The Ultramagnetic MCs formed in 1984. Their first single was 1985's "To Give You Love" on the Diamond International label. The group's worldwide buzz started with "Ego Trippin'," its first 12-inch single on Next Plateau Records in 1986 that was the first hip hop song to feature the infamous "Synthetic Substitution" drum break sample. The song is still considered a hip hop classic. The group's next single was "Traveling At The Speed of Thought (Original)"/"M.C.'s Ultra (Part Two)" followed by "Funky/Mentally Mad," one of the most sought-after 12-inch singles of its career. Funky was based on a Joe Cocker piano sample later used as the basis for Dr. Dre and Tupac's California Love. It was released in 1987. This led to the release of the group's first album.
The Ultramagnetic MCs released a new school classic in 1988, Critical Beatdown, introducing many new sampling techniques. Many believe that without the group's primary producer, Ced Gee, the golden era of sampling may have looked very different. Ced, while uncredited, also produced the majority of Boogie Down Productions' seminal Criminal Minded. These albums are among the first to use "chopped" samples, rearranged and edited to change context. Both albums also feature many James Brown samples, which became very prominent in Hip Hop in ensuing years. KRS-One has been quoted as saying that he was very close to joining Ultramagnetic MCs early on. Paul C. was also a major contributor to Critical Beatdown, producing "Give The Drummer Some," and engineering most of the album. Paul C. also produced the Hip-House mix of "Traveling At The Speed Of Thought", which was used as the group's first music video, and was their sole release in 1989. The single's b-side, "A Chorus Line", became one of Ultramagnetic's most popular songs and introduced new group affiliate Tim Dog. A variation of the "A Chorus Line" instrumental was used as the basis of Tim Dog's debut single, the Ced Gee-produced "Fuck Compton", which became a modest hit and is credited with helping to spark the East coast/West coast feud of the mid '90s.
The group then disappeared for several years, breaking up temporarily in 1990. They returned on Mercury Records in 1992, with the album Funk Your Head Up. The album received a muted response, in part because many tracks had been given a commercial sheen, having been remixed by outside producers at the label's insistence. Alternate mixes of this album's songs along with unreleased tracks from the sessions have appeared on later compilations. The song Poppa Large, remixed by Da Beatminerz became a hit and remains a staple of Kool Keith's live show. The song's video featured Keith in a straightjacket, his bald head encased in a birdcage.
1993's The Four Horsemen was considered extremely strange though still brilliant, offering a darker, jazzier sound. It featured guest production and vocals by Godfather Don, who produced solo Kool Keith sessions in 1992 during another brief Ultramagnetic breakup. Some of those tracks appear on The Four Horsemen, and also on The Cenobites LP. The former was the last official album the Ultramagnetic MCs released until their 2007 reunion.
There were many semi-legitimate and compilation albums to follow, the most official of which was Next Plateau's The B-Sides Companion, which featured a new song, some unreleased 1989 songs recorded for a second Next Plateau LP and most of the group's classic singles, albeit in newly remixed form. Ced Gee and Moe Love both provided demos and unreleased songs spanning the group's entire career to Tuff City for a series of four albums which were released without Kool Keith's consent. A live album, Brooklyn To Brixton, was announced but abandoned.
As a reaction to Ced and Moe's involvement in the Tuff City releases, Kool Keith and Tim Dog reunited on the album Big Time, released under the name Ultra in 1997. Kool Keith went on to record many solo CDs, including several under aliases such as Dr. Octagon and Dr. Dooom. His abstract rhymes and syncopated, off-beat delivery influenced many rappers, including Pharoahe Monch from Organized Konfusion and Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan.
