In early 2010 I got the great pleasure of interviewing one of my all-time favorite emcees, Sadat X. Sadat is undoubtedly a part of Hip-Hop’s pantheon as part of Brand Nubian, but the artist formerly known as Derek X also has a robust catalog as a solo emcee.
In his 32 years on wax, Sadat is frequently called on to feature on other artist’s projects and has released upwards of a dozen solo albums. X recently teamed up wit D.I.T.C. member A.G. for a special collector’s 7″ vinyl single and comic book called “Adventures of X-Man and Andre the Giant.”
I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Sadat X prior to the release of the sequel to his debut album, Wild Cowboys II. Because of my immense admiration of his music and his unmitigated modesty, our discussion is one of my favorite interviews of all-time.
TRHH: Talk about the new single “Turn It Up” featuring Pete Rock.
Sadat X: The single is Turn It Up featuring Pete Rock. Pete is my man, I reached out to him and he gave me a beat. We went with it and that’s what we’re going with first.
TRHH: The EP and vinyl was released on February 23rd, while the full-length album comes out on March 23rd. What can we expect on Wild Cowboys II?
Sadat X: What you can expect is a follow-up of the original Wild Cowboys album. I got a lot of people that were on the first album like Money Boss Players, Brand Nubian, and beats by Buckwild and Diamond. I also got some new people like my man Twan is on a couple of joints, Umi, M-1 from Dead Prez, Kurupt, Ill Bill, Vast Aire, and 9th Wonder gave me a couple of beats. It’s a different collection.
TRHH: You mentioned 9th Wonder; there’s a stellar list of producers on Wild Cowboys II. Talk about the beat-makers on the album.
Sadat X: I got my man Will Tell on there, he did a lot of production. I had to have Diamond, that’s my main man. 9th Wonder is on there, Buckwild, Sir Jinx came through and gave me a joint, Spinna, a couple of people looked out.
TRHH: Rhymefest is on the new album and in my opinion he’s one of the most slept-on MC’s out there. What was it like working with Rhymefest?
Sadat X: Fest is definitely a sleeping giant. People in the know, know who he is and have for a while. He heard the track and he actually jumped on it first. I was happy that he proceeded with it like that. It made my job easier just to fill in the blanks.
TRHH: A lot of people might not know but in addition to being an MC you work with children. What kind of work do you do with kids in New York?
Sadat X: Me and my man Twan we got a program in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s basically a music appreciation program teaching them the ins and outs of rap music. Giving them a little of the history of it and actually letting them record music in a studio and be involved in the whole process of record making.
TRHH: For twenty years now, you’ve been a part of the Nations of Gods and Earths. Talk about the influence that the 5% Nation has on your rhymes.
Sadat X: The Nation of God’s and Earth’s is the biggest influence on Brand Nubian. The Nation of God’s and Earth’s is a collection of brothers and sisters who have come into the knowledge of themselves. We believe in self-preservation. We believe that we are our own God. It gave me a doctrine to live by man. We believe in achieving greatness through self. As opposed to waiting for things to happen we believe in making it happen. We’re trying to create our own destiny.
TRHH: One of my favorite Sadat X songs is “The Post” from the Black October album and also “The Daily News” from Experience and Education. How did you come up with the ideas for those songs?
Sadat X: For the past 18 or 19 years every morning religiously, I read the New York Daily News and The Post. That stems from high school. There was a class that I had where I had to read those and write about what we read for the day. That’s just continued on, man. Every morning faithfully, I get a New York Post and a New York Daily News. I basically just brought out some of those stories from the newspapers on to wax.
TRHH: “The Interview” from the first Wild Cowboys is another really creative song. Do you think that Hip-Hop right now is lacking that type of creativity?
Sadat X: I definitely do, man. Nowadays it’s more about finding that money-making formula and a lot of people just piggyback off of that. It’s a lot easier to do that than to come up with something creative. I see a lot of new artists like Jay Electronica and Wale going back to the creativity though.
TRHH: A few years ago, Common did a song called “I Got A Right Ta” where he pays tribute to you. A lot of people didn’t understand it at the time but he was borrowing your whole flow in that song. I know you worked with Common on the Foundation album and on 1-9-9-9 but did you ever talk to him about that particular song or have you even heard the song?
Sadat X: Nah, being that you said that I’m going to have to go back and listen to it. What’s the name of the song again?
TRHH: I Got A Right Ta. It’s produced by the Neptunes. It was on the Electric Circus album. A lot of people hated on that album and that song but he came out later on and said that he was paying tribute to Sadat X.
Sadat X: OK, I’ll have to check that. I don’t really see him that much, but the times that I have seen him and built with him we’ve bonded. We collabed on joints and he’s just a good brother, man. We share the same mind on a lot of things.
TRHH: A few years ago, you had a weapons charge and did some time. What did you learn from that experience of doing time on Riker’s Island?
