A lot of time has passed since 1990, when Brand Nubian dropped their classic 5 Mic, debut album. Since then, Sadat X has maintained his career through 6 group projects and 11 as a solo artist. That’s 17 albums in 26 years. Also, throughout that time, Sadat collaborated with legends, became a teacher & went to prison. But, most importantly, he remained humble. While most golden age artists struggle with life outside of the limelight, Sadat remained true to himself & true to his music. His latest album, Agua, is available now on Tommy Boy & definitely worth the listen. Peace to the God.
Spek27: So, what did you do today?
Sadat X: Starting to get my school papers together. I wanna have my lesson plans ready. I went to the gym. I listened to my album to be ready for shows. Now I’m on the phone with you.
Spek27: When Brand Nubian first came out, you faced a lot of criticism about being 5 Percenters. Now, fast forward to today, and you have so much 5 Percenter slang built in to hip hop. Most of these kids don’t even realize they’re using it. Words like build or math…
Sadat X: Or peace. That’s all from the Gods. I saw it slowly seep into the culture, which was a good thing. I didn’t expect it, but I’m glad that it did.
Spek27: Are you still a 5 Percenter?
Sadat X: Always. That’s my way of life. I see a lot of guys come in and then they’re eating pork…that means you were never really 5 Percenter if you could do something like that. God is forever. God is infinite. I’ll always be God.
Spek27: Does your career ever conflict with that?
Sadat X: Not really, cause it’s not a thing of hate. Everyone thinks it’s about hating the white people. It’s about loving black people. It never conflicted as far as work goes or doing shows. If you’re in this game long enough, you learn to get along with everybody…white people, black people, Chinese people. It never became a problem like that.
Spek27: You also said some things in your early career that offended people…
Sadat X: It’s crazy, because when I said that back then, “I can freak the fly flow fuck up a faggot” I wasn’t thinking about gay people. I was thinking about somebody that was soft. After I thought about it a couple years later, if I coulda reworded it, I probably would have to be politically correct. But I didn’t mean any offense to gay people at all.
Spek27: What did you think of what Lord Jamar has been saying lately?
Sadat X: That’s my brother and I stand by him. You can agree or disagree with him, but he’s gonna have the facts behind him. So if you disagree, you better have your shit together. Sometimes I don’t agree with everything he says, but that’s my brother. I would say I agree with 90% of what he says.
Spek27: Since Brand Nubian, how do you think you’ve grown, in the industry and as a person?
Sadat X: I’ve definitely become more business savvy. I think I’ve become more compassionate towards people. I can judge every man on his own merit. And I think my music has grown. It’s basically for a different demographic. If I get some young kids, that’s cool. But my music is for people that work an honorable job, they come home, have a beer, and wanna listen to some hip hop. I make music to let them know that’s honorable. That 90% of us can’t stay out on a Tuesday night and pop 15 bottles. We gotta get up for work and keep that ball rolling.
Spek27: You had mainstream fame in the beginning. A lot of artists from your era couldn’t seem to figure out how to adapt and continue their career. You’re still making records, so what did you do different?
Sadat X: I didn’t become bitter. That’s the main thing. A lot of artists became disgruntled and became bitter. They started forgetting that the parents teach the children. I remained in my adult lane. I didn’t try to go backwards. And I stayed a fan of the game. Everyone became the rapper. There wasn’t no fans anymore. I also remembered that you can’t get on somebody for something they don’t know. You have to teach them. If you teach them and they don’t learn, well that’s another story. That’s not their fault. Maybe their parents didn’t play you in the crib. Everybody’s not a fan of you. I see a lot of bitterness in artists my age. These young boys is doing what these young boys do. I had an argument with someone over this Panda kid. Ok, he sounds like Future. If you’re a positive black man and you say that you’re mad cause this young boy who lives in the ghetto made a million dollar record where he can get money and get his family together, then you’re a god damn crab. He’s 19. I’m sure by now he’s heard a million people say he sounds like Future. I’ve seen him, he’s a smart kid. For someone to get mad at him, you’re a crab for that.
Spek27: Being that you came up in the “golden age” of hip hop, how do you feel about the reasons kids get into rap these days?
Sadat X: A lot of my kids at school tell me “Mr. Murphy, I wanna rap”. Why you wanna rap? I wanna make some money. What about the rapping part? Oh, I’ll get that down later. When we came in, you had to be nice to get on the mic. You couldn’t just make a song for YouTube, cause we didn’t have that. You had to be nice and you had to basically be cosigned by someone. Hip hop was a fun time, but it was still dangerous. You still had places like Latin Quarter and Union Square, where you had to be a live dude to perform, or even just to be there. If you any type of jewels, you better be able to hold it down. I seen Kane coming in with 30 / 40 dudes. You had to have back up. I got off track a little, but I came from that type of era. Social media made these kids think that anyone can do this. It’s watered down the art form of it. Not 100%, cause you still have artists that are still very talented and creative. Nowadays everybody either raps or produces or has an artist…everything except being a fan. It’s just not cool to be a fan no more.
Spek27: Are there any new artists out now that you think would have made it back then?