In 2001, Ultramagnetic MCs released a single, "Make It Rain/Mix It Down" which whetted fans' appetites for a reunion album. Two other songs, "Baby, I'm Mad" and "Who Am I?" were recorded at the same sessions, but remain officially unreleased. In 2004, the original versions of the Next Plateau singles were finally released on CD as bonus tracks on the remastered Critical Beatdown. In a 9 December 2005 interview on Houston's Late Nite Snax radio show, Kool Keith confirmed rumours that the Ultramagnetic MCs had reformed and recorded a new album. Founding Ultramagnetic MCs member Ced Gee has set up Factshen Records. A new Ultramagnetic MCs LP, Back to the Future—The Bronx Kings Are Back, was scheduled to be released in 2006 but was later named The Best Kept Secret and released January 2007. Although the album's cover features the original line-up of Kool Keith, Ced Gee, Moe Love and TR Love, TR (along with Tim Dog) is notably absent. Instead, guest verses are provided by newcomers like Grafiq Malachi Sebek. However, Tim Dog and TR Love have each recently released songs featuring Ultramagnetic under their own names. The group also released a new song after the album's release called "We About Chix", the video can be seen on YouTube.
The Five Percent Nation of Islam was a popular inspiration for numerous thinking-man's rap groups during the early '90s, and Brand Nubian was arguably the finest of the more militant crop. Although they were strongly related to the Native Tongues posse in style and sound, they weren't technically members, and were less reserved about spotlighting their politics and religion. Their outspokenness led to controversy, on an even larger scale than similarly minded groups like the X-Clan or Poor Righteous Teachers, in part because Brand Nubian's sheer musicality made them so listenable regardless of what their messages were. The hoopla surrounding their aggressive Afrocentrism sometimes overshadowed the playful and positive sides of their work, as well as the undeniable virtuosity of lead MC Grand Puba's rhymes -- all showcased to best effect on their highly acclaimed debut, One for All.
Brand Nubian was formed in 1989 in the New York suburb of New Rochelle. Grand Puba (born Maxwell Dixon) had previously recorded with a group called Masters of Ceremony, and was joined by Sadat X (born Derek Murphy, originally dubbed Derek X), Lord Jamar (born Lorenzo DeChalus), and DJ Alamo (Murphy's cousin). The group signed with Elektra and released their debut album, All for One, in 1990. Most reviews were glowing, but the stronger rhetoric on the album -- especially the track "Drop the Bomb" -- drew fire from some quarters, including some white Elektra employees reluctant to promote what they saw as reverse racism. Ultimately, the uproar didn't really hurt Brand Nubian's career, but neither did it produce a wider hit with pop or R&B audiences, despite the high regard in which the singles "All for One," "Slow Down," and "Wake Up" are held. A far more serious blow was Grand Puba's departure from the group in late 1991, owing to tensions that had arisen over his handling the lion's share of the rapping. Not only did Brand Nubian lose their clear focal point and chief producer, they also lost DJ Alamo, who elected to continue working with Puba.
Puba released his solo debut, Reel to Reel, in 1992; meanwhile, Lord Jamar and Sadat X regrouped with DJ Sincere (born Terrence Perry) and issued In God We Trust in 1993. It sold fairly well, just missing the Top Ten on the R&B chart, and the single "Punks Jump up to Get Beat Down" was something of a hit, though it also drew fire for its anti-gay slurs. In Puba's absence, the pro-Islam rhetoric grew stronger, with more explicit support for the controversial Minister Louis Farrakhan. By the time of 1994's Everything Is Everything, they'd gotten downright dogmatic, and critics who'd previously defended the group now found them difficult to stomach, both lyrically and musically.
In the wake of the icy reception afforded Everything Is Everything, the remaining members of Brand Nubian drifted apart. Sadat X reunited with Grand Puba for "Play It Cool," a track on the latter's second solo album; Sadat also released his solo debut, Wild Cowboys, in 1996, and subsequently guested on records by a new wave of underground hip-hoppers. Lord Jamar, meanwhile, moved into production, and also landed a recurring role on HBO's prison drama Oz. In 1998, with a new alternative rap movement gaining prominence, the original four members of Brand Nubian reunited for the Arista album Foundation, which received highly positive reviews. Grand Puba and Sadat X both subsequently returned to their solo careers, but they returned with Jamar and Alamo for 2004's Fire in the Hole. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide
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