Brand Nubian ~ One for All (1990)

Posted on January 20, 2013

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In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, conscious rap had a vast and clearly defined space within the Hip Hop universe. This blanket subgenre of rap even had diversity within its own environs; offering militancy (Public Enemy), humanism (Boogie Down Productions) and Pan-Africanism (X-Clan) to listeners seeking both variation and elevation. Within this subgenre, rap’s Golden Era also presented several artists affiliated with the Nation of Gods and Earths, a cultural and upliftment sect founded in Harlem in 1964. The NGE, known for being represented by knowledgeable members with oratorical gifts and irrepressible flavor, inspired a legion of rap artists including New York legends Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, and New Jersey icons Lakim Shabazz and King Sun. Though these acts forged their own pathways, partly through disciplined science dispensing, a quartet from just north of The Bronx forged their own path as conscious artists, and with the energy of B-Boys, the spirit of warriors, and the wisdom of prophets, they’d give both Afrocentricity and New York Hip Hop much-welcome energy boosts. I speak, of course, of Brand Nubian.

Hailing from the Gotham suburb New Rochelle (or “Now Rule” as they called it), Brand Nubian began as a conglomerate of soloists. De facto leader Grand Puba Maxwell (Maxwell Dixon) had been in the rap industry since 1985, when he served as one-third of a New Rochelle trio called Masters of Ceremony. The M.O.C. recorded a handful of singles between 1985 and 1987, and released their only album (Dynamite) in 1988, before disbanding in 1989. As the Masters of Ceremony were separating, a pair of solo emcees in New Rochelle developed a musical bond: Lord Jamar (Lorenzo DeChalus) and Sadat X (Derek Murphy), primarily from frequent run-ins they’d have with each other in Now Rule rhyme ciphers. After joining forces with one another, Jamar and Sadat both gravitated toward Grand Puba, the man considered the nucleus of all things Hip Hop-related in New Rochelle, and Puba took the younger phenoms under his wing. Initially, Grand Puba produced demos for both Lord Jamar and Sadat X in hopes of landing them solo deals, but, after discovering how well they all worked together; Puba, Jamar and Sadat became a trio. Soon after, they added Sadat’s childhood friend, turntablist DJ Alamo, to the fold; and the four of them became Brand Nubian. A Puba connection with Elektra Records A&R exec Dante Ross led to the quartet signing with the label in 1989, and in 1990, Brand Nubian dropped a righteous classic for the mind, body and soul, entitled One for All.

One for All is a unique hybrid of spirit, energy, swagger, and knowledge building; that thoroughly distinguishes Brand Nubian from their conscious contemporaries. The album deftly blends the science of the gods and the style of the B-Boys, through sixteen stellar tracks. The album’s opener “All For One” sets things off lovely, through an elegant number featuring Grand Puba, Sadat X, and Lord Jamar dropping gemstones single-file over a breezy, light jazz instrumental, and flashing the chemistry that prompted them to unite as one. On the next cut “Feels So Good”, the crew runs rings around the track literally; riding a bouncy bluegrass beat, finishing each other’s lines, and flipping mic routines like the Cold Crush Brothers. “Ragtime” continues this tradition; as the gods kick flavor and wisdom one after another over a syncopated funk groove, and motivate each other to reach deeper as they flow on. On “To The Right”, the Nubians swing one for the back streets; using a loop of James Brown’s “Funky President”, along with Uptown chants on the hook, to wax braggadocio and rock a few city blocks. And the tribal banger “Drop The Bomb”, the subject of scorn and controversy when it first dropped, gives us a glimpse of Brand Nubian’s rebel fire; as they touch on geneticist Yakub – rumored in Nation of Islam doctrine as the creator of Caucasians – and blast “the devil” for his mistreatment of Blacks, over the rhythmic rumbles of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Jazz”.

