EXCLUSIVE// Brand Nubian Speaks On Their Controversial Career: “We Had No Fear”Published by Danica Daniel on Friday, October 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm.
Brand Nubian has been bringing conscious rap to your ears since their debut album, “One For All” hit the streets in 1990. Since then, the rap trio has continued to push the envelope raising social awareness. Subsequent albums from In God We Trust to their most recent LP Time’s Running Out, quickly garnered Lord Jamar, Grand Puba and Sadat X critical acclaim. Now heralded as one of the greatest rap group’s of all time, the “thinking man’s rap group” still manages to raise the bar.
Centric caught up with Lord Jamar and Grand Puba, days before they took the stage at the 6th Annual Restoration Rocks Music Festival in Brooklyn, New York, to chat about a groundbreaking career filled with love, money and a few embarrassing moments courtesy of Run-DMC.
How did Brand Nubian get involved with the Restoration Rocks project?
LORD JAMAR: [laughs] That’s a good question. I don’t even know. We get a lot of shows. I don’t even know how we got it to be honest.
Brand Nubian’s debut album hit the streets way back in 1990. Why is Brand Nubian still relevant so many years later?
J: You know I was thinking about this the other day. It’s like the same way a smell or a taste or something will invoke a certain emotion or bring back a certain memory… music does the same thing to people. It brings you back to a time when things were simpler and you just felt happier. And especially the first time you hear a group or an MC that you think is dope, it’s just special. It just brings you back like a time machine. Also, what’s out right not is not satisfying people so they got a hunger for real hip-hop.
What do you think of the landscape of hip-hop today?
J: You got your commercial hip-hop and you got your underground hip-hop. As usual it seems like the underground hip-hop is more innovative, helping push the art forward creatively. And the commercial side is doing the opposite. But it’s making money. So it’s all relative, what you look at as a good thing. If you think having opportunities to make a lot of money and put people on the payroll and support your family, that’s great. But if you’re into preservation of the art, integrity and the moral code, then it can be looked at in a different way.
What did Brand Nubian hope to accomplish with “One For All?
J: What we wanted to accomplish was simple. We wanted to get a record deal. We wanted to hear ourselves on the radio. We wanted people that we respected to like our music. Real simple sh##. It wasn’t even about “Oh, I want to be a millionaire.” But we also wanted to speak for Black people too. Other people were touching on it a little bit, but we felt like we could dig even deeper. So we just picked up the shovel and started digging.
Controversy seemed to always follow your music and your video “Wake Up” got banned for featuring a black man in white face. Ever think you should just play it safe?
GRAND PUBA: Not at all. [laughs] We didn’t care. We were thrown into the industry and to us, it was no rules or regulations. But the “Wake Up” video let us know that we just couldn’t say anything and be successful .
J: We was like the first rap act signed directly to Elektra. I don’t even think they was fully even listening to what was being said, didn’t even understand a lot of the language back then. It was so new to them. So it wasn’t like we had fear. We was bold and militant like that.
Brand Nubian is considered the “thinking man’s” rap group. Are you constantly thinking about the message in the lyrics?
J: No. Sometimes we’re rapping about rapping [laughs]. But sometimes the beat will tell you, “Yo, this sounds like a story.”
P: It just depends on your attitude. If I just got big check from Elektra for $60,000, I’m feeling good. I’m thinking about partying a little bit. I got money on my mind. We’re the same as everybody else. We’re street dudes. We all got felony records. We all been in the street. But we was raised with a conscience.
A lot of people say it’s hypocritical, but nobody lives one certain way. We like to party. We like to drop science. We like to smoke. It’s not contradicting, it’s just another added facet to our lives.
What inspires you to write?
P: It’s just the love for it. Something that’s embedded in you, like, what makes me want to have sex? [laughs] It’s a good feeling that’s never going to die. When it’s something that you love, it will always remain. It just burns in you.
J: I could get in the mood for some sex now. But I can’t necessarily be inspired to write some profound shit without some sort of source of inspiration. That’s me, personally.
P: But, what makes you keep that spark?
