Friday, May 23, 2014

He Stands Alone: An Interview With Lord Jamar Part 1

Throughout the 1990’s, Brand Nubian spread the gospel of The Five Percent Nation beyond the confines of the five boroughs.  Their debut LP, One for All, served as a musical manifesto for the organization, making its complex ideology palatable for the masses.  While the album didn’t set the Billboard Charts ablaze, it managed to amass a loyal and reverent following.  Group members Grand Puba Maxwell, Sadat X (Formerly known as Derek X), and Lord Jamar became icons of the Black consciousness movement in Hip-Hop.  When Puba left the fold to pursue a solo career, Sadat and Jamar continued on for two more albums before they reunited for 1998’s Foundation.  Throughout all of the group’s incarnations, Lord Jamar always remained its most reserved member.  Nevertheless, his contributions always proved essential to group’s lasting success.  

Jamar’s formerly understated demeanor stands in stark contrast to his candor in recent months.  Via his interviews with Vlad TV, Jamar has instantly become one of Hip-Hop’s most outspoken and controversial personalities.  His very public feuds with both Yelawolf and Marlon Wayans have greatly elevated his profile.  They have also put him on the radar of generation that, up until this point, has remained largely unaware of his artistic legacy.  Thanks to the internet, his unfiltered perspective reaches millions with the click of a mouse.  Some find that perspective refreshing.  Others find it repugnant.  Regardless of where one stands with Lord Jamar, one thing is certain:  He’ll always speak his mind, consequences be damned.            

Scott Wilson: You’ve gained a relatively high-profile as of late, or at least higher than usual.  You’ve been very vocal on social media and you’ve been doing lots of interviews.  Have you always been this outspoken?

Lord Jamar: (Laughs) You know, that’s a good question.  Yes, I have!  Anybody that knows me also knows that I’m not afraid to speak my mind. Now that we’re in the age of the internet, our thoughts travel much faster.  It’s like we’re in the first stages of a social memory complex, where computers allow us access to each other’s thoughts.   We actually don’t need computers for that.  We don’t even need to talk to each other.  We can actually train our minds to access each other thoughts.  We haven’t developed to that point yet, but the internet has given us a mechanical way to instantly share our thoughts.    

I put up some of my thoughts, like I’ve BEEN doing on the internet.  One day, I happened to mention somebody’s name.  Ever since then, it just took off.

If you look at the type of music that we’ve (Brand Nubian) been making since day one, I don’t see why anything I say should surprise you.  It’s not even about being stuck in the past.  It’s just about me sticking to my guns.  I believe in Black people.  I believe that white supremacy is real.  It’s a tool that’s been used for hundreds of years and it’s still being used.  There are many tactics that come with white supremacy, and they get infused into all different facets of life, including Hip-Hop.  When I’m calling these things out, it’s just basically part of the battle against white supremacy, although it’s disguised in a lot of other different things. 

Scott Wilson: You’re a member of The Nation of Gods aka Earths aka The Five Percent Nation.  Likewise, Brand Nubian’s members have always been tremendous ambassadors of the Five Percent Nation and its ideology.  Many other rappers are also God Bodies.  However, the content of their music often seems to be at odds with their beliefs.  They promote a lot of things that The Nation claims to be against.  Some within the Nation believe that Hip-Hop offers a poor representation of its ideals.  What’s your take on that? 

The Universal Flag of the Nation of Gods & Earths

Lord Jamar:  If we really keep it real with ourselves, stereotypes often have a basis in truth.  They only become dangerous when you treat them as absolutes, and apply them to everyone under a certain umbrella.  To be honest, when I was coming up, there were a lot of Gods who had knowledge, but still dabbled in the street life.  In a way, that’s kind of what made it (The Five Percent Nation) attractive to a lot of people, especially to people in Hip-Hop.  That’s why people were willing to even sit down with certain brothers and listen to what they had to say.   

Around that same time, you had other Muslim groups like The Nation of Islam.  They wore suits and bowties.  You also had the orthodox Muslims, with the White Muslim garb.   Those groups were kind of ostracized in the hood because of how they dressed.  They were also kind of ostracized because they didn’t partake in any of the other nonsense.  They didn’t smoke, drink, or gamble.  They were only about giving you the knowledge, which is a good thing, but sometimes you gotta come to the people as the people.  

Jay-Z wearing the Universal Flag of the Nation of Gods & Earths as a medallion.

Life is a balance of positive and negative.  We can’t always say that the negative is “bad.”  The negative is what is it is.  It’s part of the whole.  There were a lot of positive and negative balances within The Five Percent Nation.  Those balances enabled it to thrive within a Hip-Hop context, whereas a lot of other things couldn’t. 

Scott Wilson: Throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, The Nation of Gods and Earths exerted a profound influence over east coast Hip-Hop.  That influenced has waned considerably over the last 15 years, to the point of being nonexistent.  Is that due to New York no longer being relevant to Hip-Hop?  Is that due to New York’s greatly diminished presence in Hip-Hop as of late?  

Lord Jamar (Right) alongside fellow Five Percenter and legendary lyricist Rakim Allah (Left)

Lord Jamar: I think that’s a part of it, but I don’t think it’s just about New York.  I think there was a concerted effort to try and quell all positive, empowering music.  You had positive brothers on the west coast, like Paris and Kam, who were dropping science in their music.  You also had a couple of gods out there, like Divine Styler.  My man Born and them, I forget the name of his group at the time. 

