Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,Rap Veterans,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The first time I attempted to interview Sadat X happened to be the day before he was headed to jail, so it’s fair to say that he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be spending his final hours of freedom taking on the phone to some jag-off such as myself. It turned out to be of of the weakest interviews I’ve ever conducted, but regardless, six years later I gave it another shot. This time around, the results were a little better on the eve of the release of his new album Love, Hell and Right on 682 Records.
Robbie: When did you first get the bug to become an MC?
Sadat X: I was born in the Bronx and I stayed there until I was nine or ten, and went to New Rochelle, which is about ten minutes away. My family still lived in The Bronx, so I was exposed to hip-hop in it’s barest form – when they were still doin’ parties outside in the parks, and putting the plug in the lamp posts, so I wanted to be an MC since I first saw it when I was ten or eleven.
Who were the MC’s at those park jams?
I used to see DJ Theodore and Breakout crew, Bambatta, Kool Herc. I seen the Jazzy 5 MC’s, the Cold Crush Brothers, Busy Bee, KK Rockwell, DST, Grand Wizard Theodore – I seen all of ‘em.
What was your first MC name?
When I was a kid, my name was Kid Paradise. That was my first name I ever had. We had a little crew called The Chosen Four. I went through a couple of little crews, and Alamo was usually deejaying in ‘em when we was doin’ that. We tried to pattern ourselves after the MC’s of the time, making routines and all of that.
How did things progress from there? Did you do house parties?
First we started doing little stuff in the school, in the middle school and the high school, just being the nicest in the school. Then as we got a little older they started having little parties so we’d go rock at the parties, cook-outs, talent shows – I did it all, man. Grand Puba was already in the group Master of Ceremony which was in New Rochelle – and he was older than me, so he always had words of advice for me. Took me to the studio and showed me how to write songs and count bars and such. He was doing that with me and [Lord] Jamar, and one day there was a track and we all rhymed on it and it sounded good. Since Puba was already in the industry, about six months later we had a deal. So it was pretty fast.
That first Brand Nubian album really captured the feel of New York City during that era. Was that the intention?
We was just rhyming about our life. Being that we were members of the Five Percent Nation, a lot of the songs took lessons directly from what we had learned. We admired Zulu Nation, we admired Native Tongues but we didn’t want to be them. We wanted to stand on our own, and being that we were members of the Five Percent, we just took it at that angle.
I liked that line you had on “The Fake Out” about going to spots where they play rare groove because there are more girls there.
The reason why it turned to that has to do with the club structure in New York. At one point, you go to the party and you may go to the bar and get a beer or something and go back to the dance floor and keep dancing. At one these club promoters were like, “The people are dancing, but they’re not spending as much money at the bar.” That’s when they started all this shit about, “You’ve gotta buy a table and you’ve got a three or four bottle minimum.” So now, instead of dancing, you’ve got these tables with people sitting there with three or four bottles of champagne, just looking at each other. Now it’s about how many bottles of Ciroc I’ve got on the table and I’m dancing on the table now. Instead of being out having a good time in the crowd, everybody is dancing around their little selected table. It’s tensions going – this guy got more bottles than this guy, this man got a million dollars worth of jewellery on…it’s crazy. There was a time I used to go to parties, in order for you to even have on a chain you had to be a made dude, ‘cos someone would take it from you! I came up in an era where if you went to a party you’d get your chain taken if you wasn’t strong enough to keep it.
Speaking of booze, how did the “True Wine Connoisseurs” series come about?
We used to be in the studio and drink Hennesy a lot, and after a while that takes away and there’s less work getting done. One day we ran out of Hennesy and nobody felt like going to the store. Will had a bottle of wine and we started drinking that and he just started randomly filming.
What’s your favorite style of wine?
I like shiraz and I like moscato’s. Sometimes I’ll take a cabernot or a pinot noir, but I prefer the sweeter wines. If I’m eating fish I might have a white wine, that matches well for me.
You’ve always thrived in guest spots. Do you enjoy doing features?
