The 21st installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums (read intro), comes from Eso Tre, one-half of Los Angeles-based hip-hop duo Substance Abuse, whose 2006 record Overproof features MF Doom and Kool Keith, among others.
In God We Trust (Elektra, 1993)
I remember writing an essay for my 10th grade English class comparing a poem written by Countee Cullen to a track off of Brand Nubian’s In God We Trust called It Ain’t No Mystery, a song criticizing the abuses of religion and people’s reluctance to sway from conventional modes of spirituality. Nothing can erase the memory of my forty-something teacher reciting Sadat X’s lyrics in front of a bunch of honors students, and then asking them if any of them had heard of Brand Nubian. None of them had.
Of course, my friends and I knew this group all too well. I remember sitting through Yo! MTV Raps in eager anticipation of seeing what would become my favorite video of all time, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down. The simplicity of this video was it’s power: three guys who embodied that quintessential early 90’s New York hip hop, kicking rhymes in the subway and occasionally administering a beat down to anyone who might question whether or not “the Nubian reign had fallen”. As the forthcoming album would prove, it definitely had not.
Part of what makes this album so great and timeless was that sense that these guys had something to prove. With the man who had for a long time been considered their front man conspicuously absent from the equation, Lord Jamar and Sadat X were put in the daunting position of proving both that they could evolve musically as a group and that their charisma as a duo was legitimate. And as dope of an album as One for All was, Brand Nubian’s sophomore effort made it seem as if their classic first album almost obscured the undeniable chemistry between these two emcees.
With solid production provided by the group from beginning to end (with exception of Diamond D’s contribution with Punks Jump Up…), In God We Trust stands with so many other great works of this period that strove to present a unifying vibe and theme, even if at times the leitmotiv seemed to be challenging image of the group that One for All had established. What we hear in the second effort is that the ideology is much the same, but the means of effectuating it is now much more militant, as evidenced by hard hitting cuts like Pass the Gat and Black and Blue. Both rappers sound more polished the second time around, and display an intensity that I have yet to see rivaled by another group.
Brand Nubian | Pass the Gat Brand Nubian | Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down