With Lord Jamar spending his time ranting on DJ Vlad’s YouTube channel, and Grand Puba’s lack of recording activity, it falls on Sadat X’s shoulders to keep the Brand Nubian name alive for the Hip Hop heads. In all fairness, he’s been the one constant from Brand Nubian ever since their last album in 2004 (2007’s “Time’s Runnin’ Out” was recorded in the late 90s). And let’s not mention the dubstep albums.
I’m always skeptical when I hear an industry veteran is releasing a new album, as more often than not, they remain stuck in artistic limbo. However, artists such as Cormega and Slimkid3 have proven that these old-timers can tweak their style to deliver something special without sounding like a retread of past material. “Never Left” is a strange record, in that the usual dwelling on one’s legacy that makes up many veteran’s later albums, is channelled in to the skits. There are four, each one seeing X share a story about Nas, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G. And 2Pac. This could have been interesting, but are merely claims from X that he has met all of these legends in person – none of them being particularly interesting. “Nas Story” sees X praising Nas’ character and how he attended a Brand Nubian concert. “Notorious B.I.G. Story” sees X confirm Biggie didn’t write down his verse for their collaboration (presumably “Come On”) and that Puffy was a great guy.
A vague reference to the East/West Coast beef is mentioned on “2Pac Story” where Pac supposedly said he only has a problem with a few guys in New York, while “Jay-Z Story” portrays X as a fan, as he is flown to Virginia with Jay to record a hook. While these are hardly Dickens classics, it does show an era in Hip Hop before the Internet, where artists had to network and collaborate in person.
“What Up Kid” contains the arbitrary Nas line on the hook, but does highlight why Sadat X blew up as a group rapper. Three verses is sometimes too much to handle, particularly as his voice can be divisive, but I still rate it as one of the most distinct, satisfying tones in all of Hip Hop. If you’re not a fan of his erratic delivery then this record won’t convert you. X holds down “I Know This Game” and drops an interesting verse about labels being dead, and A&Rs he now knows that wash cars for a living instead of choosing rappers to push. The Biggie line “Your reign on top was short like leprechauns” is the icing on the cake, as X revels in the fact that he is still around while former record label employees who (presumably) held him back now struggle to make a living.
The best tracks on “Never Left” are the bangers for the guys in the street, bumping this sh** on their headphones and in their cars. Black Rob teams with X on “Get Yours” over a Real McKoy beat that annoyingly contains the sound of a text message being received at the start, but the bass line is so good that I’ll forgive McKoy for the number of times I’ve mistakenly checked my phone. It’s by far my most played track on the album.
King T lays down a dominant verse on “Slidin'”, Cormega appears with vocalist Lanelle Tyler on “On Fire” with mixed results (it sounds cheesy but Mega smashes it) and Craig G and Skyzoo join X on the money hungry “Ain’t Nothing Funny” (which contains the infamous Joe Pesci dialogue from Goodfellas). The appearance of Skyzoo actually highlights how much better an album like this could be if more younger emcees combined with X – he brings a different vibe just in the 40 seconds he’s given.
Despite my positive first impressions of “Never Left”, the number of plain average tracks becomes too hard to ignore after prolonged listens. Played out samples on “Never Left” and “Beautiful Day”, coupled with X’s misplaced energetic delivery on more serious songs (“Live & Ya Learn”) and a general feeling that half of this record is instantly forgettable, mean it’s difficult to recommend the whole project. There aren’t any bad tracks per se, but just an unhealthy helping of mediocrity.
For an emcee whose often struggled to deliver the goods on his own, “Never Left” was better than I expected (meaning I didn’t expect much at all). Lord Jamar may be attracting the YouTube views, but it should be Sadat X receiving the attention because he has shown he can still deliver an album that has a few stonkers, which may not mean much to those wanting value for money, but it does put some credibility back in to the Brand Nubian name.