(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.
1. ALL FOR ONE
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?
2. FEELS SO GOOD
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.
3. CONCERTO IN X MINOR
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.
5. TO THE RIGHT
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.
6. DANCE TO MY MINISTRY
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.
7. DROP THE BOMB
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.
8. WAKE UP (STIMULATED DUMMIES MIX)
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.
9. STEP TO THE REAR
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.
10. SLOW DOWN
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).
11. TRY TO DO ME
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.
12. WHO CAN GET BUSY LIKE THIS MAN…
13. GRAND PUBA, POSITIVE AND L.G. (FEAT. POSITIVE K)
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.
14. BRAND NUBIAN
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.)
15. WAKE UP (REPRISE IN THE SUNSHINE)
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.)