Brand Nubian - Biography
Brand Nubian did not intend to make mindless dancefloor club hits when they emerged in the early 1990s. The group saw themselves as messengers and prophets. While this peculiar alternative niche in East Coast hip-hop was just beginning to gain momentum, it was Brand Nubian that thrust it into the forefront of mainstream consciousness by imbuing their socially, politically, and religiously charged lyrics with a sound that was captivating regardless of the lyrical content. It would prove to be both a blessing and a curse.
Formed in 1986 in New Rochelle, New York, Brand Nubian rose from the ashes of de facto leader Grand Puba’s previous group, Masters of Ceremony. The new group, inspired by the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths — an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, came together as three rappers and two deejays. Grand Puba, Sadat X, and Lord Jamar handled the mic while DJ Alamo and DJ Sincere took full reign of the beats.
Brand Nubian released their first single, Brand Nubian (Elektra), in 1986. However, four years would pass before the release of their critically acclaimed debut album, One For All (Elektra). After signing with Elektra Records, the group put out One For All in 1990, and the album was met with the type of controversy one might expect from content that reflected the arguably racist and homophobic rhetoric of the militant teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths. Predictably, the controversy did little to preclude the album from becoming a success. The most controversial singles received the most attention, including “Drop the Bomb” and “Wake Up.” “Slow Down,” “All for One,” and “Wake Up” made their way onto the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart, but it was “Wake Up” that received the bulk of the attention for its foray into the mainstream media. “Wake Up” was released with a video, directed by hip-hop pioneer and host of Yo! MTV Raps Fab Five Freddy, which was ultimately banned from MTV until changes were made. Namely, the video had originally featured an African American man in whiteface. The video was edited to replace that character with a Baptist preacher. Brand Nubian often found themselves on the defensive for extolling a strain of reverse racism, a quality that left many Elektra employees feeling conflicted about promoting the album and the group. While One For All never showed any major chart movement, it is still in print nearly 20 years later and is widely regarded as a quintessential alternative hip-hop album for any collector.
Following the release of All For One, Brand Nubian began to suffer from internal conflicts as issue had been raised with Grand Puba’s dominance over the lyrics and rapping for the group. Grand Puba and DJ Alamo eventually left the band, and Sadat X and Lord Jamar brought in DJ Sincere to round out the new lineup. 1992 found the new Brand Nubian releasing a single that was a hit, despite its overt homophobic rhymes; “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down” (Elektra) climbed to number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the same year, Grand Puba released his solo debut, Reel to Reel (Elektra), which featured the single “360 Degrees (What Goes Around).”
Brand Nubian continued to exist without Grand Puba and DJ Alamo, and in doing so became even bolder in their pro-Islamic Nation of Gods and Earths rhetoric. The group had now become very vocal supporters of the controversial Minister Louis Farrakhan and in doing so lost steam with the MTV demographic. In 1993, the group released In God We Trust (Elektra) and while it sold well, nearing the Top Ten mark on the Billboard R&B charts, the inclusion of the anti-gay “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down” kept it tethered down. However, the single “Love Me or Leave Me Alone” ranked at number 92 on the Hot 100 Singles chart. Shortly after the release of In God We Trust, the group was added to the Menace II Society soundtrack with the track “Lick Dem Muthphuckas.”
As controversy continued to surround the group, they released 1994’s Everything is Everything (Elektra). Sales of the album were a disappointment even though the singles “Word is Bond” and “Hold On” climbed their way to the Top 40 Hot Rap Singles. Brand Nubian broke up in 1995 and left Elektra amid a flurry of controversy and egos that led to several divergent projects among the remaining members. Sadat X put out his debut solo effort Wild Cowboys (Loud/RCA) in 1996 and Grand Puba released his sophomore solo album, 2000 (Elektra), only months before in 1995.
Brand Nubian reunited in 1997 in its original form with Grand Puba and DJ Alamo. The following year, they released Foundation (1998 Arista), which includes the Billboard Hot 100 number 54 charter “Don't Let it Go to Your Head,” the highest charting single to date for the band. DJ Premier, O.Gee, C.L. Liggio, Lord Finesse, Diamond D, and Buckwild provided the beats for Foundation, updating the sound greatly. In 2000, Brand Nubian teamed up with Buckwild once more to release the single “Rockin’ It” (Kurrup Money Records).
In 2007, Brand Nubian released Time’s Runnin’ Out (Traffic Entertainment), officially their sixth album, on Traffic Entertainment. Production on this album is credited to Grand Puba, Lord Jamar, Lord Finesse, and DJ Alamo.