Being that they’re all soloists at heart, each Brand Nubian emcee is allotted time to go for self, starting with Sadat X and Lord Jamar. Sadat X is up first with “Concerto In X Minor”, an inventive cut with an Ed Sullivan-type lead in, followed by Sadat’s dissertation on self-improvement, community organization, and racial injustice both inside and outside of New York, set to a funky loop of Cannonball Adderley’s “Walk Tall”, and supported by vocal breaks from The Last Poets. Lord Jamar chimes in with “Dance To My Ministry”, a blistering cut with a more than fitting title. After Grand Puba leads him in, Jamar drops NGE pearls at warp speed, over the frantic funk rhythm from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Bad Tune”, and DJ Alamo cuts furiously on the turntables.

Curiously, the second half of One for All is handled mostly by Grand Puba, without his Nubian brothers. Puba’s first solo cut, the Stimulated Dummies-produced “Step To The Rear” is an ode to both Puba’s inner lothario and his linguistic dexterity, as Puba uses the SD50’s slick soul creep to tout his sexual prowess, give Puba snacks to every girl in town, and deliver the suave lingo that became his primary lyrical signature. The new jack swing thumper “Try To Do Me”, laced by Dave “Jam” Hall, sticks out from the rest of the album, and has Puba confronting, then dismissing, a demanding girlfriend, over a bubbling R&B track that recalls the Uptown Records sound of the early 90’s. Puba toasts ragamuffin style on “Who Can Get Busy Like This Man”, coasting across a shuffling dancehall track, with more of the verbal milk he dispensed so skillfully. Brooklyn emcee Positive K – of “I Got A Man” fame – guests on
“Grand Puba, Positive And L.G.”, and he and his best friend Puba flex ego back and forth over a sample of Steve Arrington Hall of Fame’s “Nobody Can Be You”. And Grand Puba free-wheels masterfully on “Dedication”, praising his favorite emcees, tossing cipher darts, and cruising non-stop over the drum kit from James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”.

Though Grand Puba takes center stage in the album’s last half, Lord Jamar and Sadat X don’t leave the building completely. They check back in on a few prime cuts, including “Slow Down”, the album’s biggest hit, where Sadat, Jamar and Puba giving tough love and counsel to wanton women, over a clever loop of the Edie Brickell & New Bohemians folk rock hit “What I Am”. The crew feeds the mind and rocks the body once more on “Brand Nubian”; pumping their fists, and flaunting their Nubian pride, with the pulsating funk of both Cameo (“Rigor Mortis”) and Parliament (“Flashlight”) for support. And on “Wake Up (Reprise In The Sunshine)” Puba addresses historical falsehoods and fallacies while Sadat and Jamar ad-lib, over the melody from Ray, Goodman, and Brown’s “Another Day”, and a choral interpolating of Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine”.

One for All caused quite a stir on street level when it dropped in 1990; bumping in stereos and sound systems across the United States, spurred onward by its undercover smash “Slow Down”. Curiously, neither the popularity of “Slow Down” nor One for All translated into sizable record sales, perhaps due to the massive bootlegging of the album, which depressed its SoundScan tallies, and made it a victim of its own premium quality. The album topped out at just under 400,000 copies sold in its first run, but it hinted at great things to come for Brand Nubian. Unfortunately, the Nubians would splinter as this album hit its stride. In 1991, Grand Puba left Brand Nubian for a solo career, and DJ Alamo went with him. Lord Jamar and Sadat X soldiered on, adding their friend Sincere to the crew and dropping two more albums (1993’s In God We Trust and 1994’s Everything Is Everything). After 2 aborted reunions, the original Nubians – including Puba and Alamo – reunited in 1998 for the album Foundation; and in the early millennium, Puba, Jamar and Sadat connected once more for the 2004 release Fire in the Hole. One for All was thwarted from achieving the commercial status it richly deserved, but those in the know regard it as one of the 90’s finest rap albums; a brilliant blend of style and substance, that hasn’t aged a nanosecond in more than two decades.

To listen to One for All, click here.

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