Grand Puba: Back To The Future

posted June 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM CDT | 18 comments

For a guy who has been releasing records since Run-DMC ruled the Rap world, Maxwell Dixon, p.k.a. Grand Puba, has a remarkable knack for sounding contemporary in almost any era. Possessing one of the most unique voices and personas part skirt chasing player, part knowledge kickin street preacher in Hip Hop history, Puba seemingly with ease unleashed a string of classic songs and albums as the culture underwent several stylistic and content shifts throughout the 90s.

From his introduction to the masses at the dawn of that decade via his second group, Brand Nubian, Puba kept the classics consistently coming. As one-third of the New Rochelle (a.k.a. Now Rule), New York trio (not including group deejay Alamo) of socially conscious spitters, G.P. co-authored two outstanding long players (1990s One For All, and 1998s Foundation) and a slew of stellar singles (Wake Up, Slow Down, All For One, Dont Let It Go To Your Head). And as a solo artist, the man who introduced Tommy Hilfiger gear to the game too penned memorable joints from his first two full-lengths, 1992s Reel To Reel (which spawned the #1 Rap single, 360 Degrees (What Goes Around)) and 1995s 2000 (which boasted the Debarge-sampling hit I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are)).

But since the release of his third solo outing, 2001s underwhelming Understand This, and Brand Nubians junior effort featuring the groups original emcee lineup, 2004s equally unimpressive Fire In The Hole, Grand Puba has seemed to struggle to find his footing in the post-millennial Rap world. Looking to finally show listeners too young to remember his 90s heyday whats so special about his brand of boom-bap Hip Hop, Puba has signed a solo deal with Babygrande Records (who released Fire In The Hole) to unveil his senior solo, the appropriately-titled Retroactive, and bring his future fans back to his past style of music making.

And in his recent discussion with HipHopDX, Puba thoroughly covered both old and new, speaking on his new album and its lineup of legendary producers (and why Busta Rhymes and dead prez didnt make it on to Retroactive as planned), breaking down why Brand Nubian never broke up (even after their debut as some believe), revealing that he wishes he had been on Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down, explaining why Puba is not heard rockin alongside his Brand Nubian brethren on ATCQs classic sophomore effort, The Low End Theory, and sharing plenty more juicy stories for true Hip Hop heads to devour.

HipHopDX: The first most obvious question iswhere the hell have you been, man?! [Laughs] Five years since the last Brand Nubian album, and almost eight years since your last solo LP, what has Grand Puba Maxwell been up to in recent years?
Grand Puba:
Been on the road, man. Even though we havent had any new music out, [we] still get those show dates. Aint stopped working since 91, man.

DX: Any other like side hustles, or just other things youre doing outside of the music?
Grand Puba:
Nah, thats pretty much the main thing. [But] I been also working with kids mentoring and coaching basketball teams. I coach for Team Noah. Joakim Noah, [who] plays on the Chicago Bulls, I coach his 16-and-under and I coach the 19-and-under [teams]. [I] coach [the kids] for ISA, high school basketball, and a lot of AAU tournaments.

DX: Did you used to ball back in the day?
Grand Puba:
I used to go hard back in the days. I used to play the 1. Now my son is playing the 1.

DX: Hes in high school?
Grand Puba:
Yeah. And my daughter [plays basketball also]. Shes in middle school now.

DX: So whyd you decide to get back on your solo grind for 2009? What motivated this return to the game?
Grand Puba:
You love the music. It never really leaves you. You might move on to do other things, but thats your main love. And, basically I just been accumulating songs over the years. I never really stopped doing records. I just stopped putting em out.

DX: Was that label shit you had to get straightened out, or you just wanted to wait till you had the best shit?
Grand Puba:
Its basically a timing thing. I go based on timing and feeling whats out now, the way the game was going. I dont like wasting records, man. [Laughs]

DX: You feel like its a good time for Puba to get back in there though?
Grand Puba:
Oh yeah, its a good time, man. It feels good. Everything feels right. The vibe is right. Like I said, I dont wanna put some shit out just for the sake of putting it out, just to chase some money. It gotta have meaning.

DX: Speaking of meaning, Webster defines retroactive as extending in scope or effect to a prior time or to conditions that existed or originated in the past. What does retroactive mean to you? Whyd you choose that title?
Grand Puba:
Exactly what you just said, but I might word it different. Its like something thats been done before. Ive done this before, and I wanted tobring that same type of feeling back as opposed to just trying to grasp on [to current trends] and do some new shit Thats not my style. Ima keep it to where my strengths are and stay in my lane.

