There is an unseen pressure that rests upon Portland hiphop acts. While other musicians who fit under the comfortable span of the rock music umbrella are free to bask in the glow of a city known for being an artist's mecca, local emcees and DJs are saddled with the mighty burden of not just succeeding in their own right, but taking everyone with them as well. It's not enough to kick down the walls and establish a national identity, Portland hiphop acts are obligated to counter the argument that there isn't really a legitimate rap community within Indierockville. This is the same stigma the Lifesavas had to shed when dropping Spirit in Stone in '03, and it is the same burden the Sandpeople overcome with Honest Racket.
While the number has fluctuated in the past, there are 10 fulltime members in Sandpeople. Ten people is not a group, or a band, it's an army. The double-digit ensemble of Sandpeople crew is pieced together with individuals who team up to form an entity far stronger than their individual selves. This is remarkable in its own right, seeing how the crew's lineup is littered with some of the best solo talent our city has to offer. Former Scribble Jam winner (a title he shares with the likes of Eminem and Sage Francis), Illmaculate is the reigning king of battle rap (no crown for this king, instead he has the championship ring from capturing the '06 World Rap title), but within the context of Sandpeople, he's just one of many emcees with a mic.
Rolling at 10 deep can be an intimidating thing to witness, but it just adds to Sandpeople's volatile live shows. "When you get 10 guys together, I feel that creates a little buzz, this little energy, and that can proliferate to people that enjoy what we do," says Ethic. "You know we do a lot of full-crew shows and it's not very common to see a full hiphop act here anymore. Just to see a huge wealth of bodies on stage, really getting down with what they do, our goal is to rekindle that energy."
Rhyme skills and onstage chops are one thing, but Sandpeople also hold it down away from the glare of the lights, self-releasing their records, aggressively promoting their shows (surely you've seen their grinning logo wheatpasted about town), and self-booking their tours, even if it comes at the cost of gainful employment. Says a laughing Illmaculate, "Jobs aren't hiphop. Steady incomes aren't hiphop."
If five fingers form a fist, the 10 members of Sandpeople swing around like a pair of clinched weapons, bombarding the listener with a pummeling dose of free-swinging rhymes and frantic beats—all of which are delivered with the bold swagger of a young Muhammad Ali, standing victorious above a floored opponent. And while the big boys—the Grouch (of Living Legends) and Sean Price (Boot Camp Clik)—swing by for cameos, Honest Racket is the Sandpeople's show. As far as records go, it's a gleaming beacon for Portland hiphop, a triumphant effort from a unified front unafraid to root for their hometown. Or as Ethic puts it, "I don't think we have this pressure to put Portland on the map, per se, we just like the city where we're from, and we're going to make sure it's known."