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It's A Goddamn Shame You Don't Know Their Names: Rodney Glenn King And Brand Nubian

It's A Goddamn Shame You Don't Know Their Names: Rodney Glenn King And Brand Nubian image
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It's a Goddamn Shame You Don't Know Their Names:

Rodney Glenn King and Brand Nubian

by Michael Stratton

"Sooner or later you're just going to have to deal with it. The guys with the names you don't understand, chanting over gut-whomping drumbeats and those noises like somebody scratching a needle across the damn record." -Newsweek, March 19, 1990

With irresistable beats and songs about Adidas and Kangols, pre-Public Enemy rap was the shit that even hep white boys could dig. While yearning for tracks with the thud of a "Bring the Noise" or "Fuck the Police" too pale naysayers point to VanilliExtract or 2 Live Crude when talking about the state of rap today. But the cream of the rap crop has been taking a Black nationalist stance, pointing a collective Black finger at the devil that made them do it, and leaving the other man puzzled at the grooves that the brother man is digging. 

Now of age, rap today is juggling rhythmic complexity and stone cold rhyming with an agility that respectable (read whitebread) society cannot begin to address. Coupled with an urgent message, the newest of grooves is hitting its Black target. But keep it a secret from the other man because the revolution will not be televised but instead will be chronicled on Brand Nubian chromium dioxide. Catch 'em now while your blood is boiling.

At 1 am, on Sunday March 3rd, Rodney Glenn King was brutally beaten by the boys in blue, LAPD's finest, for what police cite as a traffic violation. A fortunate videotaping of the event, has provided enough evidence to implicate several officers. Television documentation of this kind of event is rarer than photos of Iraqi civilian casualties or honesty in a Shame of the Union Address, yet rap has been addressing this state-sanctioned genocide for a number of sweltering New York summers, at least. The New York Times (whoddathunk) stuck this story on page 10 and did not mention Mr. King's name until nearly two-thirds of the way through the article. Whitey has seen the image on TV even if the networks allow LAPD minister of disinformation, Daryl Gates, to assure the audience that his was an anomoly. Be forewarned Whitey. You are now implicated, a witness to this state terrorism. 

You saw the disease on TV and can hear the cure on "One For All," the debut slab o' wax from Brand Nubian. Who will be the wiser? The Black youth jamming with the ministry of four Brand Nubians (cool pun), dancing and learning about the likes of Haile Selassie and Huey P. Newton? Or an acne plagued white boy learning his hate from the testimonies of that tortured artist from the Rust Belt by way of Hollyweird, Axl "don't point your finger at me" Rose of Thugs n' Poses. There is a revolution going on and with some sense of justice Whitey won't even recognize it. It's not a Black thing, but you still won't understand White Man.

Mr. King, I like to imagine, was playing "Wake Up," the first single from the Nubians, when he was pulled over. "The solution, knowledge yourself/ To better ourself, cause I know/ Myself that we could live / Much better than this/ Nothing's changed/ Just another sequel," coming from this speakers. The irony. 

"One for All" at once evokes what is compelling about the best of the old school, functions as new-punk, new-disco and tosses some rap tradition out the window with the bombs it drops. They transform an Edie Brickwell whine into aural madness addressing crack prostitution, and sing the laurels of LL Cool J better than the man himself (who is so bad that, by his own account, he can suck his own dick.) An amazing feat of showmanship. 

"One for All" is at once both of the mind of a couch potato and of the bootaay of a dancin' fool; a gut-busting hoot and a sober dose of the Black man's reality; and both lazy enough to sample Rick James and hep enough to do it with the ease that could teach MC Hammer a thang or two. This disc mocks the polarity of a black and white world through blurring genre distinctions inherent in a white system that has no room for rap music. Hence a concerto in a never before heard key- X minor. Brand Nubian is as seemingly effortless as PE's sophomore attempt or Eric B. & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend," blacker than the Jungle Brothers and more fun than the Beastie Boy's second disc. You can slap skins to this tape, smoke a spliff, annoy yer white neighbors- all worthwhile pursuits- for a mere $9 investment. 

Ice Cube says, "so call me a nigger. That's OK. I'm the 1990s nigger. The one owning his own business, selling records and controlling his own life."

With voices of reasons empowered with an outlet that alienates its enemy, positive change can occur. With voices of expression as danceable as these grooves, we all may dance our way to a higher consciousness. Rodney Glenn King can be seen as a Rosa Parks with the hope that the young Black male will mobilize around him and this, leave the ranks of an endangered species. 


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