Considering how charismatic and quirky Sadat X comes across in his music, he seems rather nonchalant today. In his phone conversation with HipHopCrack, the nasal-voiced member of the legendary Brand Nubian trio sounds notably different. Not solemn, and not melancholy—but just like he’s ready to take care of business.
And these days, the man born Derek Murphy doesn’t have much of a choice. As accomplished a career he’s had—he made history with Brand Nubian, and has also enjoyed a viable solo career, with his own albums and cameos with everyone from Common to Prince Paul—the past two years have been strife with adversity for Sadat. His father died shortly after his critically-acclaimed 2005 LP Experience & Education was released, he was arrested on a gun charge last December, and around the release of his new disc, Black October, he began serving a one-year bid in jail. But as he tells HipHopCrack, Sadat isn’t asking for your sympathy; he’s holding his own just fine.
HipHopCrack: You seem to place a lot of your livelihood on children: you worked as an elementary school teacher, and you coached teen basketball. Where does that passion and chemistry with children come from?
Sadat X: Just from being out in the neighborhood, being outside, seeing the kids and meeting the kids. Just by interacting with them… it’s nothing I’m doing consciously, I don’t know.
HipHopCrack: I asked that because you do a lot of work with children, but your music is notably mature.
Sadat X: That’s a separate part of my life; my music is separate from my work with kids, I don’t combine the two. I coach basketball, and that’s a high school level, so that’s that age level. I don’t go out to go meet kids or anything like that. I’m not the sit down all over the place type of person, so I’m outside a lot of times, and so you know, who’s outside? Kids.
HipHopCrack: The song “Million Dollar Deal” was a surprise for me; a lot of rap veterans I’ve spoken to really downplay the whole idea of a major label deal. What inspired that?
Sadat X: Well the album is just like a movie; when you make movies, you add things that you think would be interesting. I would like a million dollar deal, but if I don’t get one, it’s not like it’s gonna be nothin’ to me. It was just a concept for a song; I didn’t go into it on some real rocket science. That’s what the chorus was saying, so I tried to play around the chorus.
HipHopCrack: How far into making the album were you when you found out about your prison bid?
Sadat X: I did it all after that, I hadn’t made any of the album up to that point.
HipHopCrack: So did you record the album with a sense of urgency? Not only to finish it, but with a passion unseen on your last albums?
Sadat X: Not really. I just wanted to finish it so it could be out there, so maybe I could get a couple of dollars. It wasn’t really nothing to that; I just wanted to get it out there and get it done, so I could do some shows.
HipHopCrack: Even more than others, you seem to have a real passion for New York. How have you felt about the emergence of other coasts in rap?
Sadat X: I like all the west coast and southern rappers. I’m from in New York. … For my passion for New York, I’m in New York, I’m in the streets every day in New York, I grew up in New York, so that’s what I rhyme about. I’m here. I’m in the hood, I’m not far removed. I don’t live in New Jersey or somewhere upstate; I’m in the city.
HipHopCrack: Brand Nubian has been pretty active lately. Lord Jamar has a new album, you have a new album, Grand Puba was on Beanie Sigel’s last album. Are there any plans for a new Grand Puba album?
Sadat X: We still do shows, we never stopped doing shows. It’s just that people don’t know about it, and there aren’t no shows really in New York. But we always did shows, across the continental United States. We are going to do stuff together at some point, but we never stopped shows. We would like to do an album, so if the time is right and we can all sit down together and do it, it’ll be done.
HipHopCrack: You guys were one of the first groups to bring the five percent ideology into hip-hop. Do you think that the five percent ideology still has a place in today’s hip-hop?
Sadat X: That’s how we lived. We’re in the five percent nation of gods and earths, and if we sprinkle it throughout the music we sprinkle it. We don’t go out conscious with, “We’ve got to put this ideology out for people in the mass.” If it comes out in the music, it comes out.
HipHopCrack: I’ve got a couple of questions about your bid. Have you ever been to prison before?
Sadat X: Well I’ve been to jail before. I’ve never been this long, but yeah, I’ve been in jail before.
HipHopCrack: How have you been preparing for it, mentally and physically?
Sadat X: You’ve just gotta be…there ain’t really no way you can prepare for it. When you get there, you’ve just have to take it step by step. It’s nothing you (can do) to prepare for jail. You’ve just got to get there and get through it. There’s no outside steps, there’s not a jail preparation. Just make sure your bills are paid, your housing situation, and just go in and do it, get it done with.
HipHopCrack: Do you think you were unfairly profiled or persecuted?
Sadat X: I was caught with a gun; I didn’t wave it out in the street like they said I did, but it is what it is. You get caught with a gun, that’s a year’s time in New York. Somebody called and said I had it, and I had it. It could be somebody else in the street; if you pick that person, and they call the police…I know regular suit-wearing dudes who got caught with a gun, and had to go do a year.
HipHopCrack: It seems like you’ve really had a difficult past couple years—your father died soon after your last album came out, and now you’re going to jail. How do you keep your head up when things are just one after another like that?
Sadat X: You’ve just got to keep going, man. There are people in a lot worse situations than myself.There’s people that ain’t got no roof over their head, and who ain’t got no family. Plus, when I go to jail, I know a thousand people in Rikers Island already, from inmates to the guards. I’ll keep my head up; I just want to hurry and get it over with.
HipHopCrack: Your verse on Lord Jamar’s album, on the song “Study Ya Lessons,” is real emotional and really seems to sum up everything you’ve been through in this last year. Where do you rank that among the other verses you’ve had in your career?
Sadat X: It was a cool verse. I think it was just one of what I think is many cool verses that I’ve had. I don’t think it’s my best verse of all time; it’s just a good verse on a good song.