Brand Nubian's Sadat X on Rikers Island: 'Not Conducive to Creativity'
SF Weekly's Ben Westhoff brings back a burly interview with rapper Sadat X regarding his prison stay and the first thing that happened when he got back to 157th and Broadway. Damn, Ben. -d2
Sadat X interview
By Ben Westhoff
Legendary New York rapper Sadat X gave the SF Weekly his first interview since leaving prison in June, at his small apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood Washington Heights. The Brand Nubian co-founder, who is 37 and whose real name is Derek Murphy, talked at length about his alleged crime, his incarceration at Rikers Island, and his future plans -- while smoking joints and eating Jolly Ranchers, fried chicken and french fries. He plays August 30 at Milk.
What’s with all the basketball trophies? You know, I played basketball as a youth coming up, and I also coached for many years. A lot of [the trophies] I left behind in New Rochelle in Westchester County, at my mother’s house. I’ve got a lot of trophies, and just couldn’t fit ‘em all here.
When did you get out of prison? The 14th of June.
Was that the day you expected? Yeah, I knew that day coming in. The first day you’re ...
in there you know when you’re going to get out. My sentence was a year, but in jail time, a year is eight months.
What are your immediate plans? I want to start recording again. I’m also getting involved in a voice-over project, a cartoon. I don’t want to speak too much on that now, but hopefully that’ll go through and that’ll be something to look forward to.
Do you plan to make another record for [label] Female Fun? We’ll see. I’m going to put out a couple singles first, before I do an album. I just want to get a feel for the vibe right now. It might do me better to put out a couple singles. I don’t want to throw anything out haphazardly.
So, you spend a lot of time in Greensboro, North Carolina, these days. Yeah. My family has a house there.
What do you think of Southern culture? Shit, they culture’s our culture, now, with TV and the Internet. The same shit that people got in Greensboro is the same shit people got in New York, same shit people got in St. Louis. With YouTube and all that, there’s not too much separating the cultures. Maybe sound-wise. But mentality-wise, it’s basically one and the same.
Tell me more about the incidents leading up to your arrest. They said I was waving a gun in the street. Negative. They said I was resisting arrest. How do you resist arrest with a gun? Know what I’m saying? If I was resisting arrest with a gun, I probably would have gotten murdered, gotten shot. There was no resisting arrest. I didn’t put a gun in the face of teenagers, as [was alleged]. I just had problems with some grown men, mind you. Not some kids. I worked in the schools, so I know the difference between kids and grown men. I had a problem with them over some things, man, and it just escalated. Luckily, nobody was harmed, myself included. Somebody basically snitched on me – they told the police I had a gun. This took place in December of ’05. I fought the case for a year, to receive the year -- my first offer was 3.5 years. I had a previous charge.
What was the previous charge? I shot a gun in somebody’s backyard, in New Rochelle. It was a .22, a small gun. Not the round guns. I done seen guns. I know people with a lot of guns. I was 16 years old!
Shooting at a can or something? Yeah, uh huh. Whereas in the woods down south somewhere, Kentucky, North Carolina, that would have been nothing.
Who was the dispute with? It was just some local dudes from around here. I’m not gonna name any names. It was just something that escalated that shouldn’t have been, man. They tried to violate a friend of mine, and I took offense to it, basically. One of my dudes that I grown up with. One of my close -- my ‘man men’ -- one of my dudes. We go raw together, like. I couldn’t let that ride. They just did some bullshit. I don’t want to get into exactly what they did. It was just some bullshit. We ran into each other a couple of times. There were no shots fired. I didn’t have the gun out; it was a .40 caliber – a heavy gun. I don’t understand why they called the police on me. I ain’t never called the police. That’s a new thing, snitching. That’s a big thing nowadays.
They snitched? Yeah, or somebody close to them or associated with them. I was walking home [from the dispute], and [police] came and got me. I saw them racing by, I saw the sirens going up and down the block. I was wondering who they was going to get. Come to find out it was me.
Did you have to spend that night in jail? I was [arrested] December 23. I wanted them to set a bail as quickly as possible, [but] by Saturday it was Christmas, and there was no bail. By the time I got out it was like the 28th.
So you had to miss Christmas with your family. I follow of the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths, that’s the Five Percenters. But my mother grew up a Christian, and she raised us as Christian. I respect that.
I know in the past you’ve been a teacher’s aide in New Rochelle. Were you doing that at the time of your arrest? No.
Were you worried what your old students would think about your arrest? I would tell them the truth -- this is the real world out here. I would rather them know certain things now than be oblivious and get into a situation where they don’t know what they’re doing and panic or something. A lot of the kids I coach in city basketball, and they knew about it. They’re like 16, 17. I just told them, “Don’t play with guns, and don’t make a mistake. If a beef can be squashed without guns, definitely don’t bring one.” And definitely not now, because if you get caught with one now, it’s three and a half [years] flat in New York state. I missed [that law] by a couple months.
