New York’s Masters of Ceremony first drew attention with the single “Cracked Out,” an anti-drug blast set to an “Atomic Dog”-style track. Led by the high-pitched Grand Puba (Maxwell Dixon), the trio explored the intersection of raggamuffin styles with more traditional breakbeat-based hip-hop, landing solid punches with “Sexy,” “Master Move” and “One to the Knot.” But it was Grand Puba’s next group that would significantly influence the early ’90s New York sound.
The masterfully loose rhyme styles of Lord Jamar and especially the party-ready Puba and Derek X, plus the loop-and-go freedom of sampling technology define the Brand Nubian sound, attaching it to Derek X’s anti-racist activism (in the wake of the Bensonhurst killing of Yusuf Hawkins) and the crew’s controversial adherence to 5% Nation (a sectarian branch of the Nation of Islam) orthodoxy. The endlessly sampled One for All is a high point of East Coast hip-hop; see the exciting “All for One,” “Concerto in X Minor,” “Step to the Rear,” “Wake Up” and “Who Can Get Busy Like This Man.” But it’s also controversial for its religious radicalism, most evident on “Drop the Bomb.” Brand Nubian boldly transforms Edie Brickell’s hippy-chick music into a groove masterpiece on “Slow Down,” a hypocritical dose of gender politics (“A 40 and a blunt/That’s all she really wants”). The album’s most innocuous-seeming cut — Grand Puba’s unlistenable stab at new jack swing, “Try to Do Me” — is perhaps its most prescient. Brand Nubian’s marriage of party groove and polemical grit could not last.
After Puba’s departure for a solo career, New Rochelle natives Sadat X (the former Derek X) and Lord Jamar, joined by DJ Sincere, stepped decidedly to the right on the heavier In God We Trust. Musically more textured and moody, it elaborates on their spiritual beliefs (in the Minister Farrakhan speech of “Meaning of the 5%” as well as “Ain’t No Mystery” and “Allah and Justice”) and flirts with images of street violence (“Pass the Gat,” the homophobic “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down”). Edgy and unyielding.
Everything Is Everything caught the group behind the curve, however, tritely slowing down the tempos to a drive-by crawl and employing Dr. Dre-like dramatics. The only tracks that stand out are the freestyle session, “Straight off da Head,” the old-school Average White Band bounce of “Word Is Bond” and the solemn reworking of Simply Red’s “Hold On.”
On his own, Grand Puba tries to keep the party live. With the exception of the title track, “Ya Know How It Goes” and “Soul Controller,” Reel to Reel is generally light, resting on Puba’s ample reputation more than any great expense of new effort. But 2000 may disclose his ultimate intentions, as it contains his half-serious flirtation with R&B crooning.
Sadat X released his first solo album in the summer of 1996.