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The Five Percent Nation of Islam was a popular inspiration for numerous thinking-man's rap groups during the early '90s, and Brand Nubian was arguably the finest of the more militant crop. Although they were strongly related to the Native Tongues posse in style and sound, they weren't technically members, and were less reserved about spotlighting their politics and religion. Their outspokenness led to controversy, on an even larger scale than similarly minded groups like the X-Clan or Poor Righteous Teachers, in part because Brand Nubian's sheer musicality made them so listenable regardless of what their messages were. The hoopla surrounding their aggressive Afrocentrism sometimes overshadowed the playful and positive sides of their work, as well as the undeniable virtuosity of lead MC Grand Puba's rhymes -- all showcased to best effect on their highly acclaimed debut, One for All.
Brand Nubian was formed in 1989 in the New York suburb of New Rochelle. Grand Puba (born Maxwell Dixon) had previously recorded with a group called Masters of Ceremony, and was joined by Sadat X (born Derek Murphy, originally dubbed Derek X), Lord Jamar (born Lorenzo DeChalus), and DJ Alamo (Murphy's cousin). The group signed with Elektra and released their debut album, All for One, in 1990. Most reviews were glowing, but the stronger rhetoric on the album -- especially the track "Drop the Bomb" -- drew fire from some quarters, including some white Elektra employees reluctant to promote what they saw as reverse racism. Ultimately, the uproar didn't really hurt Brand Nubian's career, but neither did it produce a wider hit with pop or R&B audiences, despite the high regard in which the singles "All for One," "Slow Down," and "Wake Up" are held. A far more serious blow was Grand Puba's departure from the group in late 1991, owing to tensions that had arisen over his handling the lion's share of the rapping. Not only did Brand Nubian lose their clear focal point and chief producer, they also lost DJ Alamo, who elected to continue working with Puba.
Puba released his solo debut, Reel to Reel, in 1992; meanwhile, Lord Jamar and Sadat X regrouped with DJ Sincere (born Terrence Perry) and issued In God We Trust in 1993. It sold fairly well, just missing the Top Ten on the R&B chart, and the single "Punks Jump up to Get Beat Down" was something of a hit, though it also drew fire for its anti-gay slurs. In Puba's absence, the pro-Islam rhetoric grew stronger, with more explicit support for the controversial Minister Louis Farrakhan. By the time of 1994's Everything Is Everything, they'd gotten downright dogmatic, and critics who'd previously defended the group now found them difficult to stomach, both lyrically and musically.
In the wake of the icy reception afforded Everything Is Everything, the remaining members of Brand Nubian drifted apart. Sadat X reunited with Grand Puba for "Play It Cool," a track on the latter's second solo album; Sadat also released his solo debut, Wild Cowboys, in 1996, and subsequently guested on records by a new wave of underground hip-hoppers. Lord Jamar, meanwhile, moved into production, and also landed a recurring role on HBO's prison drama Oz. In 1998, with a new alternative rap movement gaining prominence, the original four members of Brand Nubian reunited for the Arista album Foundation, which received highly positive reviews. Grand Puba and Sadat X both subsequently returned to their solo careers, but they returned with Jamar and Alamo for 2004's Fire in the Hole.
Brand Nubian is an American hip hop group from New Rochelle, New York, consisting of three MC's: Grand Puba (born Maxwell Dixon, on March 4, 1966), Sadat X (formerly Derek X, born Derek Murphy, on December 29, 1968) and Lord Jamar (born Lorenzo Dechalus, on September 17, 1968), and two DJs: DJ Alamo and DJ Sincere. Its debut album, One for All is one of the most popular and acclaimed alternative hip hop albums of the 1990s, known for socially conscious and politically charged content inspired by the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths. About.com placed the group on its list of the "25 Greatest Rap Groups of All Time."
