The nineties was an interesting and innovative time for hip-hop. The late eighties saw both the gangsta and pro-black/conscious rap sub genres develop and fully take shape as the new decade begin. While both the gangsta and conscious movements were in full effect, thanks to groups like De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, hip-hop begin to tap into new alternative territory that fused jazz loops with hard beats that these new age emcees used as backdrops to touch on the reality of the listeners who were neither gangsta or militant, but just your average Tyrone living a normal life and in love with hip-hop. As Q-Tip once so elegantly put it:”saying this and that, cause this and that was missing” from hip-hop.
Loosely connected to the Native Posse, Brand Nubian arrived on the hip-hop scene in 1990, mixing some of the alternative sensibilities of De La and ATCQ with some of the black militant attributes of Public Enemy and Ice Cube (post NWA but pre Lethal Injection era). Lead emcee Grand Puba, who had mild success in the eighties with a short-lived rap group called Masters Of Ceremony (which is another album I need to track down eventually), pulled together a few of his aspiring emcee cronies from his stomping ground (New Rochelle, NY, better known to Brand Nubian fans as Now Rule), Sadat X (or Derrick X), Lord Jamar, and deejay DJ Alamo to round out the group. They would eventually score a deal with Elektra and dropped their debut album One For All.
One For All would go on to receive heaps of critical acclaim and is only 1 of 15 albums to receive the once highly coveted 5 mic rating from the The Source upon its initial release, which any real hip-hop head from the nineties (or anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis) knows gave an artist undeniable street cred. Unfortunately for east coast hip-hop artists in the early nineties, street cred didn’t translate into great record sale as was the case for One For All.
But if I only reviewed albums with gold certs or higher this blog probably wouldn’t exist.
One For All – This was the third and final single released from the album. Over a simple laid back instrumental, Grand Puba bats first, and in true Puba fashion, he effortlessly knocks it out the park. Sadat X and Lord Jamar bat second and third respectively, and both turn in solid verses, but never quite reach the bar that Grand Puba sets so high leading off. Great start to the album.
Feels So Good – I first bought One For All on cassette back in the day and this song wasn’t included on that format. This is one of two bonus songs only included on the cd format of One For All. Since buying the cd I’ve listen to this song a few times and never really cared for it, until today. No, it’s not essential to One For All or anything, but the instrumental that once felt way too whimsical has now moved to at least a few feet above tolerable.
Concerto In X Minor – I’ve always been a fan of Sadat’s unorthodox style of rhyming. He’s often overlooked, which is understandable when you’re walking in the shadows of a lyrical talent such as Grand Puba, but he’s no slouch on the mic. Sadat goes for dolo using this joint to address a few of the injustices in the black community, and does a pretty decent job in the process. By the way, I love the song title.
Ragtime – This one has a raw cipher feel to it. Each emcee gets a verse to spit over Skeff Anselm’s funky instrumental and of course Puba walks away with another one.
To The Right – Back in the day this was one of my least favorite songs on One For All. Not much has changed today. All three emcees turn in solid performances, my issue with this song is the boring instrumental.
Dance To My Ministry – The Nubian’s sample the drums and horns from Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Bad Tune” for the musical backdrop on this Lord Jamar solo joint. Puba starts this one-off by instructing Jamar to start the revolution, which Jamar apparently interpreted as spit a bunch of 5 percent lessons and terminology, as that is what he spends the majority of his two verses doing. Jamar does a serviceable job on the mic, but the true star on this one is the sick instrumental.
Drop The Bomb – I almost forgot about this one. I think I might actually like this one less than “To The Right”. The three emcees mission on this one is to drop the bomb “on the caveman crew” aka the devil, but bka the white man. Not literally bomb him like Hiroshima, but verbally call him out for the racial injustices he is responsible for. Similar to “To The Right” my issue with this one is the instrumental, which, ironically, sounds similar to the instrumental used on “To The Right”. Go figure.
Wake Up (Stimulated Dummies Mix) – Puba turns in his first solo joint (of many more to come) of the evening, beckoning all black men to awake from their mentally sleeping state. The “Reprise In the Sunshine” mix of this song (which appears a little later in the sequencing) was also the second single released from the album, and the much more favorable version of the two, in my opinion.
Step To The Rear – The Stimulated Dummies provide a laid back instrumental that Grand Puba quietly sneaks up on before he smoothly devours it. I still chuckle every time I hear Puba’s boast of knowing he was “dope ever since he was semen…swinging in his daddy’s big nuts”. This song just reminds me how grossly underrated Grand Puba is as an emcee.
Slow Down – This was the second single released from the album and arguably my favorite Brand Nubian song of all time. The Nub’s sample some Kool & The Gang, Funkadelic, and for s & g, throw in a vocal soundbite from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians eighties hit “What I Am” for the backdrop, as they send a word of caution to the ladies to avoid living life in the fast lane (i.e. smoking crack and whoring). For the first time of the evening all three emcees turn in equally potent verses. This is classic hip-hop, son.
Try To Do Me – Puba makes a
embarrassing blatant attempt to reel in the heel wearing population that might prefer their hip-hop diluted with a little R&B flavor. Not only does this song suck but it doesn’t even remotely mesh with the rest of One For All up to this point. Wisely, Sadat and Jamar chose to sit this one out.
Who Can Get Busy Like This Man – Over a sick laid back reggae tinged instrumental Puba rips yet another solo track. Speaking of solo, the second half of One For All is starting to sound like a Grand Puba project.
Grand Puba, Positive And L.G. – If there was a Grammy for most generic song title, this would have been a strong contender in 1990. Puba and Positive “I Got A Man” K tag team the mic and sound okay in the process, but the instrumental is too stale to even care. Even though Brand Nubian is credited for producing this one, Puba has gone on record as giving L.G. credit for producing this instrumental, which makes sense considering the song title and all. I’m sure L.G. is okay with not getting credit for this garbage.
Brand Nubian – This was also not included on the cassette version of the album. Puba sounds kind of sloppy during his verse and overall the song comes across as an incomplete thought, which may be why they decided to leave it off the original release.
Wake Up (Reprise In The Sunshine) – Same lyrics as the Stimulated Dummies mix, only with a better instrumental that samples Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Another Day” and Roy Ayers’ classic “Sunshine. Classic.
Dedications – Grand Puba dominated the second half of One For All, so it’s only fitting that he closes the show by himself as well, right? What starts out as Puba shouting out his favorite emcees in the game, quickly turns into Puba dropping random rhymes about skinz and any other random crap that comes to his mind, before bringing things full circle and reminding the listener what his original objective was for this song. The execution wasn’t great, but it’s always a pleasure to hear the Grand Puba do his thing on the mic. Side note: The vocal sample Tupac used for the hook on “Old School” from Me Against The World can be found on this song.
The cassette I bought and wore out back in the day didn’t include “Feels So Good” or “Brand Nubian”; and while neither song is outright terrible, they’re not essential to the whole One For All experience either. On the other hand, a few of the original songs from the cassette version of One For All should have been left on the cutting room floor (i.e. The Stimulated Dummies Mix of “Wake Up”, “Try To Do Me”, and “Grand Puba,Positive, And L.G.”), but there are enough enjoyable songs on One For All to help lessen the sting of these few iniquities. All in All, One For All holds up pretty well today.
Did The Source Get It Right? I might catch some flack on this one, but that’s a negative. The sting of the few iniquities mentioned above may have been lessened, but the stinger still remains. One For All is a good album, but falls a few inches short of reaching the great status.