BRAND NUBIAN, One For All
Melody Maker, December 1990.
by Simon Reynolds
Nubian are disciples of the Five Percent Nation. This increasingly
influential Afro-American Muslim sect believes that the black man is God
and the white man is the Devil. Like other Five Percent rappers (Poor
Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Lakim Shabazz), Brand Nubian are into
“knowledge” and “holy intellect” and have all been “reborn as a god”.
refers to the idea of Egypt and Mesopotamia as the motherland, the
cradle of civilization, where “Asiatic” blacks invented mathematics and
cosmology. On the sleeve, they pay tribute to the “Original black
mentality which manifestated [sic] all things in existence.”
this is interesting, controversial and guaranteed to get nervous whitey
in a lather. Musically it would seem to promise an insurgent onslaught
of righteous wrath. But paradoxically, on a sonic level, Brand Nubian
aren’t militant but dormant. The Nubian sound is an ambling, almost
ambient blur of smooth rhymes and feel-good samples: warm, purring
electric organs, as relaxing as mainling Ovaltine; mid-pace Meters-type
beats; mellow-yellow funk guitar licks. “Wake Up” might be intended to
incite ire and raise consciousness, but its effect is soporific. “Feels
So Good” feels too good; it’s muted and Muzaky, like a locked groove of Beggar & Co or some similar Brit-funk bantamweight.
Nubian’s downfall (for me, at least) is their “positive attitude”.
Confident in their status as the elect, the chosen Five Percent of “poor
righteous teachers”, Brand Nubian don’t partake of the contagious
paranoia of a Public Enemy. The LP isn’t all laidback, soothing,
sleepy-time stuff, however. The go-go inflected “Drop the Bomb” simmers
nicely and its military counter-rhythms are the closest One For All
gets to militancy. And “Grand Puba, Positive and L.G.” samples the
bassline of Steve Arrington’s brilliant techno-funk classic “Nobody Can
Be You But You”.
But in the main, what we have here
aren’t Niggers With Attitude, but Afro-Americans With Lassitude. NWA and
the ghetto/gangster rappers have taken white society’s negative
stereotypes of black youth and turned them to their own end, as if to
say, “Hey, whitey, your worst fears have come true.” Whereas Brand
Nubian, instead of defining themselves in terms of the damage down to
them by the system, have chosen a positive identity. Unfortunately,
because of this, their music just communicates good vibes and
self-assurance. They should rename themselves Bland Nubian.