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posted: 10-21-04
interview : jbutters and marcus
 
 
 
 
 
Wednesday, September 18, 2004, the Ottobar, Baltimore, Maryland. The sound of vegetables crunching and footsteps creaking on a wood surfaced floor is the only noise. Not one person speaks in a space full of hungry souls. After a three-hour drive from New York and a two-hour wait inside of a mini-van-everyone, including J-Butters and I, want to go home. It's already 11:30 pm and Brand Nubian's stage time has been pushed back to 12:30 am. The group is ready to perform and hit 95 North.
While the silence of anticipation and hunger fill the room-a delivery of Baltimore's finest corner shop cuisine shows up in brown paper bags. Grand Puba splits his fish and fries with me and I give him an enthusiastic thank you after I realized what had happened…I was sitting in a room breaking bread with parts of my childhood admiration. Grand Puba actually gave me his food and I was seated next to Lord Jamal and Sadat X. The trio begins to laugh at my foolish facial expression and attitude. The room gets lively once everyone starts to fill their belly. Within 10 minutes, the legendary interview begins.

Looking at the fickle rap fans out here now it's almost like you have to win people over again. Do you even want to work to win fans back or do you just want to stay within the fan base that already appreciates you?
Grand Puba: That's the beauty of the game. When it comes to the point where you can't get any new fans that's when it's time to quit.
It's good to have your fan base and all that but you want your music to be accepted by all not just those who already know who you are. That's the whole thing about music, especially if you are making music that's meaningful.
Do you feel like the same type of messages that you used to introduce yourselves will be enough to bring in new fans or do you feel you have to change up the approach?
Grand Puba: You just gotta change the lingo and talk to the people and be amongst the people.
Sadat X: Stay with the times.
Lord Jamar: You gotta be yourself and can't act like just because they are talking about some particular thing and everybody is on some gangsta shit that now all of a sudden you want to be a gangsta. That's phony. People are gonna see right through that. But the way people rhymed when we first came out has advanced to the way people rhyme now so you have to keep up with that type of shit. At the same time be yourself.
The beats have to advance too but at the same time have their own identity.
In what ways do you feel it's been necessary for you to change?
Sadat X: We haven't changed
Lord Jamar: We're not trying to fit in. The more you do something as an artist the better you get at it. So that natural growth is what makes your style change but it's not a conscious "I have to change my shit because this is what's going on." That's not what's going down.
Grand Puba: It's simple. The more you understand what's going on in your surroundings and in society it's gonna change. But it's the same issue and the same problems.
Lord Jamar: Life is the change because everything is always changing. You grow from a boy to a man to a father to a grandfather.
Grand Puba: As long as you got your ear to the street and you still dealing with the same situations the only thing that changes is the lingo. And I'm not gonna say that's not important because when you're dealing with younger seeds you have to identify with them and you have to speak their language.
That's the main difference but shit is still the same.
Your message has always been about upliftment and knowledge of self in order to make a change. Do you feel you achieved the goal of helping people look at life a little bit differently and make some changes in society with your music?
Lord Jamar: Definitely!
Sadat X: Yeah, people run up on [us] all the time like: "when your album came out I was going through this or I was in school or locked up and that got me through it." We definitely achieved the goal.
Lord Jamar: I met someone who said we helped them learn how to read and how they weren't even into reading books until they started listening to our shit.
Word, in the beginning y'all impacted motherfuckers and they didn't even know it. In middle school I thought gold was the shit to wear until y'all put me on the black conscious tip. I didn't know anything about Islam until your first video.
Brother Ali: I became a Muslim after y'all record came out. I wouldn't say solely because of that but it had a lot to do with that shit.
Grand Puba: That's the duty of a civilized person to teach civilization.
In you're first song there are lessons in that shit like when you say 'The maker the owner the cream of the planet earth father of civilization, god of the universe.'
Brother Ali: That's a word for word lesson cut.
That's actually a lesson and that whole tricknology and the devil; that shit click later on in life when someone says it to you.
Looking at that lesson and that song it seemed only natural to put something like that in there but did you consciously come into it saying you wanted to send a certain message?
Grand Puba: That's how I felt at the time that record was made.
Lord Jamar: Which made it thoughtful because you just not gonna throw some shit like "Wake Up" together. It was a thoughtful record but that's what was in his mind.
Grand Puba: I grew up like that.
Define the term 'Brand Nubian' and how you came up with it.
Grand Puba: When we first got together it was a brand new group. Me and Jamar was at the mall coming from class going over towards my way and we went over the bridge by the train station and I looked at Jamar and was like "we got to think of a name man."