It keeps you sharp. Anything you do a lot, you become proficient at. If I’m doing five or six features a month, that means I’m constantly in the studio, perfecting my craft. Especially with older MC’s, when they take too long or they delay four, five years to come back out with something, you lose a lot of steam. Anything you want to be proficient at, I don’t feel like you can have a five year lay-off and come back at top level.
Is touring still a big part of your life?
Touring is probably the most [important] thing nowadays. Unless you’re in that “Rap Bubble” of about 30 people you’re not going to eat like that off of an album. What you do i you put out an album is to generate that buzz so you can get shows and tours. I get more money from tours than actual album sales. I do solo shows and I still do Brand Nubian shows.
What do you mean by the “Rap Bubble”?
Let’s just look at the last year. Inside the “Rap Bubble” you’ve got people ranging from Drake to Eminem to Jeezy. The Kanye’s, the Jay-Z’s. Every year they let two or three new people in. This year they mighta let A$AP Rocky and Chief Keef and Big Sean and Action Bronson. It seems like they were able to slip inside the Bubble. Only two or three new people get to wear that suit every year. Then you got a lot of people that gotta work beyond that Bubble. That’s when you gotta know your lane and how to work it. How to get out to Europe and keep your contacts going.
What can you tell me about the Union Square and Latin Quarters days?
First of all, for you to even go to those places, you knew that you were taking a risk. That’s when hip-hop wasn’t really safe. It was so exciting that you would risk going to Latin Quarters and Union Square – where you knew there would be four or five fights in there – but you wanted to be there so bad that you went to these spots. That was like hip-hop gladiator school – that’s where you went to test yourself. If you could withstand being in those places, then you felt like you had a badge of courage, because you got to see real live shows in a real live hip-hop spot.
So you would want to roll with your crew?
Back then didn’t go to no hip-hop show by yourself. That really wasn’t advisable. You went with about two or three people from your hood – at least that amount! We might go 25, 30 deep, especially if you planned on wearing jewellery or having on anything fly. I’ve seen people have get their coats taken, I’ve done seen people get their sneakers taken – where somebody tells you, “Take those off!” – Cazel glasses were a big item to take back then. That’s how it was.
That kind of atmosphere must have pushed live performances to be sharper. You wouldn’t want to piss-off the crowd.
Oh yeah, and sometimes the rapper’s would do that too. Like when PM Dawn tried to come on stage in New York City and they tried to come on stage with that fluffy bullshit and KRS-One and his people kicked them right off the stage. I was there for that. That was a heroic moment in hip-hop, ‘cos that stopped the first flow of the bullshit. It was like, “Nah, we not gonna have that here, mate.” The crowd loved it.
How were the early Brand Nubian shows?
In the early days we performed at all the spots in New York that you could perform at. We did The Fever, we did Kilimanjaros, we did The Octogon, we did The Ark out in Brooklyn. We went to the spots where it was rugged. Not only did people love Brand Nubian, but we were members of the Five Percent Nation, and there’s members of the Five Percent Nation in every borough. The majority of people that was down with the Five Percent Nation was people that had been incarcerated, a lot of people in the hood. We embraced those brothers that we felt was the most rugged brothers and we felt like we needed to get them under some type of reign. Usually those brothers was the biggest, strongest brothers. We might go to a show in Brooklyn with maybe twenty people with us and then we get out to Brooklyn and it might be thirty people waiting to go in with us, and that was the Gods, so we always had a nice crowd with us. We never had no problems. We had an army, basically. We used to have tell dudes, “Look, whatever y’all gonna do, let us get through the show and get paid. After the show, if there’s a problem or y’all gotta handle something? Handle it.” [chuckles]
What attracted you to join the Nation?
I joined in the high school years. Those were the brothers in town that were always telling you, “Yo, you can be great, you can do whatever it is you want to do.” Nobody was really in the hood, telling brothers that. Those were the brothers that were showing us that it could be done. They were telling us that and it was manifesting out. They were owning businesses and excelling, and they were still hard. They didn’t necessarily have to put on a suit to be respected. That’s what I gravitated towards.
What are some of the core beliefs of the Nation?