DX: Are there more throwback tracks like This Joint Right Here on the album?
Grand Puba:
Yeah. But its not just one era of time. It might be something that sound 80-ish [like This Joint Right Here], 90-ish [like Go Hard], all the way up to the current time. I have stuff thats up to date [but] how I would do it Soulful vibes - just that good shit. Like a whole album you can listen to So different moods, different attitudes, just a human being going through life the changes, the ups and downs, the good times, the bad times. Thats how I do my albums.

DX: And you produced that jumpoff joint for the album yourself, and you produced all of your last solo album, Understand This, yourself. So how much of Retroactive were you behind the boards for?
Grand Puba:
I didnt produce this one all by myself. This one got like Large Professor [click to read] [contributing to it]. Lord Finesse did some joints. This new kid PhD. Q-Tip [click to read] did a joint My man from Chicago, Grant Parks [contributed]. Its not like back in the days, [organizing outside production] is time consuming. So I did a few joints [too].

DX: I noticed you havent worked with Large Professor or Q-Tip previously on your solos or with Brand Nubian. So how did Xtra P and the Abstract Poetic end up getting down with Puba for the album?
Grand Puba:
Just through talking, like on the phone and shit. And just kickin it with each other But [mainly] just [through] remaining friends and keeping ties.

DX: Can you give the HipHopDX readers a sneak peak of the Tip and Large Pro joints what those sound like, and what youre talking about on those tracks?
Grand Puba:
The one with Tip is crazy, its hard to explain Ill give you a taste like this [starts playing the song in his car stereo, but sounds distorted over the phone].

DX: Whats that called, Rock That Shit? I didnt hear the chorus.
Grand Puba:
Yeah [Laughs].

DX: What about the Large Pro joint?
Grand Puba:
I think that come on right after that matter of fact. Here it go right here [starts playing track].

DX: That sounds like some deep stuff there.
Grand Puba:
Yeah, we touching on some things.

DX: Whats the name of that joint?
Grand Puba:
Same Ol Drama. [Starts rapping lyrics from song] "Still up in court with three baby mama/Popo set free after the 50-shot homa" Yeah, we got some things on here, man. I think its a good album to listen to.

DX: And you said Finesse did some [of the album also]. Yall havent worked together since Foundation, right?
Grand Puba:
Nah, I did something on his joint he did [Real Talk]. He did something overseas. We always work together. Thats my dude. We do shows together. Thats like one of my main partnas I [also] got this singing kid Rell on a joint [on the album]. He did a joint with me and Lord Jamar [click to read] that was kinda deep. Its the first song on the album, I See Dead People.

DX: Yeah, youve always sprinkled a little bit of material for the gods and earths into your music, but lets be honest, Puba mostly spits about putting aluminum foil on his dick and shit like that [Laughs].
Grand Puba:
[Laughs] You know what? It depends on the climate of society. Im never gonna stop droppin science. Like I said, [theres] different phases in ones life, or my life I should say, that gives me that balance I dont [claim] to be perfect. I always strive to be better, but Im not gonna hide my imperfections at the same time. I. Love. Pussy [Laughs]

DX: [Laughs].
Grand Puba:
I aint gon front. Its certain things I like to do

DX: Well I think everybody knows your socially-conscious side is showcased more when youre rockin with Sadat and Jamar. So how much involvement did your Brand Nubian brethren have in this new Puba project? You said Jamars on a track
Grand Puba:
Yeah, Jamar had a lot of input [into the album]. Even when we wasnt doing a song together, he was there [contributing], whether it be scratches He was coming adding to it.

DX: What about Sadat?
Grand Puba:
[Sadat X] [click to read] as well too. He came through He did a joint with us.

DX: Was Fire in the Hole the final Brand Nubian album?
Grand Puba:
Nah, cause I dont think that would be a good representation to [end the group with]. That album was okay to mebut it wasnt the album I wanted to do. The label just wanted to go with what we had. And a lot of that material was old. Thats what happens when you deal with independents sometimes. They wanna rush, rush, rush. Hurry up and get it out. And sometimes you compromise certain things [by doing that] The album was okay, but compared to Foundation that shit is [trails off]

DX: So you guys trying to like re-up on a bigger scale soon?
Grand Puba:
Yeah, we have to. I mean, thats the only way I wanna do things. [That was] the same problem I was running into with [Retroactive] as well, [with] like the rush situation. Theres a couple of people [that] still had to get on it, but they [didnt make the deadline]. Dead prez [click to read] was supposed to be on it. Stic.man and them was supposed to be on it. He just emailed me a few days ago talking about, Whens the deadline? [Laughs] Busta [Rhymes] [click to read] wanted to get on it, [but] it was the same thing. He was over in Europe and he came back, but by then it was too late.

