Last night fellow Bay Area to New York transplant & former KALX DJ Pal 58 and I were pleasantly surprised attending the Future is Frank Frank Radio CMJ Music Marathon showcase at Southpaw in Brooklyn. We caught an unannounced set by the original line up of legendary hip-hop crew Brand Nubian! Original member Grand Puba was announced in advance as one of the night's performers, along with an already impressive line-up that included Wu-Tang's U-God, Wiz Khalifa, and DJ/MC Jasmine Solano. Another surprise last minute performer was Baltimore's Spank Rock. But it was New Rochelle, NY hip-hop legends Brand Nubian -- rounded out by the other two original members Sadat X and Lord Jamar -- who stole the show with a set that included many of their hits and was nicely wrapped up with Grand Puba stopping to make a wonderful heartfelt speech about how much hip-hop means to him, and has always meant to him. He warned the audience to not become complacent now that Barack Obama is in office. The struggle, especially for African Americans, is still very much alive and well, he stressed. He also noted how hip-hop music has always been a vehicle for inspiring positve change in his community, rather than merely a tool to acquire fame and riches. Refreshing stuff to hear and witness during this annual New York music conference overflowing with acts, generally speaking, whose hunger for fame far outweighs anything else.
Brand Nubian arrived during hip-hop's so-called "golden age" (late 80's/early 90's) and pretty much personified that oft-romanticized era in hip-hop. It was the period immediately before gangsta-rap had fully crossed over to dominate the pop-rap landscape and a time when conscious, thought-provoking and at times politically controversial, but generally well-intentioned and uplifting lyrics, all delivered over head-bobbing, funky beats & grooves, were the norm. DJ Alamo was their fourth member and when Grand Puba split the group early on the two left together. Twelve years ago Brand Nubian's original members got back together, and two years ago the three emcees began doing a series of select dates in support of their long-shelved, decade old album Time's Runnin' Out, which finally saw the light of day.
Back in 1990 when Brand Nubian's debut album All For One was released, they stood apart from most other acts in that they were extremely vocal in their political, sociological, and religious beliefs. They frequently used hip-hop as a vehicle to display their Islamic faith and the teachings of The 5% Nation. This was something that led to controversy -- MTV banned their video for "Wake Up" because of the imagery of a black man in white face makeup. The ban was later lifted when the image was replaced with a Baptist preacher. Many speculated at the time that this and other controversies merely helped propel the group's sales and status. But at last night's show it was clear that Brand Nubian is one of those classic hip-hop groups whose legendary status is rooted in their lyrical skills, defined by the unique voices of Puba and Sadat X, and coupled with their timeless hooks.