Sadat X Reflects on His ‘Wild Cowboys’ Days, Moves Forward With ‘Agua’ Album
Derek Murphy, better known by his rap moniker Sadat X, has weathered and navigated through the ever-evolving landscape of hip-hop for the better part of the last 27 years. He first hit the spotlight as a third of the acclaimed trio Brand Nubian alongside Grand Puba and the infamous Lord Jamar. The group broke onto the scene with their monstrous singles "Slow Down" and of course "All for One."
However, group success didn't keep them together. After their first album, One for All, in 1990, Grand Puba left the group to pursue a lauded solo career. Then Sadat and Jamar kept it moving, releasing two more successful albums, In God We Trust in 1993, and Everything Is Everything in 1994, before taking a four-year break as a group.
Two years after leaving Brand Nubian to the wayside, Sadat chose to travel down the solo lane, releasing his first project, Wild Cowboys. The album featured a who's who of golden era New York producers, from Diamond D and Pete Rock to Lord Finesse. The rest was history.
Since that release on the iconic and since defunct Loud Records, Sadat kept it moving amidst highs and lows -- from a run in with the law, coaching and teaching children, to launching his wine brand. However, music has remained a staple of his being. In fact, the notorious Lo-head released 10 studio albums since his debut.
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Sadat X's debut release, as well as the release of his 11th studio album, Agua. XXL got the 47-year-old Bronx native on the phone to reminisce about 1996, find out who's on his playlist and see what industry lessons he's learned over the past 20 years. Salute to the God.
XXL: 1996 is when you dropped your first solo album, Wild Cowboys, but Brand Nubian had been out since 1989. What made you decide to go solo?
Sadat X: Well, basically I had done the Brand Nubian thing; first, we did the One for All album, and then Puba went on his own. Jamar and I did In God We Trust and a couple of albums after that. At this time [in 1996] I was living uptown [in New York]. I was living in the Bronx, and you know I was hanging around with guys like Diamond D, Showbiz and Money Boss Players. I wanted to put out something that reflected that side of me -- the Bronx/uptown side.
Jamar wasn't on Wild Cowboys, but Puba was. Was there any animosity about you doing your own thing?
Oh no, not at all. There wasn't any animosity. We did a song for it; I just didn't put it on there, but there wasn't any animosity at all. This was just something that I wanted to do with my people from the Bronx and just throw it on out.
On July 16, it will be 20 years since you dropped the album. So, looking back on it, do you still feel the same way?
Oh yeah, definitely -- there's certain songs on there I still do at shows. I mean, I stand behind it a hundred percent. I felt it was a great album, and it's been pretty well received, so I still stand by it today.
Do you remember what you were doing the day it dropped 20 years ago?
On the day it dropped, I remember I was going around to different record stores promoting it. I remember that well. I forgot the names of all those record stores, but I was going around with somebody from Loud Records, just grinding.
What was your favorite track off the album?
Maybe "Game's Sober," or "Petty People," one of those. And "Stages & Lights" is a favorite of mine, too. I still do that at shows. "The Lump Lump" was also a big song.
Was there a track that maybe didn't make the cut for the album, that you regret not putting out?
There were a couple of tracks; I can't remember them offhand, but like I said, I did a track with Jamar that didn't make the album. There were a couple of tracks that didn't make it, and like it's been 20 years, I can't remember them all.
Do you think there's a possibility that they'll ever see the light of day?
I don't know because I don't even know where they're at. Somebody from Loud [Records] might have had those still. I can't even get my hands on those right now.
What was the most memorable session when you were putting that album together?
The most memorable would probably be the session that I did for the song with Money Boss Players ["Game's Sober"], simply because we were all there. I remember my man Bird was there; he was a barber, so he was giving everybody haircuts. It was also the day of the Blizzard of '96. We made it on that day, and I just remember being in the studio, we were all stuck in there, and we just laid it down.