Lord Jamar: We said a few different things and Nubian came in and we had different variations of Nubian. Some was corny and some was aight and then it narrowed down to Brand Nubian and a couple others and I dunno but we was just Brand Nu.
Sadat X: Once we said it that was it.
So how did you get on OZ and what brought you into acting?
Lord Jamar: I put myself there really. I wanted to do it and said shit out loud and shit started happening. I was basically able to get up on there. The man directly responsible was Dean Withers who played O'Reiley on OZ.
Are y'all hooking up with any other artists for any upcoming projects?
Sadat X: Yeah, there are a few things. I did a joint with my people Purple City, with my man Agallah and some stuff with Sean Black, and Diamond and AG.
What don't y'all like about hip hop right now?
Grand Puba: I'm gonna tell you like this the game, positive and negative, is still all part of the game and makes it exist. When I hear shit I don't particularly care for it just clicks in my mind that that's part of the game.
Lord Jamar: You need to have something bad to know what's good.
Here's what I wanted to throw out. Cats like Kanye West and Mase coming back are what people are looking at and calling a conscious vibe. I'm looking at cats like y'all and Poor Righteous Teachers as conscious but people today are throwing the same label on these new dudes. Do you think that's a positive thing or do you feel it's just cheesy and corny like it's done to make a couple more dollars?
Grand Puba: Nah, I say it like this: you can't be in the mind of everybody who's making records. Maybe their resources to knowledge are limited. As long as you are speaking from your heart and your experience. They are striving to do something positive. It's not like they saying they gonna blast you and kill your mother, they went away from that and to do that alone means that you're not accepting that that's what you have to do to make it in the game. I give them credit because they chose their own path to go down. If it's not as conscious and as positive as Brand Nubian; then they striving. But it's a lot more conscious than a lot of other shit I'm hearing on the radio.
Lord Jamar: There are different degrees of consciousness and what they are dealing with is kinda a Christian, mainstream positivity, which they aren't talking about killing people and crack and that's positive in itself. Just because there is so much negative that by them just not saying those things it seems like they are being conscious. It's not like they are getting political or thought provoking.
Grand Puba: They conscious of the fact that they aren't gonna spit that bullshit.
Lord Jamar: Then there are different degrees of consciousness and you can go up to a harder level and that's where we come in and dead prez and shit like that.
Also the person that you are has something to do with it too. If you were just a soft regular dude in your everyday life and now all of a sudden you make records people are gonna look up to you. But you still that same soft dude. It's only gonna go but so far. They might like your music but your leadership qualities is limited. Certain people were leaders on the street before they were making records and they'll be leaders afterwards. We are those types of motherfuckers from back in the day when we was leading shit.
So when you get up there it's a little different and that's what I'm not seeing like someone like Chuck D and Rakim; leadership type dudes. Now with the positive music or what they call positive or conscious music - I'm not seeing those leadership personalities.
Word I feel like that too. I guess you can get caught up in the labels, not your own labels but other people calling it whatever and you're like "I know this ain't what it really is." They ain't really doing nothing for me so I don't really see it as that uplifting.
People saying "Jesus Walks" is on the radio and that's cool and all but that ain't the greatest thing someone ever did. To me he's just talking about making a song about Jesus but he ain't really talking about nothing specific. Which is fine, but when you come off like "yo, I can't believe he did that." It's like "come on man that ain't even that original."
Lord Jamar: That track is banging though.
Grand Puba: Yeah, it's really the music.
Sadat X: The game is young man. To these young kids this is what they first hear. They didn't hear Tupac or certain stuff. This is what they hear now. I coach basketball and the kids are sixteen and seventeen years old and when we first came out they was babies. They was like four and five years old so from them I get a lot of 'Yo, my pops knows you' or 'My uncle know you.' I try to introduce some stuff but you gotta bear with it. For them hearing Kanye with "Jesus Walks" that's the first time they are hearing stuff like that so that's their first impression of it. They never heard Tupac or Chuck D.
Grand Puba: They missed that.
That be throwing me because I don't feel like I'm some old dude.
Sadat X: Yeah, yeah!
Grand Puba: I don't feel that way either.
It's like wow.
Sadat X: I be feeling like that too. It makes you think sometimes.
Lord Jamar: That just goes to show that we don't teach people their history.
[Everyone: Yep!]
Lord Jamar: We don't let people know what's going on. I actually taught a hip hop class once a week at my son's school and I gave them motherfuckers history. I was teaching them how to DJ and MC. They was like eleven or twelve years old but you ask them now about who brought this to America and they know about Kool Herc, Cold Crush, Run DMC and all that shit. That's what you gotta do.
