by David Ma
Sadat X, Grand Puba, DJ Alamo, and Lord Jamar, collectively known as Brand Nubian, will be releasing a new LP entitled Fire in the Hole later this year. Fourteen years since their first record, All For One, the likeminded New Yorkers’ music still reflects a vigilance for politics and a hunger for success. “We’ve never been apart mentally — this isn’t a reunion album,” claims Grand Puba. “This is just a progression of our growth process.”
“Our music is just a reflection of the world around us,” proclaims Sadat X. “What we see, feel, and live.” Therefore, the collective’s music, in retrospect, could also be considered a musical timeline for politics, news, events, and, of course, hip-hop itself. From the city of New York on September 11th to hip-hop’s golden era, Brand Nubian not only echoed it, but also ultimately lived it.
“We’ve been through a lot… Politically, times are tough right now, and musically, well, we’re just glad to have fans that are appreciative and stuck by us — then and now,” reflects Grand Puba.
What’s changed since Brand Nubian’s debut?
Grand Puba: Nothing. It’s too hard to compare!
Sadat X: It is hard. I mean, every album is an identity in its own time — the people are the same, but the time and energy is different. Every album of ours is a reflection of the times, so they have to be different in some way.
Grand Puba: Yeah, I mean, the first album was good — but you’ll never be able to recapture that. I honestly think that through the years, we made albums that were better and some were worse — but all were different. It’s basically about the time we got caught up in and the influences which made us think what we thought, and do what we did. Does that make sense?
Yeah, it definitely does. Speaking of the times making you do what you do — what are your thoughts on the current times and, moreover, the current politics surrounding you?
Sadat X: We don’t fuck with Bush! Hahaha! That pretty much says it all.
Lord Jamar: Not in any time frame [laughs]. Not the first Bush and not this Bush.
Grand Puba: Times are tough right now, man.
Well, how has current music been affected by the times? Not necessarily hip-hop, but just music in general?
Grand Puba: Recent music is definitely getting more political. At least it seems that way. That’s probably just a reflection of the fucked up times as well. If things are all good then people wouldn’t give a fuck or get motivated to record some politically charged shit.
Sadat X: On a different angle, times change and with that, technology keeps getting better and better. People can do almost anything musically straight from their homes now! But that doesn’t mean the skill level is getting better! As far as rapping goes, times advance and things will come back again. If it’s bad, it’ll get better and so on.
Touching on what Sadat said about technology and the progression of musical equipment, Jamar, what equipment did you use to produce through the years, all the way up to Fire in the Hole? What’s changed?
Lord Jamar: Through the years? I don’t remember, man! I can tell you that I’ve always kept things simple. Right now, I use an MPC3000 and Pro Tools. I also fuck with the Trinity rack. Keep things simple, man. That’s my biggest asset.
Music constantly moves in different directions — so what direction do you see hip-hop going towards?
Grand Puba: It’s hard, man. I think it just depends what’s going on in society at the time. Bush might steal the election again! If that happens, that might arouse some sort anger in the masses, which will cause a more political climate…which will cause more political music to be made. That’s what I think.
Sadat X: Yeah, I feel the same. I mean, it all depends — if everything is going well and it appears that everyone is making money and everything is going great, and that there is no wars and shit — music will reflect that. If things are fucked up, like Puba said, music will reflect that also.
Lord Jamar: Yeah, I don’t know. I hope music will get better. Haha!
What was it about the current time that made you guys get back in the studio?
Grand Puba: Nothing specifically. This isn’t a reunion album. We were never apart. We’ve been doing this since the ’90s — and this is mainly a continuation of our growing process.
Lord Jamar: Yeah, it wasn’t any one thing that made us do this again. The time was just right- know what I’m saying?
Since you’ve obviously been doing this for a minute now, what’s changed on the business end of making music?
Sadat X: Well, more money and more fans! Haha!
Grand Puba: Things are more physical. We’ve been traveling a lot more — hustling basically. But the music industry is still shady as fuck! I mean we knew it coming in, but to see it and witness it and see how it’s done — gives you new perspective, man.
Lord Jamar: ManÉall across the board — it’s a shady business!”
Grand Puba: I know everyone says that but for real — it’s all fake smiles and robberies.
Being New Yorkers, what new perspectives have you guys gained, and what have you observed since September 11th?
Grand Puba: Life seems more difficult. Airports, security, safety — all that stuff. It’s cool though, I’m not complaining. It’s just all changed.
Sadat X: For me, I’ve noticed that the average person in New York doesn’t walk around nervous. If you walk by Ground Zero, you’ll feel like it won’t happen again because it was so huge! I mean, terrorism will still go on, but 9/11 was so fucking huge — you can’t imagine anything like it again.
Lord Jamar: Yeah. Walking by Ground Zero makes you think, this shit’s for real.
Grand Puba: I mean, no matter how hard the media makes you think something might happen again, it’s hard to think something of that caliber can happen. I’m not saying it can’t, but the destruction is so fucking overwhelming in New York, it seems like, well, they can’t do it again.
Sadat X: Being a New Yorker, I can say that New York ignores the fear that the media tries to pump into people’s brains. That’s for sure.
You guys are one of the few groups whose longevity has sustained you through some political times. Speaking of living through different eras, and switching to a lighter topic: hip-hop’s golden age. You guys are synonymous with it. What do you think of that term now? What did that time mean to you? What are your thoughts on the era in general?
Grand Puba: Whatever you call it it’s cool — golden age this and golden age that doesn’t put food on our table, know what I mean? It’s just golden for the record company! Ha!
Sadat X: Ha! Definitely! On a different level though, it’s cool to be a part of something that is considered good and positive. Hip-hop was definitely cool during that time and we’re glad to have contributed — a lot of times people take the “g” off of “golden” and label us as the Olden Age. Like we’re too old school or something. I respect what the terms means and am glad that we’re a part of it for sure.
Grand Puba: Yeah, don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and we’re proud, but some act like we’re the Golden Girls or something, hahaha! Just don’t be trying to pigeonhole us and shit.
Lord Jamar: We ain’t the Golden Girls! [laughs]
Who from this era do you guys listen to or admire?
Lord Jamar: I admire anyone who makes hot shit and doesn’t try to copy the next man. I mean, I guess I would have to say some of my favorite producers have to be Dr. Dre and Premier. I hear beats all the time that I like, but I usually don’t know who it is — a good beat’s a good beat!
Grand Puba: Yeah, everybody who puts out dope shit!
Sadat X: For me, Slick Rick, Public Enemy, Rakim, and Melly Mel all put it down.
Lord Jamar: Biz Mark!
Grand Puba: Whoever added true quality to the game.
What about current artists? Do you guys even still check for new hip-hop?
Lord Jamar: Yeah. I mean, I think Kanye is doing some hot shit right now.
Sadat X: It doesn’t matter if it’s new school or old school — if it’s dope, it’s dope.
Lord Jamar: Yeah, people are always comparing — I mean, for me, “old school” was before records were even being made — when motherfuckers would be doing their shit on the street corners, painting, rapping, or whatever.
Grand Puba: Yeah, a lot of people categorize us as old school or whatever, but I think we’re somewhere in the middle.
Thanks for your time; it was a pleasure. Got any last thoughts for Wax Poetics readers?
Grand Puba: Fire in the hole!!!
Lord Jamar: Keep on listening. Whether you make music or not, just have fun in what you do — whatever it is.
Sadat X: Check us on tour — we want to see our fan’s faces.
Grand Puba: Live for yourself and love what you do. Thank you, Dave, and thanks to Wax Poetics for having us. Peace.
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