After the success of their debut album (both critically and commercially) One For All, Brand Nubian’s chief emcee, Grand Puba Maxwell left the group to pursue his solo career. This left Sadat (Derek) X and Lord Jamar to pick up the pieces and carry on the Brand Nubian name. The duo would bring in DJ Sincere (since Alamo left with Puba) and kick off ’93 with their sophomore effort In God We Trust.
In God We Trust would be drenched with 5 percent doctrine and black militant themes, with Brand Nubian providing the majority of the production (two songs were produced by outside parties). The album didn’t move as many units as it predecessor but it did receive pretty solid reviews upon its release.
Lets give her a listen and see how the Now Rule brothers fare without their lead emcee.
Allah U Akbar – Allah U Akbar (or Allahu Akbar) is an Islamic phrase that means “God is greater” or “God is greatest”. This opening song’s backdrop is built around a vocal sample of a man singing that phrase over hard drums and a bouncy bass line, as Sadat and Jamar each drop dope verses over it.
Ain’t No Mystery – Over a simple but effective backdrop built around a Wilson Pickett loop, Sadat and Jamar spit some of their 5 percent doctrine as they proclaim the black man as God (or god?) and take shots at the Christian doctrine as well. I don’t agree with most of their theories on this one, but I love Sadat’s line “whose the clown that didn’t paint Jesus brown?”. Dope.
Meaning Of The 5% – This interlude takes a portion of a sermon from Louis Farrakhan that explains the basic foundation of the 5 Percent doctrine. I love the epic instrumental (which is built around a loop from Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man Soundtrack) placed underneath it.
Pass The Gat – Sadat X and Lord Jamar are ready to spark the revolution, spitting hard and sharp bars over this dark and rough backdrop. I love the saxophone loop and the vocal sample on the hook (“Gimme the gat so I can smoke this muthafucka”…is that from Boyz N The Hood?). As the kids say, this one goes hard.
Black Star Line – This one is sort of an ode to (and named after) Marcus Garvey’s short-lived steamship line that was designed to transport blacks back to Africa, as well as provide a means for them to exchange goods in services in the early 1900’s. There’s your history lesson for the day. As far as the song goes, if there was one song that should have been left off the album, this is the one. I never cared much for the verses, Redd Foxx’s chanting or the boring instrumental.
Allah And Justice – Over a hand clap and a funky piano loop, Sadat and Jamar semi sing some of the words from Abdul Noor’s book The Supreme Understanding: The Teaching of Islam in North America. Not a great song, and even if you don’t agree with (or quite understand) Brand Nubian’s religious rhetoric, you’ll enjoy the funky instrumental.
The Godz… – The eerie loop and pulsating bass line give the backdrop a dusty and dark feel, as Lord Jamar and Sadat X flex all over it. After the first verse, Jamar does a pretty good Snoop Dogg impersonation (was he taking a shot?), but Sadat steals the show with his last verse. This one sounds better today than it did 20 plus years ago.
The Travel Jam – On this one the duo discuss the preparation and adventures that take place when they travel around the world to perform. I actually got a chance to watch Brand Nubian perform at a show a few years ago, and it was pretty bad, and not the bad that means good. They showed up over an hour late, none of them (including Puba, who was with them) seemed to be prepared or focused on their performance, and they kept checking their cellphones the whole time, like a text, Facebook post or Instagram pic couldn’t wait to be read later. It was really bad, but it was free, so I guess I can’t complain that much. Back to song: after “Black Star Line” this is my least favorite song on In God We Trust.
Brand Nubian Rock The Set – Brand Nubian hooks up and rocks over the same Cal Tjader loop Naughty By Nature used for “Pin The Tail On The Donkey”, and I must say, I prefer Kay Gee’s interpretation to BN’s. Even though the song is only average, it was still nice to hear Jamar and Sadat let their hair down without any true topic and just spit bars (I still chuckle when I hear Sadat’s line “the first round pick, why’d the Knicks trade Rod Strick?” You youngins probably have no idea what that means. For today’s episode of Kids Korner google: Rod Strickland).
Love Me Or Leave Me Alone – This was the second single released from In God We Trust. Over a beautiful, almost heavenly backdrop, the duo give the women of their affection the ultimatum posed in the song title, and both provide some pretty entertaining lines along the way. Now this is how a hip-hop love song is supposed to be done. Classic.
Steal Ya’ Ho – The Nubian brothers use the same Five Stairsteps loop used on Positive K’s “A Flower Grows In Brooklyn” a few months prior. After Lord Jamar slips and slides all over the track with slick lyrics and a smooth delivery (Am I the only one that finds it weird and slightly ironic, that the black militant 5 percenter, Lord Jamar first, brags about Sincere’s sexual stamina, and secondly, credits the Irish beer Guinness Stout, for his DJ’s ability to last long while in the sack with the ladies? Hmm…), Sadat hits it second with his unorthodox off beat flow, and is just as effective as his partner. These dudes are usually super serious, so it’s a nice change of pace to see them do a fun record like this.
Steady Bootleggin’ – Once upon a time, before the internet and downloads ruled the land, cassette tapes and cds (and vinyl) were the standard forms of music media. I personally still prefer cds over iTunes purchases, because I read liner notes and appreciate cover art work, and it just feels good to hold a physical copy of an album in my hand, dammit. But with these old school forms of media came the threat of people being able to bootleg your music (meaning make an unauthorized and usually less than quality copy of an album to sell without the artist or record label knowing). Brand Nubian addresses that issue on this song in great detail (Sadat even questions if the record companies are involved) and let the culprits know to prepare for a beatdown if they ever catch them selling their shit.
Black And Blue – Over a stripped down but dope backdrop, Sadat and Jamar each spit a verse about a crooked black cop whose crookiness they deem worthy of a beat down, giving double meaning to the song title. This one sounds just as dope today as it did back then.
Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down – Sadat X and Lord Jamar use this lead single to let those who think they’re “two soft new jacks” and that because Puba left the group the “Nubian reign” is over, to guess again. This is one of two songs on In God We Trust that was not produced by Brand Nubian, as Diamond D gets the production credit for this one. The album version uses a different Lou Donaldson loop than the single version (both produced by Diamond D), and I prefer the single’s instrumental over the album’s. I always thought it was strange that this was placed at the end of the album. Regardless, this is still a hip-hop classic.
Grand Puba leaving Brand Nubian might have been the best thing that ever happen to Lord Jamar and Sadat X’s emcee careers. On One For All, Puba’s witty bars and polished flow dominated the album (hell, the second half of the album was basically a Puba solo project), leaving his partners in rhyme as an after thought in the background. In Puba’s absence, Jamar and Sadat are forced to step up, and they show and prove that they are more than capable of holding down an album without the Grand man. Speaking of the Grand man, In God We Trust has a much more serious tone without him, as the duo had a lot of topics to address and don’t waste too many verses on boasting and nonsense. Not only is the duo’s lyrical output impressive but their dusty brand of boom-bap backdrops are just as quality. Pound for pound, In God We Trust is arguably a stronger album than their debut, and an underappreciated classic from one hip-hop’s most underappreciated groups.