In a nutshell, we believe that we were our own Gods. We decided our own future. We respected other religions that said “You’ve gotta have faith,” but sometimes faith didn’t work for us. You have to go out and get yours. Sometime you can’t wait for faith! Faith ain’t gonna pay the cable bill! Faith ain’t gonna block that eviction notice being on your door and making you move out. You’ve gotta get out there and physically and mentally have a plan to excel! That’s what the Five Percent nation taught – we came from the Original Man that walked this earth, and that we were the Kings and Queens of our own destiny. Some religions pray, but we believed that it came from within self.
What are some of the lessons they teach?
Supreme Mathematics is one of the first lessons you learn in the Five Percent Nation. You’ve got the Supreme Alphabet, you’ve got 1 to 40, you’ve got 1 to 14, you’ve got Solar Facts. All those are lessons within the Mathematics, which is the 360 – Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding.
Was there much of a connection between the other Gods that were rapping?
Yeah, you always gave love to the Gods. Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Busta Rhymes, the Wu-Tang, Poor Righteous Teachers, Lakim Shabazz, Just-Ice, King Sun, Sir IBU – those were some of the Gods that were involved in the music industry. I came up under Just-Ice, those were big dudes that were to be respected.
Are you still part of the Nation?
Every year they have the Show and Prove and we go and perform. We’ve done it, Rakim has done it numerous times, Big Daddy Kane. I’ve seen Black Rob come before, the Wu-Tang…DMX came two years ago. It still goes on.
What is it about MC’s from The Bronx that sets it apart?
At that time in history, The Bronx was in economic and social distress. Jimmy Carter came to the South Bronx and declared it a “state of emergency.” Hip-hop came out that – from having nothing to do and somebody coming up with this new musical thing and bringing it outside. Other boroughs like Brooklyn has a lot of eclectic spots and tourist type things, Manhattan is the tourist capital. The Bronx has Yankee Stadium and The Bronx Zoo – and that’s it! Everything else was patronized by people living in The Bronx, you didn’t have too many tourists coming into The Bronx at tata time for anything. The Bronx has always been characterized by hard-working people, people that have pride in their neighborhoods – just survivors. The Bronx survived, man. we came out of that economic stress, so The Bronx is characterized by survival.
Manhattan dudes was categorized as the fly dressing dudes, dudes with a little money. Brooklyn was ruggedness – back then, you really didn’t go in to Brooklyn unless you had a reason to go there. It was gritty and rugged in Brooklyn. Queens was a lotta dudes that was gettin’ a lotta money, but a lotta parts dudes didn’t really go to. Out of all the boroughs, I would say Brooklyn and The Bronx were most similar.
Do you think that the survival instinct that came through in the music?
Definitely. People were looking for a way out. A way to get their music out and make a little money. Bronx dude’s was hustlers – they was the first dudes that had all them party flyers with everything on it. In Manhattan they wasn’t having straight hip-hop parties, they might might have a fifteen minute period of hip-hop and the rest was R&B – that was in Harlem. In The Bronx that was the first place that they were having straight hip-hop parties.
Did Mayor Gulianni go too far with his efforts to clean-up the city?
It had to change. Back in the days Times Square and 42nd Street was a cesspool! You get robbed on 42nd Street, you could buy drugs on 42nd Street, you could get a prostitute on 42nd Street or go to the X-Rated movies or to the karate movies on 42nd Street. It was open vice in that area over there. I guess when Rudy came in – that’s prime real estate down there, so they weren’t going to let it stay like that. I’m not mad at them fixing it up.
But outside of Times Square, do you think New York has been overly sanitized?
Not really. I live in the hood, and where I live at it’s still rugged. I live in Bed-Stuy right now, and I don’t think New York has been sanitized at all. There are still places you can’t walk in New York. You come out to Brownsville or parts of Bushwick or South Bronx or Mont Haven or over at Courtland Avenue, those places are still rugged.
What three tracks would you play to someone who didn’t know your work?
I would pick “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down,” the song I did with Biggie – “Come On” and the feature I did with Common Sense “1-9-9-9.”
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