Grand Puba: History In The Game!

September 16, 2010 4 min read

Grand Puba In Store Signing Today at Fifth Element at 5 PM!! Come thru! Then check him at the Suburban World Theater in Uptown on Lake & Hennipen doors open at 9pm $10 admission!

Here's a glance at his history:

Grand Puba’s been representing on wax since the mid 80s. With his latest record, Retroactive, only about a year old he’s still out there making moves.

Since the 1990s hit, he’s had other top notch MCs paying him high praise. Treach (Naughty By Nature) referred to him as “one of the fiercest mcs out there” in ’91. When my crew went to see Scarface perform in the winter of 1990, they came back talking about all these slick phrases that Scarface was using (ex: “68 and I owe you one”, etc…). A few months later we learned he must have gotten an advance copy of Brand Nubian’s “All For One” and was quoting Grand Puba on all of them.

Puba first made his name on the Masters Of Ceremony 1985 debut 12”, “Crime” [Produced by Teddy Riley]. This is an often over-looked gem; a nice mixture of drum machine beats, keyboard work, vocoder, rugged scratching, great harmonizing and some social conscious lyrics. When Puba kicks in on the second verse, his natural ability for a swift flow is immediately recognized. This was released on a short-lived indie label, M-Low, with not much distribution, limiting its range.

Masters Of Ceremony came back just a year later on Jazzy Jay’s newly formed Strong City label and dropped a couple singles. The biggest notable change was Maxwell Dixon (a.k.a Grand Puba) taking control of the production duties*. Of the couple singles on Strong City, the one that helped take them to the next level is “Cracked Out”. This is a time when there were more Crack songs than Roxanne records. Yet Legendary Red Alert once referred to it as “the best Crack record made in the country”. It’s got a nice swing beat, some studder step edits, a heavy keyboard bassline, as the MCs detail a variety of explorations thru the grim life of a crackhead.

With the snowball effect in full swing, this lead to them dropping a album on a even larger label, 4th & Broadway, in 1988. “Dynamite” [Produced by Maxwell Dixon], is filled with plenty of dope joints like Dynamite, Rock Steady, Keep On Moving, & Master Move. Don Baron brings a strong reggae flavor, making this a well rounded, well produced, and solid debut album. However, it would be also be the crew’s final release.

It always seemed like a longer gap, but it is just one year later that Puba returned with his new crew, Brand Nubian. The amount of growth and progress in Puba’s style, flow, use of his voice & production sound from Masters Of Ceremony to Brand Nubian is very impressive. Sonically it seems like Puba was able to pull together the best qualities of his previous producers; the rugged drums of Jazzy Jay and Teddy Riley’s great melodies and swing beats. Brand Nubian was able to be hardcore Hip Hop, yet conscious with a touch of R&B/Old Soul flavor mixed in.

Brand Nubian’s debut, “One For All” was loved by fans, critics and peers alike, making the news shortly after the albums release, that Puba was leaving the group, a disappointment to many. Although, Puba went on to a flourishing career and Brand Nubian continued to make two excellent albums without him, there was a sense that something would be lost in that perfect mixture of personalities and styles.

Speaking of mixtures of styles and sounds, Grand Puba has always effortlessly interchanged his 5% teachings with sex & fashion driven lyrics. The latter has given him a significant amount of credit for popularizing Tommy Hilfiger in Hip Hop culture. His solo debut, “Reel To Reel” (1992) showcases all of that perfectly. The album maintains the dusty soul sampled sound of “One For All”, making it almost a Brand Nubian record with just Puba. The exception being the 5% teachings weren’t as prominent throughout the album, but “Soul Controller” has Puba in top form, dropping powerful social commentary. Plus his reggae flavored “Proper Education” immediately follows, dropping even more science.

There was a three year gap before his next solo record, “2000”, where Puba once again experiments with some new sounds, taking a more slowed down jazzy and mellowed out approach to the first half of the album, whereas the second half moves closer to a sound reminiscent to “Reel To Reel”. The move worked and he satisfied his base and garnered a generation of new fans as well.

1998 saw the long-awaited reunion of Brand Nubian with the “Foundation” album that saw them successfully mesh their years of growth into a solid record. Throughout the 00s saw Grand Puba work with Brand Nubian, do guest appearances and release a couple solo records as well.

2009’s “Retoactive” finds Puba with no pressure or need to change or evolve his style to fit in. His seemingly timeless style & relevant lyrics have aged well. In essence, Grand Puba has consistently done what most mcs haven’t been able to or haven’t figured out that it is what they should do; evolve with the times rather than become overly influenced and limited by them.

*Some sources cite Jazzy Jay as the producer of Cracked Out…

Here's some of my favorite Puba moments on wax:

Masters Of Ceremony-Crime 12" (1985)
[audio:|titles=Crime 1]

Masters Of Ceremony-Cracked Out 12" (1986)
[audio:|titles=10 Cracked Out]

Masters Of Ceremony-Keep On Moving (Dynamite LP 1988)
[audio:|titles=Keep On Moving 1]

Brand Nubian-Step To The Rear (All For One LP 1990)
[audio:|titles=09 Step To The Rear]

Grand Puba-Soul Controller (Reel To Real LP 1992)
[audio:|titles=10 soul controller]

Grand Puba-Black Family Day (Pump Ya Fist Compilation 1995)
[audio:|titles=03 Black Family Day]

Grand Puba-Change Gonna Come (2000 LP 1995)
[audio:|titles=11 Change Gonna Come]

Grand Puba featuring Large Professor-Same Old Drama (Retroactive LP 2009)
[audio:|titles=07 Same Old Drama Feat. Large Professor]

Written By Kevin Beacham

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