20 Years Ago Grand Puba & Brand Nubian Reunited And Put Egos Aside (Video)
The late 1990s marked a wind of change for Hip-Hop. Radio was changing, video platforms were evolving, and the music industry, especially for Rap, music was scaling upwards, fast. The genre surpassed Country music in sales for the first time in 1998. It was suddenly common to see music videos from Tupac or DMX on MTV’s countdown show TRL and witness Lauryn Hill, Snoop Dogg, and Master P further their ascent into the mainstream. However, while Rap stars were pushing through new doors, not everybody was getting into the building.
During this period, some of the most celebrated Hip-Hop artists of the last decade suffered, as covered in a TBD video that examines Nas’ It Was Written and De La Soul’s Stakes Is High releasing on the same day. Fans felt the results. A Tribe Called Quest disbanded, as did Organized Konfusion. The Pharcyde fractured. Too Short announced his (short-lived) retirement. Important voices such as Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Salt-N-Pepa, Whodini, and Dana Dane released swan song albums, before moving into touring. Risk-taking independent labels were acquired by majors; others closed up shop altogether. Some artists transitioned, and others struggled. Brand Nubian was poised to endure the late ’90s changing of the guard and did so through adapting while staying true.
Brand Nubian formed in 1988 with former Masters Of Ceremony member Grand Puba as well as Lord Jamar, Sadat X, and DJ Alamo. Their group name was derived from their “brand new” approach to MCing with nuanced rhyme styles rooted in their 5 Percent Nation of Gods & Earths edicts. When they released their debut LP One For All on Elektra Records in 1990, the production, an ensemble between the group, Dante Ross and The Stimulated Dummies, and Skeff Anselm, as filled with ’70s Funk, Soul, R&B, and some Pop. Their braggadocio rhymes counterbalanced pro-Black messages and calls for self-awareness. The Elektra Records album earned the group five mics in The Source at a time when the gesture meant the most for Heads.
However, Brand Nubian’s party did not last long. Following reported infighting about the group’s direction, Grand Puba and Alamo left Brand Nubian. Jamar, Sadat and DJ Sincere kept things going and found impressive chart success with 1993’s In God We Trust and 1994’s Everything Is Everything. Meanwhile, Puba Maxwell found the solo pathway he desired in two commercially and critically successful LPs. However, for fans of both entities, the sum still seemed greater than the parts. Brand Nu’ recorded all together again on Sadat X’s 1996 “The Lump Lump (Remix).” At a time when Hip-Hop Heads could feel the changes in the air, there was a fever pitch call for a Brand Nubian reunion.
On September 29, 1998, Brand Nu’ fans’ wish was granted, care of The Foundation. The founding foursome had an updated sound from some of the best producers in the business including DJ Premier, and D.I.T.C.’s Diamond D, Buckwild, and Lord Finesse. Puba also returned to the boards of his group, after Jamar held things down on the previous LP.”Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” would be the vessel that told the world Brand Nubian was back when the game needed them, and the quartet still had messages for the mind.
Musically, “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” had three cautionary tales from Grand Puba, Sadat X, and Lord Jamar, respectively. Grand Puba initially discusses dealing with a person who believes Puba’s stature as an MC can afford him to lend some quick cash. Dotty X’s details a female who thrives on getting attention from men. Lastly, Jamar’s verse talks about a young Hip-Hop artist who receives airplay and gets caught up in the lifestyle of overnight celebrity without staying on his craft. The corresponding video was simple, showing three MCs enjoying doing the things that made them Rap royalty. Jamar rocks a dead prez shirt, the group he was mentoring at the time, soon to make their own splash. The verses are also lightly dramatized in montages. These survivors of Hip-Hop had advice for all those coming up too fast.
The single was an important and timely reminder that Conscious Rap could win, even if tapping into the prevailing playbook. Produced by Chris “CL” Liggio, the song reworked Jean Carn’s 1978 record of the same name. The approach of re-purposing choruses and beats to ’70s and ’80s music was in vogue at the time, thanks to Puff Daddy, Naughty By Nature, Lil’ Kim, and others.
Hip-Hop music is often for the party, where all messages of positivity and fun are welcome. Brand Nubian made a didactic song without being preachy. It was a message Hip-Hop needed then, now, and always.