J: I’m just saying it doesn’t happen every day for me. Some people write rhymes every day. I don’t write rhymes every day. I write rhymes when I’m inspired. I make beats when I’m inspired, but I don’t do it every day. But some people write rhymes every day. Some people f#@% every day.
P: I don’t write rhymes every day.
J: Yeah. I’ll leave it at that. [laughs]
What artists inspire Brand Nubian?
J: 2 Chainz got a good album. I got Rick Ross’ album. Nas got a dope album. But then I’m rocking Immortal Technique’s The Martyr. That’s f#$king crazy right there. You might be like, “2 Chainz? Rick Ross?” That doesn’t sound like something Brand Nubian would listen to but there’s a balance. Good music is good music. You don’t have to 100 percent agree with a motherf**ker’s message to initiate the music. I might not agree with somebody’s lifestyle but if they make good music, they just make good music.Do I f#$% with Elton John’s lifestyle? No. But he can make some good songs.
P: Jay, you know what kind of music I keep in my sh!#.
J: Yeah, he got that old school sh!# up in his joint. You get in his ride too late, you might fall asleep
P: I do listen to rap joints. I’m a classical man, I like classic stuff. I’ll listen to X-Clan, Wu-Tang or whatever’s good. I was into music before rap came along. That’s what made me get into the music like Parliament, Funkadelic; I would have been a bass player if rap wouldn’t have never of come along.
Grand Puba, the 20th anniversary of your solo “Reel to Reel” is next month. How does that feel?
J: He’s like, “Oh word?” [laughs]
P: We’re not where we want to be right now in society. It did some good but at the end of the day, it’s the struggle that I’m more focused on. I definitely appreciate when people come up to me on the street. I get a lot of love. If that was pay, I’d be a rich man.
Besides the fans, what are some of Brand Nubian’s career highlights?
P: Traveling the world. Seeing countries. I get paid to do it and have fun while you’re doing it. That’s got to be it for me.
J: For me, some of the surrealness is being friends with people that I looked up to when I was coming up. I remember we did a show one time at Syracuse University, it was for their homecoming. Run-D.M.C. was the headliner, but we were so poppin’ at the time that Run-D.M.C. was like, “You know what? Y’all go on last.” And it was just like, “Wow! Run-D.M.C. just let us close out the show. “That’s surreal right there. That was crazy ‘cause they proceeded to f**king murder the f**king thing when they got on. They taught us a lesson.
How did Brand Nubian change the face of hip-hop?
P: Swag. We was conscious. We was righteous, but we had mad swag as well. We didn’t just bring the consciousness to another level. We brought how you flow, how you dress. We just stunned the game. They wasn’t ready for us. Like, here goes some conscious brothers but they still fly.
J: What was really unique about us was up until that point people in a group together used to rhyme the same. When we came out it was three distinct voices with three distinct styles and that was some other shit. We came out, that’s how we changed the game. We let people be individuals within a group. That was the precursor to Wu-Tang Clan.
All three members of Brand Nubian have done solo projects. What keeps the trio coming back together?
P: It’s a family thing. It’s forever. Even when we do things apart, we still do shows together.
J: It’s like scientifically… Brand Nubian is like the big mass in the solar system and you can’t escape its gravity. It’s too big. It keeps you in rotation. So you can circle around the mother#%r, individually, but gravity’s not going to let you get outside of that. We keep coming back.
What does the future hold for Brand Nubian?
P: Well sad to say the message is still the same and it’s always going to be the same ‘til we get out these conditions. That’s why people still listen to our music today. I’m not into doing albums just to be making records. I don’t like wasting lines. We’re not thirsty out here chasing the dollar, that’s not why we go into this.
So when people ask you why you got into rapping, you say…
J: For the love.
P: The l-o-v-e. The world is gonna know my name [laughs].
Brand Nubian is just one of the acts performing at the 6th Annual Restoration Rocks free music festival in Brooklyn, NY on October 6 at 12P EST. The legendary rappers will be joined by MC Lyte, jessica Care Moore, Martin Luther and Maimouna Youssef. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION