May 16, 2013

Reader Review: Brand Nubian - One For All (December 4, 1990)

(One thing that's been missing from HHID for a while now is a write-up for an actual classic album, or at least something that most critics believe to be a classic album. Standos attempts to rectify this by discussing Brand Nubian's debut project, One For All. Leave your thoughts for Standos in...well, you should know where comments go by now.)

Since Max doesn’t seem to be hitting this one up in the near future (It's true, I'm not), I thought I may as well tackle it. Brand Nubian are a hip hop group based out of New Rochelle, New York, consisting of Grand Puba (the undisputed leader of the group), Derek X (now known as Sadat X, also known as the guy who sounds a shitload like Grand Puba to me), Lord Jamar (the lesser known of the three emcees, although he’s just as technically proficient) and DJ Alamo (I have no real opinion on him). As noted by their choice of clothing on the cover of their debut release, One For All, they were more-or-less satellite members of the Native Tongues, wearing the same ridiculous garments as the likes of the Jungle Brothers or A Tribe Called Quest during the early nineties, as well as sharing similar rhyme content and sensibilities. Brand Nubian are infamous for filling their rhymes with occasionally controversial pro-black Five Percent Nation Of Gods and Earths content, which I don’t understand much of since, you know, I’m not a Five Percenter.

Brand Nubian was conceived out of another hip hop group which emerged in the mid-1980s, creatively named Masters of Ceremony, that allowed Grand Puba to refine his production skills; they even released an album in 1988, Dynamite, which almost nobody will admit to having ever listened to. After the group disbanded, Puba joined up with Sadat, Jamar and Alamo and released a demo that eventually caught the ear of acclaimed A&R Dante Ross, who is best known for his work on legendary records such as De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. One For All was released by Elektra Records in 1990, and the serious social commentary, funky and well-constructed beats, and the lyrical chemistry between the three leads helped Brand Nubian achieve critical acclaim and horrible sales figures commercially, as is the case with most great hip hop albums.

I was introduced to Brand Nubian not by this album, but by their 1998 reunion Foundation, and slowly worked my way backwards to their debut. I remember listening to it and deciding that I liked enough of the tracks to justify my purchase, but I don't remember really listening to it a second time, so it's been collecting dust on my desk since then. Until now, I guess.

So anyway.

Skipping the usual rap intro and going straight into what was the project's fifth single works for me. Over a pretty awesome instrumental containing no less than three James Brown samples, Puba, Sadat and Jamar go for one verse each on a track that I would have thought to be their biggest hit from the record (as did Puba himself, apparently). Regardless, this song is a classic, and it also helps that all three members manage to rip shit the fuck up. Need I say more?

There’s a lot of ways you could follow up “All For One”, but this is one of the weakest. I just could not get into this one, sorry. I tried.

After a really unnecessary speech with an irritating accent, “Brother” Derek X (who I will now refer to Sadat X because shut up) goes for broke over an instrumental that seems funky enough, but also kind of corny at the same time. The constant samples that interrupt his verses can disrupt the listening experience, but this wasn’t too bad. It was at least better than Xzibit’s “Symphony in X Minor”, in that it doesn’t contain a chorus that makes you want to castrate yourself.

Perhaps realizing that he needed to take a break, Puba hands the production reins over to Skeff Anselm (who worked with A Tribe Called Quest on The Low End Theory) and, in return, gets a pretty hot beat out of the deal, one which uses The Gap Band’s “Tommy’s Groove” to great effect. The lyrics are also on point (especially Grand Puba's), even though much of Lord Jamar’s verse is utter gibberish to me.

Puba takes back production duties and almost straight-up uses James Brown’s “Funky President” for the instrumental. Since “Funky President” is still my shit, I didn't have any issues with it. All three emcees sound completely comfortable over the beat, with Puba boasting for what’s probably the eightieth time about his conquest of many, many skins. I also love it when Sadat claims he traded his boss in for a horse, then simply states “It died, I made glue, it’s no loss”, something I find hilariously random and educational.

Lord Jamar’s solo venture, which features the most fast-paced instrumental so far by Puba. It sounds alright, but I can’t help but feel that Jamar isn’t the best emcee for the beat, resulting in him sounding uncomfortable. There's also a seemingly endless stream of shout-outs attached to the end.

I remember always comparing this song to “To The Right”, as they keep the same tempo and both essentially reuse their original sample source for their instrumental (in this case, Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Jazz”). I couldn’t really get into Lord Jamar’s opening verse, but Sadat and Puba manage to bring up the rear (Puba’s verse stands out only because of his threat to drop his bomb on the “colored man”). So this was two-thirds listenable for me, which isn't good enough.