Sadat X: Lil’ Wayne is about to go through it, well he will be in a much different situation than I was in. Riker’s Island is really not conducive to any type of learning, man. It’s a gladiator school. Brothers there are either waiting to serve upstate or biding their time to come back into the world. It’s just not a productive place. They’ve taken the classes out so there’s no real learning. You can get your G.E.D. but all college classes have been eliminated in the jail budget. If you were in there for selling drugs or guns you can be assured that in a dorm of 60 you’re going to run into about six people who have the same charge that you got.
If you’re not a strong person all you’re doing in Riker’s Island is finding ways to better your crime path. Being that it’s wild in there the guards have to be a little wild and you can’t blame them because it’s a lot of bullshit that goes on, on Riker’s Island. I wouldn’t advise anybody to go there. I don’t understand what people are talking about in different rhymes glorifying jail. If you like going to bed early, getting yelled at, seeing a fight, seeing somebody getting their head split open, or fighting over the TV, then that’s the place for you.
TRHH: [Laughs] Do you think that’s why there are so many repeat offenders because they connect with so many other people with the same goals?
Sadat X: If you ever notice you only see one or two people that are constantly going in and out of jail. What happens is when you do go to these penal situations it becomes indoctrinated in you. After a while you only know how to function like that. You can only function with rigid crazy authoritative figures yelling at you. A lot of dudes can’t function too long in mainstream life because they’ve been indoctrinated into that penal system where that shapes their life.
TRHH: This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the first Brand Nubian album One For All. You guys were one of the first acts to get 5 mics in the Source magazine. What did that classic rating mean to you at that point in time?
Sadat X: I think it means more to me now than it did back then. Back then I didn’t understand the relevance of getting 5 mics. I didn’t know that it wouldn’t be that many 5 mic albums after that. We were just happy to be out and making records and having people hear them. The 5 mics was just gravy then. Now I recognize that it was a great thing for us. We didn’t go into it to make a 5-mic album, we just went into it daily with no set plan. To think that, that came from our labor is great.
TRHH: When will we hear a new Brand Nubian album?
Sadat X: Brand Nubian is still doing shows. We recently did a show with Rakim, Cappadonna, and Poor Righteous Teachers. We’re working on a new album–we’re trying to get things done.
TRHH: It’s interesting that you brought up Rakim because he’s part of my next question. In 2003 XXL magazine asked several MC’s who their top 5 MC’s were. Rakim is considered by many to be the greatest of all time — in my opinion he is. When XXL asked Rakim he said his top 5 was Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Raekwon, M.O.P, and Sadat X. Do you remember seeing this, and if so how did it make you feel to get props from somebody like Rakim?
Sadat X: I did see that, man and it made me feel great to see that coming from a man like Rakim. Like you said, I consider him to be one of the greatest MC’s of all time, so for him to recognize my skill level meant a lot to me. It made what I’m doing even more worthwhile.
TRHH: As I look at this list of his 5 best MC’s the one common thread between you, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Raekwon, and M.O.P is that you all have your own style. Not one person on that list bit off somebody else. Everybody is unique and I think that’s kind of missing today. Can you think of anybody who is not a take-off of somebody else right now?
Sadat X: Yeah. Exactly. It’s a shame man because for how great that Drake and Lil’ Wayne are sometimes when you listen to them you don’t know when one starts and the other ends at. They are making a lot of money but a lot of individuality is lost now. That’s due to the powers that be making it be like they need a cookie cutter type of MC — someone that comes in and fits the suit that everybody else is wearing. A lot of the individuality is lost and it’s hard for me to think of somebody that doesn’t sound like somebody else. It’s crazy. When I was coming up you prided yourself on that. I loved Kool G Rap, I loved Big Daddy Kane, I loved De La Soul, and I loved Tribe, but I didn’t want to be them. I wanted to be Sadat X and that’s where I feel a lot of it’s lost now.
TRHH: I mentioned Rakim’s top 5 MC’s, now I have to ask you. Who are your top 5 favorite MC’s?
Sadat X: Well Ra is definitely in that list. B.I.G, my man A.G., Raekwon, and also the GZA. Those are my top 5 MC’s.
TRHH: Before I end the interview, I want to say this, I bumped into you and Lord Jamar at a Goodie Mob show in 1998 when you were out promoting the Foundation album. The two of you couldn’t have been nicer to me and it’s one of those things that always stayed with me throughout all these years. Brand Nubian as a whole was a very important part of my teenage years. One For All, In God We Trust, and Everything Is Everything — those albums got me through some hard times, man and I just wanted to say thank you personally, and I want to thank you for granting me this interview. It means a lot to me, man.
Sadat X: No problem, man. I appreciate it. Keep on following us, Brand Nubian is still here, Sadat X is still here and we’re still making music.
Purchase the Sadat X Solo Discography