Sadat X: I think Kendrick Lamar would have made it. J. Cole would have made it. I like Schoolboy Q. I like Dave East. There’s so many now I can’t even get a grip on them. My kids at school have kept me up to speed. Last year it was Bobby Shmurda, everyone was shmurda dancing. Now he’s in jail and forgotten about. Now it moves on to like Rich Homie Quan, that’s how fast the turnover rate is.
Spek27: You just mentioned Rich Homie Quan. How do you feel about him not knowing the Biggie lyrics on TV?
Sadat X: That’s a ramification of the game being too easy. That blame goes to VH1 too. It’s too easy, he’s too fly. Yeah, I’ll learn the song, whatever. I tell people, it’s different to know a song and having to perform a song verbatim. I knew Big, and I still woulda gave myself a refresher. I blame the people from VH1 for doing that. Why would you put him on the spot? Did y’all practice with him? To me, that was a slap to Big’s legacy. I woulda rather they got his son to do it. I tell you what though, I bet if he does that again, he’ll learn the song next time.
Spek27: When you were locked up, what was the worst part?
Sadat X: In Riker’s Island…boredom. Having nothing to do. No type of real programs. Just being there. I wasn’t scared about no fights. I didn’t care about none of the other stuff. I wasn’t worried at all. I was in general population with everyone else. It was just boredom and knowing for this time my brain is just rotting away here. Counting hours down ‘til the next day. Then counting them again.
Spek27: How do you feel about prison regarding the lack of actual rehabilitation that they provide?
Sadat X: It’s fucked up man, cause by there being no programs in there, all you’re doing is connecting with people that are gonna be back in the street in 2 or 3 years. Now you’re in there and you ain’t doing shit all day and you’re connecting like “when you get out we can get together and take over“. And then someone else is like “when you two get out, you can get the cocaine from me”. Now you made a drug connection in jail that will probably bring you back to jail at some point. By having no programs, you get connected with the same element that brought you in.
Spek27: When you went to jail, did that have any effect on you, as far as working in the school system?
Sadat X: Hell yeah. Every step of the way. They made me apply and reapply and reapply… every couple of months. Then I make an appeal and that goes on for six months. I work in a charter school. The school is fine with me working there. They know my history. It’s the state of New York. Somebody in upstate New York that probably lives on farmland and knows nothing about the projects is gonna decide I can’t work in a school. They just just pushing paperwork. The school I work at is fighting for me, so hopefully I’ll be able to stay.
Spek27: Getting back to music, you’ve done a lot of features over the years. What were some of your favorites?
Sadat X: One of them was with Biggie, cause we was both in the studio at the same time. Puff was there, Cease was there< my man Spark was there. We were just in there drinking, smoking and having a ball. Another one I was proud of doing was with Jay and Uncle Murda. I was just amazed at the work efficiency of Jay. He called me the day before like I need you to do a chorus on a song I got. Somebody called me that night, said the car was gonna pick me up and go to Virginia. I’m thinking we’re going to LaGuardia or something. We go to Teterboro airport out in New Jersey on Jay’s plane. We fly down there, Pharrell’s already in there, Jay’s working on four songs at one time. He’s going from room to room to room to room. He worked like that continuously for about 8 hours, we get on the plane and head back. But while we’re coming back, he got four songs done. Now that’s work ethic for you. Word up.
Spek27: 50,000 Heads with R.A. The Rugged Man is one of my favorite songs you were featured on. How did that come about?
Sadat X: First of all, R.A. and I are friends. Before this rapping, he’s a friend of mine. We can get together and we ain’t gotta rap. I’ve gotten with him and we just went and drank and rap wasn’t even mentioned. 50,000 Heads was good because he reached out to me at the time and he didn’t think I was gonna get on it. But I was already a fan of his from the song he did with Biggie. I was like hell yeah I’ll get on it. That’s how that came about.
Spek27: What’s your favorite Brand Nubian album?
Sadat X: Probably the first one. There were times we didn’t even have any money to get down to the studio. We might take the metro north train and hide in the bathroom and hope the conductor didn’t come in. Or hope that you could at least make it to Mt. Vernon before they kicked you off. You can walk to New Rochelle to Mt. Vernon in case anything drastic happens. We didn’t have enough money for everyone to get food, so we might of got two cheese steak sandwiches and split it up. Drinking Olde English back then, splitting that. Borrowing somebody’s momma’s car to get to the studio sometimes. Just the grind of it made that album my favorite.
Spek27: Would you agree with me in saying that Grand Puba set the tone for a lot of people’s style back then, but doesn’t get the credit for it?
Sadat X: Oh, definitely. The backpack, the Girbaud jeans, the Lo shirts and the Tommy shirts. You gotta remember, a few years before that, people were wearing costumes on stage. We wore our regular fly shit.
Spek27: For the new album, who do you have on production?
Sadat X: Will Tell, DJ Scratch, Easy Mo Bee, Diamond, Pete Rock, Nic Wiz, Evil D from the Beatminerz, I got a couple people on there.
Spek27: Why should people check out this new album?
Sadat X: Just for the fact that I’m still here. 80% of the people from my time are no longer rapping. So just me still being here talking about it, should be enough. Coming from a group that had a 5 mic album in The Source, so I know a little about this game.