The first Grand Puba solo tip, produced by Dante Ross’ production group The Stimulated Dummies, which I must admit is a pretty kickass name. The original version of this song appears later on in the album, which makes absolutely no sense to me but apparently is some sort of ongoing trend (see: Blahzay Blahzay’s “Danger”, Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, etc.). Anyway, this was the third single off of One For All, and it’s alright, but I find the original mix to be much better. The shout-outs at the end, as well as the sounds of Puba attempting to imitate an Asian language, are extremely unnecessary, though.

Another Puba solo joint, which fares a little bit better than the last song, thanks to its good use of “Plantation Inn” by the Mar-Keys within the Stimulated Dummies beat. Puba informs the listeners to, well, step to the rear as he tears through his verses with ease. The instrumental could have been a bit more engaging, and Puba really didn’t need to shout-out his own group members for the second time, but this was otherwise entertaining.

Probably the one song that Brand Nubian will be remembered for, or at least their biggest hit. The vocal sample (taken from Edie Brickell & the New Bohemian's “What I Am”, which also provided the source material for the instrumental) is surprisingly unobtrusive, and Puba’s beat (or Sadat’s, depending on who you ask), compliments the lyrics nicely, which revolve around the three members telling hos to “Slow Down”, obviously. Once again, Puba takes the trophy for best verse, with lyrics that grow increasingly misogynistic as his verse goes on, making you wonder if all those skins he gets are taken by skill or by force. However, Sadat and Jamar don’t fall far behind; I remember liking “All For One” better than this song and I still do, but this was still enjoyable, to say the least. It also helps that you could play this song today and it would still be entirely relevant. (Note: Pete Rock also produced a remix of this which, I shit you not, has the exact same instrumental over a harder drum beat. Which means that although it is entirely unnecessary, it isn’t actually that bad).

What the fuck was this shit? Puba’s third solo joint is a obnoxious mess, mainly because the beat is dated as shit. Then again, that’s what happens when you get fucking Dave “Jam” Hall to produce a hip hop song for you. Skip.


Probably the most creative title in hip-hop history. The L.G. in the song title, for those of you paying attention, belongs to the producer and DJ of the track, who apparently was the official Zulu Nation DJ for Afrika Bambaataa, meaning that Brand Nubian was probably conceived on his dick. Positive K’s appearance here was probably in return for Puba’s production credit on K’s 1988 hit “Step Up Front”, which I can’t really say I’ve ever listened to. Oh, this song? It’s alright, but anything I tried to remember about it instantly evaporated the moment the song ended. So that happened.

Otherwise known as the Brand Nubian song in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (at least, that’s where I first heard it). If I’m not mistaken, this was the actually first single released from One For All, although everyone skips over both this and the shitty “Feels So Good” to jump straight to “Wake Up”. This song is actually pretty damn engaging: the beat seems tailored for Brand Nubian, so much so that you can’t imagine any other group rocking over it, which is always a good thing. The constant repetition of the group name throughout the song can be annoying, but the three emcees sound so good that I really can’t complain.  (Note: this song only appears on the compact disc and digital download versions of One For All.)

Basically the same track as the reworked “Wake Up”, albeit with a much better beat (rocking the same vocal sample as Common’s “Book Of Life”) that you can actually picture yourself waking up to every morning. You’d think that a song with “Reprise” in its title implies that it is actually the remix, but no, you’d be wrong. Really nothing more to say that I haven’t already said earlier.

I counted about five times where a list of shoutouts commenced so this isn't required listening at all. Puba simply runs down a list of his favorite artists at the time, all before rhyming about his usual topics over a really dull beat. Nothing to see here.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Brand Nubian's One For All presents the listeners with what is apparently textbook “golden age hip hop”: James Brown samples, breakbeats, the whole nine yards. It also gives us a glimpse into the white devil-filled, militant worldview of Brand Nubian; a world which, admittedly, I wouldn’t enjoy living in, but would perhaps visiting from time to time. Quite a bit of One For All doesn’t hold up today, either because the instrumentals blend into each other or because they just straight up suck. Grand Puba, Sadat X and Lord Jamar never really falter behind the mic, though, which is obviously a very good trait to have in your rap crew. Sadly, Brand Nubian would end up pulling a Geto Boys-type situation, one where the group roster came equipped with a revolving door, as Grand Puba left to record his solo album and DJ Alamo was swapped out for DJ Sincere (who contributed to "Wake Up (Reprise In The Sunshine)"). However, similar to what happened with the actual Geto Boys, the four original members would eventually reunite in 1998, for an album I’m hoping someone else will discuss at a later date, as I kind of misplaced my copy of Foundation.

BUY OR BURN? Sure. Just expect to hit “skip” a few times and you’ll be good.