N.W.A was given to us just as positive music was on the rise (laughs).  You also had movies like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society, which gave us visuals to go along with the kind of music that N.W.A made.  That was all a concerted effort to combat the power of positive music. 

Scott Wilson:  Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album was one of the greatest conscious albums ever made.  He melded east coast Black consciousness with west coast gangsterism.  It was brilliant. 

Lord Jamar: That was such a masterpiece.  I love that album.

Scott Wilson:  Heavy D was the first true rap star to hail from Westchester County (Mount Vernon to be exact).  In that sense, he helped to establish Westchester in the rap industry.  Brand Nubian was also important in that regard.  One for All was one of the first albums to receive a 5 Mic rating from Source Magazine.  Yet, for all that you guys accomplished, Brand Nubian rarely gets mentioned when people recount the history of Westchester Hip-Hop.  Why do you think that is?  

The original cover art for Brand Nubian's 1990 debut One For All: Grand Puba (Far Left), DJ Alamo (Left Center), Lord Jamar (Right Center), and Sadat X (Far Right)

Lord Jamar: That’s a good question (laughs).  We’re cool with all of those people.  Heavy D was definitely inspirational to us, and I know that we were inspirational to a lot of other people.  They were like “Oh Wow, they did it, now it’s our time.  Westchester Hip-Hop has a lot of history.  We’ve been there since the beginning.  I don’t know why they don’t talk about us. 
Scott Wilson: Why do people from the Five Boroughs often refer to Westchester County as “upstate” (New York)?  I’ve always found that odd seeing as how both New Rochelle and Mount Vernon are literally just a stone’s throw from the Bronx.    

Lord Jamar: I don’t know.  When I used to go out back in the days, I used to hang out in all the clubs in the city, like The Latin Quarters.  I’d meet girls and say “Yo, I live in New Rochelle.”  They’d be like “Where’s that, upstate?”  I’d be like “Nah, it’s just north of the Bronx.”  Then they’d ask me “Are there cows and shit where you live at?”  I’d be like “Yo!  That shit is crazy!”  They think motherfuckers are really up there near Rockland County.  Now THAT’S far! 

We’re right there (Just North of The Bronx).  It’s just a lack of knowledge.  They just have to come and see me.  Get on that Metro North, or take the 2 Train to 241st street in the Bronx, and then get on the # 42 bus.  Once they do that, they’re like “Oh, it’s not that far.”  Then I’m like “Yeah, I told you.”  I don’t know why they were thinking that Westchester is crazy far. I guess because it sounds far.  Just the name sounds like something far away.

Scott Wilson: I remember there being some controversy about the sales figures for One for All.  It was very popular in the New York Tri-state area, but less so in other regions.  Was it ever officially certified gold by the RIAA?   

Lord Jamar: Nope.  I think that was some real slick shit, too.  I think they did some shit on purpose.  Those were the days of heavy bootlegging, and what I believe is called “backdoor sales.”  “Backdoor sales” is when they (the record label) would sell the album in the stores, but they would also sell bootlegs on the side.  Everybody was bootlegging back then, and they (the record label) wanted some of that money too.  That’s a way to neutralize an artist.  If the numbers aren’t in your favor, they can say “See, you didn’t sell as much, you didn’t recoup” and all this bullshit.  Mysteriously, everybody had our tape, but the numbers just topped out at some point.  That was Soundscan and all that bullshit.  If you control Soundscan, you control the numbers.  At some point, I think they discontinued the album and reissued it.  So then, it’s all new numbers, see what I’m saying?  That’s some slick shit right there. 

Scott Wilson: Brand Nubian had a reputation for being very gracious to rappers from other regions whenever they would visit New York and do shows.  Being that you hail from Westchester, did your “outsider” status help you to relate to rappers from the west and the south in terms of how they were treated by New Yorkers at that time?

Lord Jamar:  That could’ve been it.  First of all, it was me.  I was the one from Brand Nubian that they were fucking with.  People like Spice-1, Pimp C, Bun B, Gip from Goodie Mob.  All types of motherfuckers.  When they came to New York, they’d come fuck with me.  They came to my crib.  I’d take them to the hood and to smoke spots, all kind of shit.  I’d show them the real shit, whatever the fuck they wanted to see.  

The Legendary UGK: The Late, Great Pimp C (Left) and the incomparable Bun-B (Right)

Yeah, I guess living in Westchester, you’re kind of an outsider in a way.  When Hip-Hop was really popping,  living in New Rochelle was damn near like living down south, as far as seeing if anyone from up there (Westchester) was going to make music like that.  When Heavy D came, that was great.  I don’t know.  I was surprised that Hip-Hop even left New York.  I thought that we’d be the only ones to do it, and everybody else would just follow.  I thought it would be that way forever.  Then it started spreading out and I started hearing certain shit.  I was like “Yo, some of these motherfuckers is kind of dope.”  When I started giving it a chance, I was like “Yo, that music is hard right there!”  I just liked some hard shit.  I was hearing certain west coast shit that was coming harder than some east coast shit.  I started getting up on Scarface and people like that.  I was like “Yeah, I’m fucking with this.”  When I met these dudes, I guess they were surprised that a dude from the east coast even knew their music like that.  I just became cool with a lot of dudes from the West Coast.

Click here to read Part 2, where Lord Jamar discusses his fueds with both Yelawolf and Marlon Wayans!  He also talks about his upcoming album, Known Associates!  I guarantee you won't be dissapointed!


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