That's crazy. If you could remix one track for Wild Cowboys using a current producer that's out, and then one of the younger artists that are out right now, who would you choose?
I would probably want to do it maybe with somebody like Schoolboy Q. I like that, and get maybe AraabMuzik or one of them younger guys; I like Schoolboy Q, and I listen to my young boy Oun-P. There are a couple of them. It's just so many of them now that I can't keep a handle on them all, but there's a couple I do like.
Who are some of the younger artists that you're listening to right now?
Well, I like A-F-R-O, I like Chance The Rapper, I like Kendrick and I like Schoolboy Q. On the New York side, I like Young M.A, my guy from the Bronx Oun-P, and Fred the Godson. I do try to keep my ear to the streets.
Two decades later, you're still very much active. You've had lots of albums over the years. What keeps you going?
Well, what keeps me active in the game is my love for it. See, I still love rap, I still love to rap, I haven't let it consume me to where it's a job, you know what I'm saying? It is a job, but I still have the passion for it. I still love it -- I still hear songs that people make, and I'm like, Damn, I wish I would have done that song, and that's what I think fuels me -- my love for it still, the passion.
Outside of just music, you always seem to have side projects going on.
Tell me a little about those.
Well, I got wine now, True Wine Connoisseurs, and we have a show. You know, that's something my partner Will Tell, and I, set up. We sell wine, and we had an actual hand in the process of the making of it. Also this year [for the first year], I taught at a middle school. I taught fifth grade, sixth grade and eighth grade; I taught them rap appreciation, so that was a highlight of this year.
Is teaching something you're going to continue doing?
Yeah, well they've asked me to come back. I learned a lot; being that this was my first year, I did some good things, some bad, but I grew off of it, and I think this year coming up, it'll be an even better experience.
Many people tend to complain that a lot of the younger generation doesn't have knowledge or appreciation of the past or the artists and the people that came before them.
Yeah. And with the kids, man, like you can teach them about the past, but you've still got to let them be in their future, you know what I'm saying? You can't force-feed them either. I've seen that. Like one old school artist that I might think is incredible might not be that incredible to them. Then when I taught a lesson on Biz Mark[ie], they loved Biz Mark. They knew Biz Mark from being the Yo Gabba Gabba man. They were like, "Yo, he's on Yo Gabba Gabba." I was like, "Yeah, but he's also Biz Mark." So you've got to find creative ways to slip it in, you can't force-feed them.
We're assuming you saw Rich Homie Quan on the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors massacring Biggie's verse on "Get Money?
If he doesn't know that song, he shouldn't have touched it. If I would have been there, there's no way that I would have gone on stage. Even when I was a young rapper, if I would have had to do a Run-D.M.C. song, there would have been no way I would have gone on that stage knowing that I didn't know the song. I would have had to learn it; you know?
There's no way I could have said I'm going to wing this or just do what I do with it; see, that's sometimes the loss of the appreciation. That's what I'm talking about, the respect. I know he apologized and said he was sorry, and maybe he made a mistake, but he should have known that song. If you chose to get on stage and sing that first line, you're supposed to know that.
He didn't seem to understand how bad it was until he went on Twitter. The memes were outrageous.
Yeah, I know he felt it. Once he'd seen it, and how people massacred him, I know in his mind he was like, "Damn, I should have learned that." And maybe that'll be a wake up for him, where he'll start getting perhaps a greater appreciation for what he gotta do now like, "Yo, I fucked that up." You know?
VH1 tried to force a connection that just wasn't there, and that's the same thing that happened with Lupe Fiasco with his "tribute" to A Tribe Called Quest.
Also, sometimes, even though you know a song in your mind, it's different from really knowing the song. Singing it in the shower or singing it in the car doesn't compare to having to know it well enough to get on stage and sing it word for word verbatim. You understand me? At least he did it, but like I said man, Rich Homie Quan, it was like they just pulled him from the crowd like he didn't know he was going to do that or something. I was like, Damn.
