When a 21-year-old rapper quits his job at a McDonald’s in Greensboro to embark on a tour of Europe with a certifiable hip-hop legend — the incomparable KRS-One — things might get a little crazy. When over the course of that odyssey, he watches from afar as his native country slips into the hands of an authoritarian fabulist caught in the grip of dark hallucinations about black America, you could forgive him for losing his mind.
Instead, G-$antana has released a remarkably grounded body of music that takes stock of his new station as a young man with budding self-awareness and confidence, and at the same time provides a soundtrack for the new era of resistance. Recorded at LiveWire Studios in Greensboro and Studio 87 in Liverpool, England and released on Sunday, SandMan issues forth with staccato raps over ominous and spare tracks, in contrast to the upstart braggadocio of past efforts.
Here he is on “Bright Lights (Letter to America)”: “We gravitated towards a candidate who let us down/ Now, the next four years is hatred year-round/ The devil won the battle, but the war is not over/ We gotta stay connected like a videogame controller/ We gotta stay connected like a tattoo on your shoulder/ We gotta stay connected like an organ to a donor.”
On “Average Joe?” G-$antana projects a sense of himself as a young man moving beyond his roots but honoring a sense of connection with his constituency: “Respect and peace to all my hustlas on the block/ Respect to all the street soldiers holding the spot/ Respect and peace to all the single parents for sure/ Respect to all my students paying money to learn/ I got love for my brothers and I got love for my sisters/ I got love for any person who’s oppressed in the system/ There’s a void we need to close, but we can’t do it alone.”
The EP opens with a remix of “Shot Caller” and ends with the straight track. It’s a fitting repository for SandMan’s tension. He starts with youthful wonder (“I smoked up before I hit the plane/ Double shot of Jack Daniels to the brain/ I’m flying over clouds towards the fame/ Realizing nothing was the same, dang!”) but seems powerless to resist the pull of more weighty concerns (“I didn’t get a degree, I transferred to A&T/ Plenty of associates, discarded them like apple seeds/ Watch me plant the seeds, and grow a thousand trees/ We need more oxygen/ Like Eric Garner, I can’t breathe/ I do not like TV, there’s nothing true to see.”)