In a 1977 interview, Woody Allen told the New York Times that “80 percent of success is showing up.” While there’s a stark contrast between the lives of Oscar-winning Woody and hip-hop guru DJ Sandman, both have made sure to be in the room as much as humanly possible.
Sandman, currently most recognizable as on-air talent for Tampa Bay radio station WBTB 95.7 FM The Beat, has always known that hip-hop was the love of his life. He’s been dedicated to the genre for as long as he can remember.
“They used to play Cybertron’s ‘Clear’ and songs by Egyptian Lover at the middle school dances, and that’s where I first started to really get into all of it,” Sandman told CL on a Sunday afternoon, adding that he used to spend his money buying music at Britton Plaza before eventually graduating to cleaning out his bank account buying records with friends at Vinyl Fever.
Where the records were, and are, in Tampa Bay
Sandman, a broad-shouldered guy with an easy smile, took a quick break from taping segments at his radio station’s Gandy Boulevard headquarters to chat about Tampa hip-hop history. He loves to wax on about the accomplishments of others, and has to be pushed into talking about himself. Turns out Sandman, who was born and raised in the Port Tampa neighborhood he works in today, has come a long way from his days as a young, rap-obsessed kid trolling the halls at Madison Middle School less than two miles away. He explains his biggest influence.
“I would tape every Kenny K show and bring it to school the next week because all anyone would ever talk about was what Kenny played on the radio that weekend.”
Sandman, of course, is talking about famed WMNF DJ Kenneth Waters, the sacred totem of hip-hop in Tampa Bay from 1987 to 1993. Waters — who was instrumental in the formation of trailblazing funky rap act Digital Underground — passed away in 1994 after a battle with liver disease, but his influence cannot be measured. Waters would play hip-hop from all over the country at a time when locals were being inundated, almost exclusively, by sounds from the Miami bass movement. His “Wax Attack” segments were the stuff of legend, and Kenny K’s voice would inspire Sandman to find his own on the airwaves at the University of South Florida’s radio station, WBUL. It’s there — in college radio, when the format was an essential cog of the music industry — that Sandman started to master the tricks of the trade and make connections with industry insiders and then-breaking artists like the Wu-Tang Clan.
Hip-hop high points: They made it happen for the Bay
“I would check my voicemail, you know, ’cause you had to call people on the phone back in the day, and there would be a message from Cliff Smith,” Sandman explained, talking about the time the Long Island emcee better known as Method Man was looking for spins on a Wu-Tang record.
The fire kept burning hotter, and Sandman would go on to team up with a handful of Tampa promoters to put on shows by Smif-N-Wessun, Boot Camp Clik and KRS-One. He even helped start TampaHipHop.com, where a message board served as a pre-social media hub for any and all things rap-related in the Bay area. Sandman has also taken local artists under his wing and even traveled to Europe several time on tours with Tampa Bay emcee Dynasty, who routinely sells out rooms in France and Germany. Sandman’s Future Flavors segment on 95.7 The Beat regularly spotlights homegrown talent — a rarity in the mostly pre-programmed, gold record-laden world of modern radio. His more than two decades of service have earned him the title of Tampa Bay’s “Godfather of Hip-Hop,” which he downplayed in our conversation.
“I started because I liked the music, and I wanted to play the songs to make people feel the way I did,” he said, acknowledging that it does feel good to give what Kenny K gave him back to the community he’s always believed in. “You know I actually only met Kenny K once, but I just gave him a hug, thanked him and told him that I love him.”
There’s a ton of love surrounding what Sandman’s done — and continues to do — for the Bay area’s hip-hop community, and he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon.
“All I wanted to do was the be around hip-hop, to be in the room,” he said, adding that his excitement level still hasn’t wavered. “I still see myself as the same kid from South Tampa who loves music, wants to promote it and help others do even bigger things.
“I love Tampa, it made me who I am. I’m down to do this and live here forever.”