Straignt outta Now Rule aka New Rochelle, NY, a city 20 miles northeast of Manhattan and 15 minutes from the South Bronx, Maxwell “Grand Puba” Dixon, Derek “Sadat X” Murphy (formerly “Derek X”),” Lorenzo “Lord Jamar” Dechalus, and DJ Alamo formed Brand Nubian in 1989. Soon thereafter, Elektra Records signed the foursome to their first recording contract. Stimulated Dummies co-founder and A&R Dante Ross shepherded the burgeoning careers of subsequently legendary hip-hop artists including De La Soul, Digital Underground and Queen Latifah during his stint with Tommy Boy Records in the late 1980s. He then helped launch the careers of Leaders of the New School, Busta Rhymes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, among others, at Elektra in the early ’90s.
With their devout allegiance to the doctrine of the Five Percent Nation and impassioned message of Black empowerment, the three-headed B-Boy mouthpiece of Brand Nubian quickly became a vital voice within the politically and socially charged hip-hop of the era. But as manifested on their brilliant debut album One for All, the trio balances the more cerebral fare with more whimsical material, frequently delving into their escapades of charming the ladies and “scooping skins.” Indeed, the juxtaposition of the group’s Afrocentric conscience with their keen sense of humor, the lyrical chemistry they share with each other, and the stellar production largely supplied by the group themselves (with additional contributions from Stimulated Dummies, Skeff Anselm, and Dave “Jam” Hall) make for one of the most engaging long players of hip-hop’s Golden Era.
Arguably the album’s strongest tracks are those that highlight Brand Nubian’s more didactic and philosophical dispositions, as informed by the core principles and values of the Five-Percent Nation. Three of the best cuts are effectively solo joints, which allow each emcee to command the spotlight for the entire duration of their respective track. Sadat X eloquently laments racial injustice and police brutality on the Cannonball Adderley indebted “Concerto in X Minor,” confiding that “when speakin’ on the black man, I gets fiery.” On “Wake Up”—both the original and the “Reprise in the Sunshine” version that lifts Roy Ayers’ classic “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”—Puba declares his commitment to “civilize the uncivilized” through disseminating the message of the Nation of Gods and Earths. Toward the end of his soliloquy, he offers a compelling call-to-arms for the black community to rise up against its systemic marginalization at the hands of the white man.
“Slow Down” is another of One for All’s standout songs. Intended for the group’s female listeners and built around an unforgettable sample of Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ 1988 breakthrough hit “What I Am,” the song features sobering cautionary tales about the dangers of crack addiction, turning tricks, and gold-diggin.