Were you at Rikers the whole time? Yeah. Rikers Island is the biggest prison in the country, and it’s a max. It’s nothing to fuck with, it’s real live shit. It’s real jail. A couple times I had problems. If you’re there eight months, you’re going to get into a problem with somebody. You’ve got sixty frustrated dudes walking around in a dorm all day, with one hour of rec; it’s going to be a problem at some point. It could be the slightest of problems. You could be saving a chair by putting a newspaper over it, and when you come back somebody moved it. I’ve seen dudes go at it because somebody took somebody’s sheets, that was drying.
Did you get in any fights? Nah, it didn’t escalate to that. I had a lot of dudes in there that was looking out for me, that was on my side, that knew about me. Plus, I was looking out for myself, I wasn’t nobody’s sucker. The way you carry yourself determines your outcome in there. If you come in like a clown, somebody’s gonna test you, but if you come in, are respectful of others, quiet, you do you, you ain’t no punk, dudes are going to respect that. A lot of dudes come in yippity-yappin’ playing their whole card, talking about they did this and that. And half the time…See, your floor card is like, the role book, and it has a picture of you and your charges. Sometimes you get cool with the COs [correction officers], and they’ll tell you, like, ‘See that guy over there talking all that shit? He’s in here for touching a little girl.’
So, people got pretty fucked up. Especially with the blood and crip thing. You can tell which is the blood house and which is the crip house, and if you come in the wrong one you are going to get washed up immediately. You don’t even get a chance to unpack your shit. It’s coming at you.
You get two buckets; basic blue buckets, like from Ikea, just storage bins. Basically they’re for what you get from the commissary, little items to eat and shit like that. One dude was going in [another] dude’s buckets – a major violation. That’s an automatic ‘pack up, get him up out of there.’ We caught a dude taking somebody else’s Walkman. Your Walkman is your car, that’s your Jeep. We caught a dude taking my dude Mexico’s radio. (He was locked up with me, they just called him Mexico.) Dudes found out about it. He started talking about, ‘I didn’t take it,’ but then, come to find out he took another dude’s socks. Once he did that, he got pounded out.
Typical day? I’m up, usually at 5:30, quarter to six. I was in the sixth building, so that’s a ‘go home’ building. Everybody in the sixth building is going home within a year – a year’s called a bullet. Anyway, I worked construction. From about six to about 1:30 you worked. They just found you some bullshit jobs. I picked up shit – they wasn’t going to let me do no real construction. I could get hurt, they’d maybe be liable for it. Nobody really goes too hard, nobody tries to kill themselves. I only got paid, what, $20 a week. You just trying to do something to waste time.
After about 1 o’clock, we’d come back to the dorm. There are constant inmate counts, so they can make sure everyone’s in the building. If it’s one inmate off, everything is shut down. I’ve seen it get shut down a couple times, and usually because somebody counted wrong. About 3:30, you go to the yard, for recreation, which consisted of lifting weights, doing pull-ups, playing basketball. I definitely got bigger, because there wasn’t nothing else to do. I went in about 169, now I’m about 185. (Though I read a lot.) After you go to the yard, you come back, take a shower, cool out for a little while, see if you get some mail. Go to chow, come back, look at TV. If it’s your section’s night to clean the bathroom, clean the bathroom. Go to bed, get up, do the same thing over again.
Did you get any songs out of the experience? Rikers Island is not conducive to creativity. There is no creativity promoted whatsoever. There’s no rehabilitation. Especially in the sixth building where everybody is going home. If you were arrested for selling drugs or guns, and you’re in there with a whole bunch of people who were also arrested for selling drugs and guns, ya’ll start networking! You’re like, ‘Damn! You had coke for that price, I’m gonna see you when I get out!’ It’s the greatest network for vice and larceny ever created.
It seems like the COs became corrections officers because dudes used to bust their ass back when they was young, and now they want to do something to try to get back at dudes. A lot of good women work there – but there’s a lot on a lot of real live bullshit. A woman CO once told me that if I didn’t stop looking at her “like that” she was going to punch me in my face. I said, “What I’m supposed to do while you punchin’ me in my face? Do I A) Let you punch me, so I’m known as the nigger that got punched in the face by a woman, or B) Do I just take my glasses off and bust your ass?” So, I said, “I’m going to take B.” That’s bad – you don’t want to talk to women like that, but that’s how they make you feel. It’s kind of psychological, because the majority of the inmates in the jail are minorities. And what better way to subjugate a minority male than to have a female dictating what he does! I’m just glad I had eight months. Dudes like Pimp C, they really did serious bids.
What did you do the day you got out? My man met me downtown, and we immediately drive up here, and right up the block we hear a tremendous bang. Dude had jumped off the roof. We were right here. We saw it. So that was my welcome back to New York. He was bent up. This was at 157th and Broadway.
What did you treat yourself to? I think I went to McDonalds or something like that. I didn’t get a good good meal until I went to my mother’s house down south.
Do you think your gun charge was at odds with the message of the Five Percenters or your music? No. The Five Percent nation never said not to be armed! Even though I had the gun, I wasn’t waving it or swinging it. It’s a funny thing, this country was built on guns, on war, on shooting, on vice and larceny.
Do you have any kids? Yes, I have a daughter. She’s in Atlanta with her mother. I saw her last week.