Review: Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman is back with a classic

Homeboy Sandman, "Dusty" (Mello Music Group)

Fresh off last year's ace collaboration with emcee and beatsmith Edan, Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman hits us back with "Dusty," a redefinition of Golden Age hip-hop for the now.

A classicist who embraces the future, Sandman's blueprint is not calculated: "There aren't any maps/So I go my own way." On album closer "Always," he finds "a place that you can't touch" — the space between back-in-the-day and a higher plane.

Always with respect to the art form, his rhyme structures are studied but off the cuff, like he's flipping out in measured tones. Versed in linguistics and the way inflection changes meaning, Boy Sand can still "breakdance without cardboard." The hook on the infectious "Name" spells it out: "You can't solve me."

An existentialist who drops science like earlier Queens rapper Craig G, on "Wondering Why" he ponders questions both trivial and trenchant: "Why I don't know the real ways just back routes?" He rhymes "panacea" with "Bill Laimbeer" and "Zambia," making it all look easy, at one point plainly stating: "It's not difficult."

Like-minded guests Quelle Chris and Your Old Droog are also all about the grammar, with Droog concluding: "I'm above you like the dots on umlauts."

The production by Mono En Stereo is bananas. Gyrating vibraphones, jubilant horn runs, elastic basslines and odes to Weldon Irvine all mesh. Dabbling in everything from lounge-rock obscurities to spiritual jazz, the plush loops and tasteful percussion amplify Sandman's bars. Standout track "Yes Iyah" pinpoints the overlap between a tribal rain dance and a college marching band.

Ill beats, tight rhymes, fly samples and boundless charisma on the mic. The formula is simple geometry. And Homeboy's got the angle.

Jake O'Connell, The Associated Press