Photo: Bill Hughes
Escaping the Fate
Rapper Sab the Artist left familiarity to try a change of scene. Now he has to figure out how to avoid a future Las Vegas entertainers know too well
by MAX PLENKE : MPLENKE@LVCITYLIFE.COM
Sitting in a corner booth at Miller’s Ale House in Town Square, Musab “Sab” Saad swills Macallan while David Bowie plays on the stereo overhead. “That’s my favorite artist,” he says, looking up at the ceiling. “Bowie, man.”
He’s been making statements like this for the past hour: facts about himself that rank in relevance to his favorite color. It’s the concrete details about his life he tiptoes around: How old he is; why he drove to Montana for a day; what landed him on the cover of a dirty magazine (more on that later). But most of all, how he plans to dodge “getting Vegas’d:” becoming another residency performer, giving up on the hustle and taking on the hamster-wheel lifestyle shared by many Vegas headliners.
Sab, who now calls himself Sab the Artist (though he’s gone by a handful of names since recording as Beyond in 1996), has a legacy. He’s the co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, one of the biggest indie hip-hop labels in the country, built up from a rap collective called Headshots. He talks about shaping the label like a grizzled veteran. Without realizing, he earnestly nudges an old adage: “We used to go out late at night in the freezing cold,” he says. “We’d post our posters all over every high school in the city. We worked so hard to get where we’re at.” As Beyond, he recorded the first-ever Rhymesayers record, Comparison, setting in motion wheels that would put Minnesota on the underground map. He helped the label go from basement cyphers to sold-out shows, both at home and abroad.
Then he took a break. Right after his sophomore release as Musab, 2002’s Respect the Life, Sab stopped releasing music. He embraced a lifestyle that lead him to take a five-year hiatus from a public microphone: He pimped. “I use the term adult entertainment for what I was doing,” he says after a long pause. “We’re talking videos. Photos. Escort services … I did well in that area.” So well, in April 2008, he was featured on the cover of Black Tail magazine. “I did an interview,” he says, laughing. “I didn’t know I was doing the cover. I was shocked.”
But Sab wanted to be done. He wanted to close the chapter on his identity as Minnesota Slicks, a character he associates with his life as a mack. So he did, embodied as the full-length album Slicks Box, released in 2007 on Hieroglyphics Imperium, the record label of Oakland, Calif.-based hip-hop act Hieroglyphics. “I met [Hieroglyphics collective members] Souls of Mischief in ’97,” he says. “We stayed good friends, so when it came time with the record, I wanted to try something different. Up to that point, I’d never [worked] with anybody else besides my Rhymesayers family.”
With the chapter closed on a life of pimp politics, Sab’s in the process of rejuvenating a career on hold. He moved to Sin City six years ago — but not to rap. “If sun doesn’t get to me I have, like, panic attacks,” he says, going on to describe Seasonal Affective Disorder. “The first time I ever left Minnesota was back in ’01. I went and played L.A. with [Living Legends rapper] Murs. It was freezing January in Minnesota. I get off the plane, and it’s sunny and 75 in L.A. I had an epiphany: I can’t live in Minnesota in winter no more.”
Last January, Sab made his official return to music. Calling himself Sab the Artist, he began his Leak Series, a 14-song Internet-released collection of tracks that didn’t fit as a coherent project. “I can use my leak series and give you a different flavor with each song,” he says. “I did a remake of fuckin’ Bob Dylan’s ‘I Want You.'”
Riding the buzz from the Leak Series, Sab prepares to release his debut full-length as Sab the Artist: HGH (Heaven, Girls, Hell), a further excursion into his new, love-centric tracks he touched on during the Sab the Artist E.P. The album is still up in the air for who he wants to release it. It’s possible it may return to the Rhymesayers camp, which he alleges he hasn’t permanently left since putting out Slicks Box with Hieroglyphics Imperium. “I never left Rhymesayers,” he says, a little indignant about the online flack his 2007 Hiero release garnered. “How can I leave my house? I can go outside my house, and hang out other places, but that’s my house.”
Now, Sab is trying something new: building up instead of tearing down. His formidable years as rapper Beyond and Musab were spent tearing rappers to pieces at battles, constantly working to solidify himself as a brute force vocalist. “When I listen to Comparison and Dynospectrum [the self-titled album of his Rhymesayers super group], I’m like, ‘That kid was mad,'” he says, laughing. “I probably couldn’t rap like that anymore. I was unrefined and unpolished.”
Playing “Hip-Hop Roots” on Tuesday nights at Boomers to a fraction of his heyday crowds, Sab has to take a different approach — a building block versus a battering ram. It’s the only way he’s going to avoid fading into hip-hop obscurity and joining the hip-hop weekly rat race. He needs to find a way to solidify himself. He views the local hip-hop scene as 10 years behind the scenes of larger cities — something he believes he can change, as long as it’s done right. “It’s going to take participation from [local rappers],” he says. “[And] being humble because the one thing that separates the earlier generation of hip-hop and this one is these guys feel entitled for something [they] don’t deserve. You’re gonna have to take it.”
Nearing the bottom of his second glass of Macallan, Sab the Artist pauses for the first time since ordering his drink. He talks about creating a local movement, a grassroots shot at notoriety the same way he did more than a decade ago. He’s been trying to put into words how the hip-hop scene will move forward and, in turn, how he’s going to move forward with it. After a minute, he says, “There’s a leader here in hip-hop now. You follow me, or I don’t know what the fuck you’re gonna do.”
Read this article at LasVegasCityLife.com.