Jermaine Dupri rushes onto the stage and says, “That was so close, y’all can’t even call it. Yo, it’s a tie.” Jermaine Dupri, since he knew his hip-hop, was like this Sandman kid is not gonna lose to Cash Flow. It’s a tie, both of them get the money. It was beautiful, I’m thinking to myself that this $2,500 will buy me some time with the judge while I come up with the other half.
But yo! They gave me the full five G’s, as if I had won the joint outright. As it turns out, I got evicted five months later but those five months that the competition earned me were so integral in bringing me forward and gaining momentum - the next day after getting evicted, I was leaving for three weeks to be on the road. The moral of the story - go for it son, go for broke. You know you going for broke, ‘cuz you broke. And when you go for broke, guys look out. Peace.