Grand Puba: The game is setup and designed like that. You know they gotta take away our history because knowing your history makes you a stronger people and they have to take that away.
Lord Jamar: They are trying to make our whole culture disposable like you just take it use it up and throw it away. Whereas the rock n roll culture; these motherfuckers go fifty or sixty years, until they have one foot in the grave and they can still do concerts. Big shit for a million dollars.
I was reading this cool topic on Okayplayer about being grown and still being hip hop and there are a lot of cats who get to a certain age and be like "is it still cool for me to even like hip hop?" I'm like "you damn well can be a grown man and love hip hop" you know what I'm saying. How is that supposed to change?
Grand Puba: They try to make you feel bad like you need to stop this. I'm like "this is me. I don't wear suits."
Lord Jamar: That's why hip hop's gotta grow with the people that are growing up with it. It's not like you get to a certain age and automatically stop liking it. But you're gonna start going somewhere else when there is nothing that's coming out for you as a grown person. So we gonna have to start making music for the grown folks and stop always catering to the young people. Maybe the older people would buy records if we catered it to them.
Sadat X: Hip hop is still too new to have defining rules.
Lord Jamar: Right, it's the rules you make. Hip hop always boosts up the underdog and that's why it keeps people optimistic. Eminem shouldn't have blown up. He's a dope rapper and I think he's creative. But what I'm saying is - especially in his mind - he is a white boy in a black genre. He was being oppressed in a certain way.
First hip hop came and the average black man was being oppressed and this was his vehicle for him to do his thing in New York. Then the New Yorker rappers were oppressing the west coast rappers and then they blew up. Those motherfuckers oppressed the down south niggas and they fucking blew up. Then the bitches were being oppressed and they blew up for a while. It's whoever gets oppressed for a little while who ends up later on blowing the fuck up.
The white boy was oppressed and now the white boys blow up. Positive shit has been OPPRESSED! And now its time for this shit to blow the fuck back up, 'Fire in the Hole' bitch! That's what the fuck I'm talking about.
I'm telling you that's what hip hop is: it's the voice of the underdog and we're gonna shit on one of these overseas cats and one of them motherfuckers is gonna do something and blow the fuck up because they've been oppressed for a long time and they are trying to get in. Whoever is oppressed in hip hop; they eventually come to the top.
I like what you were saying about making hip hop for grown people. We did an interview with Jazzy Jeff and he was like "think about what you'll be listening to when you're sixty or seventy years old and it's not gonna be no classical shit. I'm gonna be listening to hip hop that I grew up on."
Lord Jamar: Right, but you might not listen to the shit that came out right then. It might be so techno or so out of touch with little twelve year olds talking about their book bags. You fifty or sixty years old and you still like hip hop you don't want to hear a song about your book bag. You thinking about your colostomy bag or some shit.
(laughs) Yeah, I would love for somebody to concentrate on issues older cats go through. But it seems like even people who come back start competing with the younger heads instead of doing their own thing. Maybe that's where people go wrong.
Sadat X: At this point you might not see us on TRL. I don't expect to be on TRL.
Lord Jamar: You have to accept that. I don't expect to get 50 Cent fans, I expect to get Brand Nubian fans and that's all I can expect. And when I try to infiltrate into these others people shit, your gonna confuse your identity.
So how do y'all feel about your kids listening to that kinda stuff. Do you condone your kids listening to G-Unit and 50 Cent and all that?
Sadat X: I mean you gotta teach them what's out there; you can't hide it. It's out there and if they are gonna listen to it, at least explain to them what it is and the meaning behind it. If you hide it, it's gonna be worse. At least explain it to them.
Lord Jamar: And it's all about how you react to it. Sometimes with my son I'll slow his roll a little bit. I might see him liking something and be like so "You like that like THAT?" Nah'mean. You really feeling that like THAT?
(laughs)
Lord Jamar: I'm like: "it's aight" and point out the weaknesses. But not being a hater. Just being like: "if you really listen to what he is saying it's not all that, he's not saying anything." And he might be like "that is true" or "yeah, I see what you're saying. It's not the greatest shit in the world and there's better shit out there." Some real shit.
That's good; y'all are involved in your kids life like that for the simple fact that my role models came off of television. I know a lot of young dudes with no father in the household look at G-Unit and want to get the sneakers and talk about shooting motherfuckers.
Lord Jamar: Yeah and they want to get shot nine times so they can be hard.
Brother Ali: I want a motherfucker to throw a hand grenade at me. Kanye got in an accident and 50 got shot let me go and step on a land mine.
[Everyone: laughs]
Lord Jamar: I stepped on a bomb son and lived!
