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No Country for Old (Rap) Men: The Importance of Sadat X

Robbie dishes up a quick history lesson on one of the few rappers whose career has aged very well

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A true elder statesman in the rap game, Sadat X is one of the very few veterans who has been releasing records since the late eighties that is still capable of releasing worthwhile material. While LL can still knock out a quality verse when he needs to, the less said about his albums from the past decade, the better. Meanwhile, KRS-One has become preoccupied in his role as a Bambaataa apologist and general mentalist. At this point only Granddaddy I.U. really occupies the same space in that he can still make listenable albums and hasn’t missed a groove as an MC.

As a purveyor of his own unique and unorthodox style, the rapper formerly known as Derek X splashed onto the scene as a member of Brand Nubian, providing a perfect foil for Grand Puba’s verbal wizardry and Lord Jamar’s stone-faced sermons as the group blended Five Percent philosophy with state-of-the-art brag rap and a good dose of social commentary. When Puba broke north to pursue a solo career and hang out with Mary J. Blige, Sadat picked up the slack and assumed the role of the group’s lead vocalist while Jamar handled the beats, with a chemistry similar to how Havoc and Prodigy operated as Mobb Deep.

‘Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down’ ushered in a new, harder sound that channeled the more aggressive attitude that rap demanded as the nineties ticked on, while ‘Allah U Akbar’ was pioneering in its use of an Islamic prayer as the main loop. Picture a rap act trying to flip that today? They’d be taken to task by FOX News before the song ever came out. Even when Brand Nubian adapted a more ‘universal’ musical direction for their third album, X continued to stand out vocally, presenting one of the earliest stream-of-consciousness rhyme styles in a manner that seems random but is actually carefully constructed.

Highly sought after as a feature artist, Sadat shone brightly on tracks such as ‘Loud Hangover’ with Akinyele,  ‘Come On Motherfuckers’ with Biggie and ‘1999’ with Common, while he made a solid case for himself as a solo artist with the Wild Cowboys LP, thanks to a strong line-up of producers and vocal assists from the Money Boss Players. Following another two albums with the Nubians after they reformed, Dot X resumed the dolo trail and has just released his 11th project.

Agua opens up with ‘Freeze’, an impressive statement of intent over a Pete Rock beat which finds Sadat catching-up listeners on his day job as a school teacher, his wine label, and various happenings in the BX. Joined by a cast of old pals such as Dres, Ed OG, RA The Rugged Man, and Lord Jamar, X once again brings you into his world with a variety of different narratives, even taking the time to switch around GZA’s infamous barb against his former label to celebrate his own signing on ‘Tommy Is My Boy’.

Listening to this latest release reminded me of just how innovative and daring X’s style was when he was first let loose in 1989 on ‘Brand Nubian’ / ‘Feels So Good’. He brought a style to the table which often abandoned rhyming every bar in order to get his point across, as if he refused to be confined by the limitations of the bars while still staying on beat. Sadat X is a man with a strong code who has earned his stripes in the street, but he’s also the wise older cat who can lay down some advice for the younger dudes and maybe even smoke some weed and try to chat up their girlfriends at the same time.

Regardless of whether or not you ride for his vocal style, there’s no denying that Sadat X is a prime example of Grown Man Rap done correctly, as he continues to age gracefully while still creating a strong catalogue that allows him to tour when he wants without the pressure of relying on music as his only source of income. If only more of rap’s legends were able to exercise the same amount of discipline and restraint, instead of being stuck in the past or attempting to pander to the current crowd. Salute this man!  

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