BEST TRACKS: “All For One”; “Slow Down”; “Ragtime”; “Wake Up (Reprise In The Sunshine)”; “To The Right”


(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)


  1. I also got into Brand Nubian through Foundation, and i would recommend that to a first time listener over this. Review was good, although i can't say i agree or disagree cuz ill be damned if i remember anything from this album. (again: listen to Foundation first) And even after listening to quite a few of their songs, i still struggle sometimes with telling Puba and Sadat X apart.

  2. A large part of me hates Brand Nubian solely because they're so goddamn homophobic. They do offer more of that Native Tongues sound, but I never found their pseudo-intellectual work to be essential.

    1. AnonymousMay 18, 2013

      Yup, the Nation of Islam can suck a big fucking dick

    2. Quite possibly the most extreme reaction to a Reader Review I've ever seen. Congratulations! A TON of people are going to hate you now.

    3. AnonymousMay 18, 2013

      @Michael So do you hate Eminem, Kool G Rap, Pimp C and the other million artist that are homophobic? You might be too sensitive for Hip-Hop. Theres no rules to this shit dude. Fuck censorship! Maybe you should listen to another genre man

    4. I never in my life have advocated censorship, so I have no idea what you are tying to get across.
      Anyway, it's funny you chose those three other artists as examples, cus I don't like a single one of them. Not based off of their personal views, their styles are just not for me.
      The notion that I am "too sensitive" for hip-hop is juvenile and absurd. A time will come in your life that the misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop will finally get to you. It sure as hell has for me. I fuckin love Ghostface, but I cringe whenever I hear him say "faggot." In regard to Brand Nubian, they seem to take a particularly nasty view against homosexuality, and, yes, it does offend me. Lord Jamar's backwards and regressive diss song towards Kanye West released a few months ago may make you understand more of where I'm coming from.
      I'm sick of hip-hop fans calling for silence and complacency. If something offends me, then you bet I'm going to fucking speak out against it. Don't even get me started on misogyny.

    5. Once again man people are too sensitive these days. If you don't like it then don't listen. Is it really that hard? Not to mention every review you comment on its all something negative. I know this blog is for Hip-Hop elitist, but at the same time its plenty of bias going on. hip-Hop or any other genre doesn't offend me at all, its just entertainment, nothing more nothing less.I'm tired of NON Hip-Hop fans always complaining about the shit they know nothing about. YOU choose to listen to that, nobody forced you. Go listen to another genre dude. Its not that serious, its just music. Listen to real Hip-Hop like Brother Ali, Arm of the pharaohs, etc..Not that mainstream crap! Underground rules!I'm done responding.

    6. Evey body clap it up for anonymous, you can always tell when someone is trying too hard to be funny!

    7. AnonymousMay 20, 2013

      "A time will come in your life that the misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop will finally get to you. It sure as hell has for me."

      Awesome. Whoever hates you because of this is a moron

    8. Yeah that Lord Jamar track against Kanye pissed me the hell off when it dropped.

    9. AnonymousMay 22, 2013

      It's interesting what people choose to get offended about.

      Case in point, I remember this album well and it's full of racism and sexism. Don't remember any homophobia, Im sure there was some but it doesnt equal the amount of times they refer to whitey as the devil. What this album is NOT full of is the genocidal black on black violence that seems to be so entertaining and non-offensive to so many. Of course Wutang and so many other greats spout the same pseudointellectual religious rhetoric but I guess it seems more interesting and less offensive because theyre talking about cocaine and guns, instead of trying to pass themselves off as actually giving a damn about their communities. But as one poster pointed out the problack shit doesnt get much love around here. Just say you dont like it instead of trying to offer some PC political BS reason. Funky ass album by the way, a few good songs and its political notions are mostly positive when understood IN CONTEXT.

    10. Brand Nubian is not a big thing for me, they got some nice tracks but there is lots of other better fish in hip-hop sea. Anyway it's better to be homophobic than homosexual.

    11. @ Michael May -

      No; the Lord Jamar diss toward Kanye doesn't make me understand where you're coming from. Lord Jamar dissed Kanye because Kanye is encouraging males TO WEAR DRESSES. It's one thing to be a homosexual; it's another thing to dress like a freaking woman. If you're pissed at Lord Jamar because he prefers men not to dress like females, then you've got much bigger issues than the people you criticize.

    12. "Anyway it's better to be homophobic than homosexual."

      "Kanye is encouraging males TO WEAR DRESSES. It's one thing to be a homosexual; it's another thing to dress like a freaking woman. If you're pissed at Lord Jamar because he prefers men not to dress like females, then you've got much bigger issues than the people you criticize."

      you people are fucking dickheads, seriously

  3. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    dope album - buy buy buy

  4. djbosscrewwreckaMay 17, 2013

    Good review man, I agree with the strengths and weaknesses you explained.
    I can't listen to the whole album but the good stuff is great.

