When genre icons such as Rakim and Public Enemy release new material to little fanfare, it's clear that staying relevant in today's hip-hop world is nearly impossible. Fifteen years removed from his debut as the heart and soul of early-1990s hip-hop heavyweights Brand Nubian on 1990's One For All, Bronx emcee Sadat X finds himself in a dramatically different landscape than the days when Brand Nubian's afro-centric, politically charged music fit snugly between KMD and X-Clan videos on Yo! MTV Raps.
But few rappers are more familiar with the hip-hop tightrope walk than Sadat. Just as Brand Nubian's 1994 release, In God We Trust, begins with a song titled "Allah U Akbar" and ends with "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down," on Experience & Education, the Bronx rapper balances harsh realities of urban life with thoughtful commentary and observation of his surroundings. His nasally voice trades flows with production by a slew of lesser-known but fully capable producers, updating Sadat X's sound while proving he hasn't gotten rusty after all these years.
True to form, Sadat is still searching for truths and aiming to expose inequities. The record's scope stretches beyond Sadat's New York City home, but he's never more passionate or effective than he is when he focuses his scrutiny there. "I don't really live in Frank Sinatra's New York/ In the hood where I'm from you got to watch where you walk," Sadat rhymes over the simple but moody DJ Spinna beat on "God is Back." He's well aware that he became the man he is today because of where he's from, but he grapples with the imbalance created and magnified within his city.
He nails gems such as "New York's a sweet town if you're Hilton or Trump/ Other than that, you're one of them niggas trying to get over that hump" with finesse, but he falters a bit when he gets abstract. "Have a Good Life" takes swings at hypothetical crimes and injustices, although with no concrete target for Sadat's rage, his flow seems stilted and repetitive, as if his heart isn't really in it. But his rhymes on "The Daily News," riffing on one day's headlines, reveal his adaptability and quick wit, skills many of today's preeminent emcees unfortunately lack.
There are few things more satisfying than watching an artist you respect return to deserved glories. Sadat X succeeds in his re-entry by sticking to his stylistic guns, making just enough adjustments to fit in with the sound of hip-hop in 2005. His rhymes aren't filled with Farrakhan references and prayer anymore, but he's still a spiritual man questioning the world he lives in, evoking poignant imagery with powerful wordplay. That's something that never goes out of style.
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