That's what killed me about that dude Shyne. How you get a record deal in jail?
Lord Jamar: I thought you not supposed to be able to get money and all that shit. They gave him three million dollars and a joint venture.
Brother Ali: Shyne can rap though.
You can't find no other dude except this guy in jail rapping over the phone? There are other people you can give a label deal too yo.
Brother Ali: Out of all that gangsta shit, I believe Shyne. Motherfuckers that I know that have killed people; he remind me of them.
Lord Jamar: Sometimes you can look into somebody's eyes and just see a certain thing.
As fans it should be about the music but people be getting all caught up in all that other stuff: who you killed and if you in jail and shit.
Grand Puba: You can't help it because that's part of the trap. That's part of what's causing the confusion among righteous people. That its only purpose. We can't walk down the street, everyone got a mean mug that's called evil. That ain't because dudes want to talk like that, that's being programmed from there so you can act like that. If it was all about being conscious right now and it was sent down, everyone would be righteous. We seen that in the early 90s. That's how society is programming us. If you check the program directors, the ones programming the records and the videos you'll see that shit is done for a reason. That's how we are supposed to be represented as savages or whatever.
Lord Jamar: We all sell crack.
Grand Puba: And are killers and gangstas. It's the worst picture you can possibly see. When I first did a record with Masters of Ceremonies, it was called "Cracked Out."
Lord Jamar: That was a positive record.
Grand Puba: It was a big record in New York and all that. DJs said they couldn't play the record because I said the word 'crack.' They was like: "we cannot play this on the radio because you said crack and we are not playing any crack records." I'm like "this is a positive record. This is to help people stop smoking."
Sadat X: At the height of the crack wars!
Grand Puba: It was a New York banger but they wouldn't play it 'cause I said 'crack,' now you can learn how to make crack on the radio. That's how it's designed. Now who's okaying that? Who's saying its okay in the daytime to play all this shit for little kids to hear. Who's doing it, why is it being done and why is nothing being said about it? It's because they're like "if we can make money off of these fools killing themselves and acting like that then we gonna make that money." But if you talk about anything that offends them, it's not going down. You can say nigga all day on the radio, TV. Call the devil a devil we been through that.
Lord Jamar: There was one time where Funkmaster Flex played that G-Unit freestyle on Hot 97 over and over and over so many times it's ingrained in your head. Think about the part where Tony Yayo says "we sell weed, crack and dope mixed with opium." I'm like yo! But they play it so much it's just in your brain.
Grand Puba: Now who's okaying that?
Brother Ali: They have a hip hop unit now. They just follow rappers around trying to catch them with weed and weapons.
Grand Puba: This shit is self-destructive. That's the new shit. Every decade is something that fucks us up. Now they just got it to a science when we can just fuck up ourselves and they don't have to do nothing. This is when you getting money but there is still a hate there. I thought that's what you were striving for but it's still not happiness. Because without knowledge of self and knowing your history you're not gonna find that happiness until you understand who you are. Then you can enjoy the fruits of life.
I was trying to explain to this girl why it's so important to learn your history. Because a lot of what they have in those textbooks is lies.
Grand Puba: It's not only that my personal opinion is that there was nothing that really attracted me to say "yeah, I really want to know about this." You don't get into that because it's not your history. You're learning somebody else's history and after a while you get into it. But it's like "that's enough of that shit." It's crazy.
You become a different person and look at life in a different way if you just learn the truth. I learned racism is just math right now.
Grand Puba: It's the haves and the have nots now. It's more like rich and poor. If you look at that Fahrenheit shit you see what it's about and it all boils down to money and the evilest people running the world.
It seems like it's even jacked up when you do finally get the money.
Grand Puba: Cause that's what they taught. My man's son is like six years old and he introduced me to him and said "this is Puba he is a rapper." He was like "he don't look like a rapper, where's your tattoos at?" Then I showed him my Brand Nubian tattoo and he was like "no, a lot of them down your arm and everywhere." I was like "wow". But it's programming. That's what they're learning. When we seen rappers when we were coming up that's what we thought we had to be like to be a rapper. It's what you see. Right now you gotta be a gangsta and then a rapper.
Brother Ali: It seems like the real killers be the worst rappers.
(laughs)
Grand Puba: Then you got dudes that's real and they don't even speak on that shit.
Sadat X: Yeah, the real dudes don't even want to be connected with that.
Lord Jamar: Why would you tell on yourself if you are really doing it.
Grand Puba: I'ma tell you who is a real dude. Slick Rick is a real dude. He plays no games.