Brand Nubian formed in 1989 after Grand Puba's original group, Masters of Ceremony, split up. Its first single, "Brand Nubian," was released in 1989. Signed to Elektra Records by A&R man Dante Ross, its debut album, One For All, was released in 1990. Generally acclaimed, the album drew fire for militant Five-Percenter rhetoric on tracks such as "Drop the Bomb" and "Wake Up." The controversy helped sales, although the album was still not a great commercial success. To date, the album has sold 350,000 units. A version of the Fab Five Freddy-directed video of the single "Wake Up," featuring a Black man in white-face makeup, was also banned from MTV. On that channel and from official WEA sources, this image was replaced by a Baptist preacher. The singles "Slow Down," "All for One," and "Wake Up" all became hits on Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks chart in 1991.
Shortly after its debut release, Sadat X and Lord Jamar began having problems with Grand Puba, which caused him to leave the group, along with DJ Alamo, to pursue a solo career. Lord Jamar and Sadat X enlisted DJ Sincere to join the group in 1992. The same year, Puba released his solo debut, Reel to Reel, which featured the hit single "360 Degrees (What Goes Around)".
At the end of 1992, the Puba-less Brand Nubian released a hit single of its own, "Punks Jump up to Get Beat Down". The track was met with controversy over blatant homophobic content, referencing the Sadat X line "I can freak, fly, flow, fuck up a faggot/I don't understand their ways; I ain't down with gays." Despite the controversy, the single charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 77. Later versions omitted the line and replaced it with different lyrics, including the version on the greatest hits compilation The Very Best of Brand Nubian.
In the early part of 1993, the crew released its second album, In God We Trust. "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down" was included on this release, as well as the number-92 Hot-100 single "Love Me or Leave Me Alone." The effort sold moderately well, fueled by the crew's continuing controversy. Also in 1993, the group contributed a track to the Menace II Society soundtrack, titled "Lick Dem Muthaphuckas."
The group’s next release, Everything is Everything, was released in November 1994. The controversy kept growing, with further accusations of the group’s music being analogous to hate speech. The album received very mixed reviews and mediocre sales, despite the top-40 Hot Rap Tracks singles "Word is Bond" and "Hold On." In 1995, the group broke up, left Elektra, and launched solo careers in music and television. That year, Puba released his second solo effort, 2000, featuring another Billboard Hot 100 single, "I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are)." Sadat X released his first solo effort, titled Wild Cowboys (Loud/RCA/BMG Records), in 1996.
The group's original members reunited in 1997, contributing a song to the Soul in the Hole soundtrack, titled "A Child is Born". Another song, "Keep It Bubblin'," appeared on the 1997 Money Talks soundtrack. In 1998, the four original members returned with the album Foundation on a new label, Arista/BMG Records. The album received wide acclaim and featured contributions from a larger group of producers, including DJ Premier, Buckwild, Lord Finesse, and Diamond D. The lead single "Don't Let it Go to Your Head" became, at number 54, the group's highest-charting single on the Hot 100. In 2000, the crew once again teamed up with Buckwild of D.I.T.C. and released the underground single "Rockin' It," before the members continued their individual pursuits. Sadat X released a solo EP in 2000, The State of New York vs. Derek Murphy, on Loud/Relativity Records.
Puba released his third solo effort, Understand This, in 2001, which received little attention despite featuring his fellow Brand Nubian members. The original members reunited once again in 2004 for the release of its fifth album, Fire in the Hole, their first release on an independent label, Babygrande Records. The album received mixed reviews and sold below expectations. Sadat X released another solo effort in 2005, titled Experience & Education, receiving mostly positive reviews. Jamar also furthered his acting career, recently appearing on an episode of The Sopranos, as well as episodes of Oz, Third Watch, and Law & Order. Lord Jamar released his first solo album, The 5% Album, June 27, 2006, on Babygrande Records. Sadat X's third full length album, titled Black October, was released October 2006. In 2007 the group released an album titled Time's Runnin' Out, although the material on the CD was recorded 10 years previous in the sessions leading up to the Foundation album (released in 1998).