  5. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    Max, when the fuck you gonna get to the new Cappa album, EYRTH WYND AND FYRE .. yes, that's the actual title. Get this -- it's a double disc, with 28 tracks (!).

    LATER this year, the pillage 2. And this new album is only 6 months after his disc "THE PILGRIMMAGE". CAPPA'S BACK!!!!!!!!!!


    1. It's going to be a while, but I haven't completely forgotten about Cappadonna.

    2. AnonymousMay 18, 2013

      Or you could review something that could actually use some exposure/isn't a complete waste of fucking time, like the Freestyle Fellowship

  6. I can understand how people who aren't Black might not like groups like Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Brand Nubian and other Pro-Black groups/mcs. Like I always tell people, everything aint for everybody.

  7. Your review is OK.

    I can't say that this is a classic album. It's more an old album, which was not that energetic even when it dropped. These guys wore some clothes and colors from the "Free Africa" era, whoch ended in the late '80s.

    I also can't understand your posiion on this. It looks that you don't feel half of the album and at the end you recommend a buy...

    My opinion on this album is that is was weak and Brand Nubian tried to be an alternative to Public Enemy and BDP, without success though. Almost everything is boring and if you imagine that it was released in a time, where rap music began to be full creative in inventing new sounds and styles, Brand Nubian did a step back with this effort.

    1. i wasn't feeling at the most, 5 or so songs on the album which is why i recommended a buy at the very end of the review. Thanks for reading!

  8. AnonymousMay 19, 2013

    I can accept homophobia from any old Gangster rapper due to the ignorant and over the top way in which it is delivered. however Brand Nubian seem like a bunch of real smart fellas, and when they preach hatred for the gay man, it sort of ruins the whole listening experience for me.

    Before you bother with Cappas double disc disaster, well not disaster but it definitely didn't warrant two fucking discs, I recommend you listen to and review Killah Priests double disc the Psychic World Of Walter Reed.

    I been thinking Max, you don't seem to have any plans to review Ice T do you. So I might as well write a review my self?

    1. Send your request/ideas to my e-mail (in the sidebar) and we'll talk further.

    2. Well put. Relatively smart and educated dudes condoning bigotry and hatred. I can't fucking stand that.

    3. AnonymousMay 20, 2013

      I second this - the man's name is Tracey, I just KNOW you wanna comment on that

    4. AnonymousMay 20, 2013

      Agreed. I don't really care that much when a rapper endorses views I don't support, but it's that Brand Nubian are so fucking preachy about it. It's sort of the same issue I have with Jeru: They spend so much time hammering home the same idiotic philosophies and making it the focus of the music, it becomes impossible to ignore it. And they're so fucking self important about it (Jeru's even worse), as though this completely half-assed shit they espouse were divine knowledge and not the ramblings of some gullible morons.

      Also most of the beats/rhyming/songs don't hold up. Slow Down is great though, and I actually really like Who Can Get Busy...

  9. This album was highly revered when it came out, cause the mc-ing was next level at that time. Ofcourse one might not agree with the rhetorics displayed here and truth be told, some of the album doesn't hold up now (mind you, it's been almost 23 years since this was released), but still I truly feel that 75% here is awesome... Dope beats, really good rhymes, still funky as a mutha.... Album stays recommended in my opinion.

  10. I'd just like to give my opinion in regards to this whole homophobia thing since i'm pretty intrigued as to the amount of people that actually dislike this album. i'm not criticising anyone's point of view and i'm completely against both homophobia and misogyny but i dont think its that big of a deal mainly because of the era that this was released. Remember that this was in the early 90's, when people were calling magic johnson gay simply because he contracted HIV. There was a shitload of homophobia back in the day and i guess brand nubian just got caught up with it, along with many other rap artists from that time. Now if they had said this shit in 2013, it'd be a different story as you can see with tyler the creator, who spits offensive shit just to seek attention, even though one of the guys in his own crew once loved a guy apparently. so there's my point of view

    1. i see what you're saying, and you are right with the time periods, but if people are offended by something, there going to be offended regardless of when the album came out. Also doesn't help Brand Nubian's case when Lord Jamar released a song dissing Kanye because of his clothes.

  11. AnonymousJune 05, 2013

    First heard Brand Nubian on GTA? Lmao....Young nerds.smh.

  12. this album is a fucking classic. In other matters, almost everyone nowadays has the very wrong idea about homosexuality these days. I'd rather not elaborate.

  13. I don't condone displays of hate in any way, shape or form but I have to ask: You people can't seriously say that homophobia equals misogyny, can you? Homosexuality is a fucking choice, gender is not. The End.

  14. The big difference between racial hate crimes and homophobic ones is that race doesn't offer you a choice, while sexual preference is exactly that, a preferance. Neither should be taken lightly of course, as I believe it's wrong to commit a crime against another human being simply because of their choices in life.