Of all the rappers that are out today, who's somebody that you think could be active 20 years from now? Someone that could have the type of career longevity that you have.
Well, besides the usual suspects, I like Schoolboy Q a lot. I see Kendrick Lamar, I see him lasting, and J. Cole, too. See, they separated themselves. That's why I tell these kids when they are coming out, especially now, you've got to have something that separates you because if you don't have a separation factor, you might have a hit, and a year from now you're not even relevant anymore, you're gone. So there's got to be something that separates you that piques the interest of people that keeps them wanting more. Like with J. Cole and those types of guys, I see them with that type of power to last.
What's cool, is that you're marking your 20th year as a solo artist with a new album, Agua.
Tell us a little bit about that album. How long have you been working on it?
I've been working on it for I'd say maybe about a year now; it's a conceptual album. It's for my demographic, but if I do get some of the younger fans, I'd love that. The songs just talk about different things that I see in life, and I experience. You're not going to hear too many tales of me riding around in a Mercedes, or with drugs, or a million dollars because I don't have those things.
This is for people young and old that take appreciation in a hard day's work; that can come home, drink a beer and feel good about themselves. You don't have to have the million-dollar chain; you don't have to have this and that, but you can still be happy. You can be healthy and happy.
Who are some of the people that are on it?
I hope I don't forget anybody. I got Milano, Ed OG, Dres is on the cut, A-F-R-O, Rahzel, there's production from Pete Rock, Diamond D, UG from Cella Dwellas, Will Tell. It's just mainly people that I deal with and that I'm cool with.
About six years ago, you dropped Wild Cowboys II. Do you think there's a possibility that you'll do a Wild Cowboys III?
I believe that it is a strong possibility. This time, when I do Wild Cowboys, I want to try to get the exact cast I had on the first. I want to make it that same type of thing, maybe get a little more production from Minnesota and OD. I'd get something from Diamond again, probably Showbiz, and I'd probably record it back in the Bronx again, get that overall feel.
And Alamo, too?
That "Open Bar" joint. That beat!
Yeah, that was a nice joint from Ala. Yep.
As well, something else, you have XL dropping, right? With El Da Sensei?
Yeah, that's coming out with my partner, El Da Sensei [from the Artifacts]. That's an album that's been ready to go for about a year or two now. We've been fine tuning it and tweaking it, but that album stems from the relationship of El and me, you know? I've known El for a long time, we've always been cool, so that's just stemming from that relationship.
It's starting to feel like the DOOMSTARKS album. We've been hearing about XL for a long time.
Yeah, we trying to get it together. We are trying to get it there.
Who are some of the producers you have on that album?
9th Wonder, I know we got Drummer on there, and then there're a couple of people that El got. I let him to handle a lot of that stuff. There’s a lot of up and coming young guys on there.
Twenty years later, what are some of the biggest lessons you've learned?
I learned you have to be very shrewd in business. You know, I've learned that you always got to make sure your business is correct. I've learned through this game that if you do get some money, you better pay your taxes because the government will come for you. It's not a matter of if they're coming, they will come for you, and they will do whatever they have to do to get theirs, so take car off that at the beginning.
You know I tell all these kids rapping, you know, you getting a lot more money than we were getting at that age, so you're going to have to pay a lot more taxes on it, so be aware of that. And I've just learned to deal with people as people. I don't deal with color; I deal with people as people. I know that if I open a show in Germany right now, I have fans that are going to come, and they came 10 years ago and they came 20 years ago and they're going to come now. So you know I've just made relationships.
I also learned, you try not to burn any bridges down, because the same bridge that you burn down, one day you might have to come back across, so always try to be respectful to people and be fair.
Are we going to hear any new Brand Nubian music in the near future?
Oh yeah, we've been talking about getting it down. Like, we still do shows regularly as a group, but we've been talking about getting this new music together now, and everybody's schedule seems like it's going to have a little leeway, so we're trying to get it back down.
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