On "The Return," the single from Brand Nubian's latest disc Foundation, Lord Jamar proudly proclaims, You ain't heard us all together in several years/it's like a federal crime, you had to settle for rhymes that lacked substance/we got that in abundance/pro-Black and you know that." Produced by DJ Premier, this appropriately titled comeback track perfectly captures the reunion of one of hip-hop's most beloved groups.
As their names--Puba, Lord Jamar, Sadat X and Alamo--are turntable scratched Prime style from an array of their old recordings and grafted onto a fresh new track, one can't help but be thrilled. Indeed, these hip-hop brothers from another mother are "all for one" once again.
"Our personal foundation comes straight from the heart," says Grand Puba. "Our feelings for the rap game and for each other have been the same from day one. Right now we just want to show and prove that music is as vital today as It was the first time around. With Foundation we're displaying our maturity, but our message hasn't changed since the beginning."
For a group like Brand Nubian, musical diversity has always been a part of their essence. In other words, while the raw underground beats are true to their beatbox hearts, Brand Nubian are always able to be commercial without selling their souls. On the first radio single "Don't Let It Go To Your Head," producer Chris Liggio uses a mellowrare groove to create the laid-back track, while each Nubian drops butter lyrics directed at those who be ego trippin' through life. From brothers profiling at the bar to tight miniskirted sisters counting on their looks to take them far, Brand Nubian drops lyrical jewels upon their stubborn heads. "Although we worked with a few under-ground masters like Lord Finesse or Buckwild," says Alamo, "Chris Liggio is able to make radio songs that still have an edge to them."
Coming back with their self-proclaimed "new millennium" style, the futuristic reggae of the title track is a classic example of Brand Nubian's ability to reflect on their past while still eyeballing the wave of the future. Produced by Boogie Down genius Diamond D., this pro-Black collective lets it be known that when it comes to the rap game there is no time to fool around."Our goal is to bring hip-hop back to its original foundation," says Sadat X. "Back to the days of solid beats, solid without fluff. For us, that knowledge has become part of our own foundation."
Theirs is a foundation that began to flourish years before record contracts and shady dealings, back in the day when this mighty quartet were just a loose group of friends who met on the streets of New Rochelle (or "Straight Outta Now Rule" as Brand Nubian would explain), either rhyming in a cipher or hanging at a local jam. On the bouncy, Puba constructed "Remington Boy's Club," Brand Nubian revisits on record one of the actual hot spots of their teen daze.
"Man, Remington used to be the place to be," recalls Puba." lt was an actual boy's club with basketball courts, ping-pong tables and a weight room. But on the weekend there would be jams. That's where we saw Cold Crush perform for the first time. The sample I used was from one of my favorite songs from that period." In addition, the booming "Let's Dance," which has nothing to do with the David Bowie song, and "Back Up Off The Wall" are both party joints that will have you dancing non-stop, drowning in your own sweat.
Looking back at the beginning of the Brand Nubian legacy, one only has to remember the mesmerizing impact their 1990 debut disc One For All held over rap fans when it first dropped from the hip-hop heavens. "There are many people who still consider it a classic album," says Lord Jamar. "I'm sure there are brothers who are still listening to that record." Indeed, it's still one of the few discs to be rewarded with a prestigious five mics in the pages of The Source magazine.
Although on the surface Brand Nubian appeared to be one of the industry's most popular success stories of their day, underneath there was a storm brewing that eventually fragmented the group into various directions. While Lord Jamar and Sadat X carried on the Brand Nubian name with 1992's In God We Trust and 1994's Everything Is Everything, Grand Puba would release his two solo albums Reel to Reel and 2000. "As the DJ, I worked on everyone's projects," laughs the lanky Alamo, "but I would like to go on the record saying there wasn't any extensive beef between us as a collective. Sure, we had small problems, but have always maintained our friendship."
Nonetheless, that was then and this is now. With Foundation, Brand Nubian proves that there can be second acts in hip-hop lives. And while some might be content to fade away, Brand Nubian is here to stay.