5% Nation Hip-Hop Group Brand Nubian

Posted by Billyjam, February 5, 2015 10:55am | Post a Comment
Back in the late eighties / early nineties at the peak of the so-called Afro-centric movement within hip-hop many groups embraced the teachings of the 5% Nation (aka Five Percenters, and the Nation of Gods and Earths) which is the half-century old political organization founded by former Nation of Islam member Clarence "13X" Edward Smith (aka Allah the Father) who was a former student of Malcolm X. Of all these hip-hop groups associated with the Five Percenters the best known was Brand Nubian who consistently espoused the teachings of the Five Percent Nation in their music. These songs included "All For One" which was the title track off the New Rochelle, NY crew's stellar debut album - one that remains a hip-hop classic to this day. However the track caused a good deal of controversy  around the time of its release because the group -- originally made up of emcees Grand Puba, Sadat X, and Lord Jamar along with DJ Alamo --  were outspoken and true to their political beliefs from day one; proudly and unapologetically using their recordings and concerts  as a platform to display both their Islamic faith and the teachings of The 5% Nation.

That commitment and outspokenness would lead to the group, signed to a major label, been mired in controversy. They met resistance from various individuals and organizations, including MTV, who banned their video for another single off the All For One album, "Wake Up," because of the imagery of a black man in white face makeup. [Note that MTV later lifted ban when the video was altered and the image was replaced with a Baptist preacher.] That incident was just one of many controversies that the group found themselves embroiled in, prompting some at the time to speculate that the publicity actually helped get the group additional attention. When I caught up with Lord Jamar, back when the group recently reformed, I asked him if the publicity (negative or otherwise) brought the group more awareness and/or sales. "It might have helped slightly to bring some awareness, but at the end of the day, it didn't do all that much more," he said, adding that, "It all came down to the music." 

Formed in 1989, Brand Nubian went through some rocky times; specifically, internal struggles between the members resulted in DJ Alamo and Lord Puba splitting the group early on, which was a great loss, especially in the case of the emcee, because Puba is such a unique and powerful vocal presence, as further proven in his subsequent solo career. After the split DJ Sincere then joined Brand Nubian. With this new lineup they released another controversial (yet catchy and successful hip-hop) hit single "Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down."  The understandable controversy surrounded certain usage of the word "punk" as a derogatory term towards gays, specifically the line in the song by Sadat X in which he rapped the homophobic lyrics "I can freak, fly, flow, fuck up a faggot/I don't understand their ways, I ain't down with gays." The single, which became a hit despite this controversy, drew criticism from both the gay community and mainstream press. However, later versions of the song omitted the line (including the version found on The Very Best of Brand Nubian CD collection) and the rapper later made an apology for the remarks.

By 1995 the group decided to call it quits and split, what looked like, for good. But then in 1997 all four original members reformed the group and in 1998 released the acclaimed comeback album Foundation. Around that same time they recorded another album's worth of material which was shelved for years that finally (years later) in August 2007 released as the album Time's Runnin' Out . The release and the reformation of the group found old fans of Brand Nubian and new younger fans discovering them all flocking to the golden era crew. "We get old fans and new people who have just recently discovered us...We do music from throughout our careers," Lord Jamar commented.

On the topic of conscious lyrics in hip-hop today versus 25 years ago, Lord Jamar fears that (at a commercial level at least) that, "It's almost regressing. But maybe sometimes you have to go back to get momentum to move forward," further speculating that, "It could be by design for the whole aspect of consumerism. Let's be honest: political thought doesn't help corporate structure."  Look for Brand Nubian's releases, such as In God We Trust, One For All, and Fire In The Hole,  at Amoeba Music.

Brand Nubian "All For One"

Brand Nubian "Meaning of the 5%"

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5% (1), 5 Percenters (1), Five Percenters (1), Black History Month (134), Brand Nubian (4)