Sadat X: Freddie Foxxx
Grand Puba: Freddie Foxxx is a real dude. Even Snoop: he party and do his thing but when me and Snoop met he was in gangsta mode. This was before he blew up. They just put an emphasis on that because it's for a reason and that's why it's acceptable.
I was talking to Warren G about when the money gets involved and he made one main point. He was like "when you come up in the industry you really have to stay friends with the people you with or the industry will push you apart." I know y'all were at the height and went through it so what things are people doing that separated the relationships y'all had for a while?
Lord Jamar: They'll offer you money and just getting in your ear with shit like you don't need these motherfuckers. It's all kinds of shit they will come at you from different angles. When you ain't having money and you start seeing money…
Sadat X: That's the number one thing.
Grand Puba: That's the main thing.
Lord Jamar: It's a blinding thing.
Y'all seem mad comfortable to come out the way you are, so what motivates you to keep going?
Sadat X: It's for the love of it back then. It's not even the glitz of it now. It's just from loving to do it from then that's what keeps me in it.
Grand Puba: This is all I know. There ain't nothing else. I'm not gonna go get a job. Now it's too late. This is it. It don't necessarily have to be behind the mic but it's this music. This is it. I found it and I'm gonna ride it out.
And that never was my style even before I was rapping. I'd work three weeks and my check be like $9.00 and they be like "don't even come back man." Getting up on time and having on some funny shoes; I can't do that. If it was my thing I probably would have been did something else. Same thing with school. I got to get up when I want to or it gotta be something I love doing.
Lord Jamar I was reading an interview and it said you weren't going to vote this year because you felt your vote didn't count. I wanted to know if your stance is still the same and if so what do you think we can do to change the voting issue that we have in the U.S.
Lord Jamar: What issue is that?
That people don't vote.
Grand Puba: People did vote and look what happened.
Lord Jamar: That's what I'm saying: I understand what they are trying to say; the importance of voting is. But the kind of change we need will not come through voting. It will only come through revolutionary means! If you look at anything in history that's the only way it comes about so I'm not the one that's gonna waste my energy and time doing that voting. Other people can do that because some of that can make things a little more tolerant for the time being but none of that shit will solve our problems.
If Kerry get in there that's not gonna solve our problems. They are the same motherfuckers with two different names. 'Demon'crats and the fucking Republicans are both the same. Bush is a bad motherfucker and I'd like to see him go and I hope these people vote and get him out of there. It's just that I'm not gonna do it.
You can look at me as the bad guy, cause I'm not voting but we already know this nigga got mad power and all this shit set up and he steals elections so what's gonna stop him from doing it again? Nobody flipped when he stole it the last time and if he steals it again what are they gonna do? They just gonna be like "if we had more people that registered!" It would be good if they did flip out but I don't think they will.
As a student of political science I've learned about the inner workings of government and all that and it is fucked up. But what really trips me out is how we are only a two party system. We are like one merger away from a straight dictatorship.
Grand Puba: It needs to be if you get caught stealing I'm chopping your hand off now go steal something else. Just keep it straight.
Lord Jamar: They let you know they are all down with the same shit. They say they are trying to spread democracy across the world. They aren't trying to spread republicanism. This is a republican trying to spread democracy.
The way they are doing it is more like imperialism actually.
Lord Jamar: Colonialism or imperialism, whatever you want to call it.
Grand Puba: Whatever country America does that too it has to be a fucking investment or it ain't gonna happen. If they really had serious feelings about that shit they would take a look at what's happening in Sudan and do something about that. If they are so worried about the well being of the people like we care about the Iraqi people. Look at the motherfuckers in Sudan, there are a lot of places that need help that aren't being looked at because there is nothing in there they can gain from helping those people. It's bullshit when they tell you "we care."
Lord Jamar: There is genocide going on in mad different places. They don't care about that.
Grand Puba: They don't give a fuck because there ain't nothing there we can make money on.
Lord Jamar: The shit Saddam did was years and years ago in the 80's.
Grand Puba: Bush pops paid for the shit to fucking gas the Kurds!
Lord Jamar: They gave this nigga Bin Laden three billion dollars. Bush was head of the CIA and bringing all the drugs into America in the 80's under Ronald Reagan.
Brother Ali: That's chemical warfare on your people. Crack is chemical warfare, the same shit they have against Saddam. They are proving in L.A. that they put crack in the community to pacify.
Lord Jamar: But see they are the only ones that are allowed to do it. They are the only ones who can have nuclear weapons and engage in chemical warfare and genocide. Just nobody else can do it. Who benefited the most from 9-11? Once that happened we forgot about Chandra Levy, we forgot this nigga stole the election, we forgot about a lot of shit when that happened and now the nigga got mad power.
 
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