X Clan and Brand Nubian imparting hard-won wisdom through music, education

SHARE X Clan and Brand Nubian imparting hard-won wisdom through music, education

By Moira McCormick | For the Sun-Times

X Clan and Brand Nubian, two venerable East Coast hip-hop acts who pioneered sociopolitical, Afrocentric rap, appear in a singular double bill Feb. 20 at The Promontory. Both have been touring separately – X Clan’s surviving co-founder, Brother J, is officially marking XC’s quarter-century as an entity – but only in Chicago do they happen to be sharing the stage.

“[During] this 25th-anniversary time frame, I’m honored to work with people that were my comrades in the ’90s,” said Brother J.

X Clan + Brand Nubian When: 9 p.m. Feb. 20 Where: The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. Tickets: $20-$50 (21+over) Info: www.promontorychicago.com

“You’re going to hear the truth,” promised Sadat X, one of Brand Nubian’s three original MCs (alongside Grand Puba and Lord Jamar, all of whom will perform at The Promontory). “And it’s just gonna be a great musical experience.”

X Clan and Brand Nubian formed in the late ’80s in the environs of New York City – Brooklyn brought forth the former and suburban New Rochelle the latter – both dropping acclaimed debut albums in 1990. Brand Nubian’s “One for All” is a universally acknowledged classic, combining “aggressive Afrocentrism” with “sheer musicality” and “undeniable virtuosity,” as AllMusic.com phrased it. And X Clan’s equally archetypal “To the East, Blackwards” is one of only five albums designated by The Source magazine as “Should Be Taught in African American History Classes.”

Brother J of X Clan | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Brother J of X Clan | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Both groups would go on to draw fire for their politics and activism. “We were blown out of proportion, like we were [promoting] harsh values of black nationalism,” Brother J explained, stressing that nationalism is, on the contrary, the positive act of “build[ing a] nation.”

He brought up the recent brouhaha over Beyonce’s intrepid Super Bowl performance. “She was celebrating the community value of the Black Panthers. Media focused on the guns.”

Much of Brother J’s current focus is on his nonprofit organization, Culture United, a kaleidoscopic support system and creativity incubator for artists, producers and more, emphasizing hip-hop culture and healing. In periodic weeklong retreats dubbed Camp True, participants can “step off the grid,” detox, eat organic vegan, take martial arts, exchange ideas, make and experience music, get therapy and more.

Brother J decries the present-day state of commercial hip-hop, observing, “It’s so raunchy and out of control now. How could you ever think to pass a message through that?” Culture United’s mission, then, is to “offer some comfort, that there is hope for hip-hop music, where it can be passed to a next generation.”

Veteran producer Grant Parks, whose extensive credits include Viacom Networks, Malik Yusef and KRS-One, has worked with X Clan and Brand Nubian for a number of years. While he does have empathy for hip-hop’s less cerebral, more materialistic up-and-comers – “You can’t be mad at a newer generation for what they’re doing” – Parks concurs that “there’s no message. Staying in school, political issues; kids don’t have that today in music.”

However, he noted, “Both Brand Nubian and X Clan have the lessons, and they still bring that. Young kids can get something out of what they’re doing.”

Brand Nubian imparts hard-won wisdom to listeners – young and otherwise – not only though their art: MC Sadat X is actually teaching hip-hop history to fifth- through eighth-graders in Brooklyn. (Phoning last Friday evening from Maggie L. Walker Middle School, X remarked, “I’m leaving a little bit later [than usual], because they had a Valentine’s Day dance – it was the cutest thing I’ve seen in a while.”)

Sadat X is a veritable Renaissance man, a rapper-historian-teacher who, partnered with friend and music producer Will Tell, recently added the hyphenate “boutique vintner” (a natural offshoot of his and Tell’s oenophilic, hip-hop-infused YouTube series, “True Wine Connoisseurs.”) In his schoolteacher role, X has found it useful to blend different musical eras, just as his proprietary TWC Red intermingles grapes.

“I might do two old-school artists, but follow them with one new-school,” X detailed. “You gotta remember, 10 years ago Drake came out – for fifth-graders, that’s their Big Daddy Kane.

“Last week,” the Brand Nubian MC continued, “I did Salt-N-Pepa followed by J. Cole, because J. Cole actually has a message. He’s one of the young warriors [about whom] I can safely say, ‘Listen to his records. He’s talking about something.’”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.

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