DX: So I mean, Im not trying to like cause any static or anything, but are you talking about maybe moving away from Babygrande after this?
Grand Puba:
I dont know. See, Im [the] type of dude if we get it right the next time then we can make it happen again. But I just want people to understand its not just about putting records out to me like [its] any ol thing. Im from that old school era where Im not in to that microwaveable shit.

DX: Yeah, but with the Internet and everything if you dont have at least a new song every week or something its like you fell off the face of the earth.
Grand Puba:
Well thats something Im not worried about, because I wouldnt care what a [person thinks about that]. Im not gonna compromise. At the end of the day, I wanna be happy, whether I brick or not. Whether it sell or people think its wack, at the end of the day, if Im happy on how I did it and how it was done I can live with that.

DX: Since I mentioned the group and everything I just wanted to ask this question I dont wanna rehash too much of the past, but I still, 18 years later, dont understand why you left the group after One For All. Can you give me like a quick breakdown of why you bounced?
Grand Puba:
See what people fail to realize, I was in a group before Brand Nubian.

DX: Masters of Ceremony.
Grand Puba:
Correct. And once that [group] broke up and I started Brand Nubian [in 1989], I was kinda likebasically I was doing the solo deal anyway with [former Elektra Records A&R] Dante Ross. Lord Jamar and Sadat were acts I was producing. Those were my artists. They were two separate individual soloists. I was taking they stuff around [to labels]. Both of em had some hot shit, but everybody was frontin like I guess it was too far ahead of its time [and] they couldnt understand it. So I said, Yo you know what, yall gonna get on cause fuck it this dude wanna sign me and he gotta sign all of us. Lets just do a group thing. So we sat down and came up with a group. You see what Im saying? So it never really was Basically my goal was to get them in the game. At the same time we still was brothers and it just clicked so well. But I had my mind set on doing something [solo] anyway. So that was always there. Thats the real, real, real deal [on what happened] right there.

DX: So it wasnt beef or static that made you leave
Grand Puba:
Nah, me and Jamar had disagreements but not enough to say like, Yo thats what happened. Thats not what happened. They were just coming in the game. They was basically students of the game. And you know, I got them there. Its almost like I did what I said I was gonna do. [But] I was [still] trying to make moves [towards a solo career as well]. [So] Im trying to make moves now, [and] then I had the [Mary J Blige] shit with [Whats the 411?]. I had a lot of shit jumpin off [after One For All]. So I thought that would be a good time for me to do what I wanted to do, being that I took care of them and got them to where they needed to go.
DX: And you mentioned Foundation earlier, just for the record, I dont care what The Source [who gave One For All a classic five-mic rating upon its release] said, Foundation is a better overall album than One For All to me. Dont Let It Go To Your Head, Probable Cause, Maybe One Day, Love Vs. Hate, damn that album was slept on!
Grand Puba:
Yeah, well thats what somebody from The Source said I think. It was a article saying that the worst mistake they made was not giving that album five mics, or something they regret Yeah, thats probably one of my favorite albums, man. I mean, One For All was the first, and it got some classics like One For All and Slow Down, but by Foundation, we mastered that. One For All was just scratching the surface [like], okay, we kinda know what we doing. But by the time Foundation came out we knew what we was doing and we basically tried to make it better than the One For All album. And I think we did a good job, man.

DX: Yeah, definitely. In God We Trust was fuckin ill too some righteous gangsta shit. Do you remember your initial reaction when you first heard Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down and Pass The Gat?
Grand Puba:
Thats the thing that kinda messed me up [after leaving the group to go solo], cause I wish I was on Punks, I woulda murdered that shit. I was like, Damn! Its like I know [Sadat] X wish he was on 360, and Jamar wish he was on Soul Controller. I had that [moment after Punks] like, Damn, man. That shit, and the Pass The Gat shit. Those are my regrets, man. I wish I was on them joints right there.

DX: But they caught some serious backlash for all that fuck up a faggot, shoot the faggot in the back talk while you were away from the group. Did you feel like they maybe went too far in your absence?
Grand Puba:
Nah, Im kinda I mean, they did what they felt like. Cause we had a record One time we did a record with - never came out And this is the real reason why I never got on the new version [that was released]. We did a song with A Tribe Called Quest [click to read]. The song was titled Show Business. Jamar and Sadat was on there. I wasnt on there because that wasnt the original song that we did. The original song was called Georgie [click to listen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk8SCqg9Rq0]. And it was a rhyme about like just faggots. The shit was so crazy. Like I mean, its probably one of the best verses I ever wrote. And then [Q-Tip] and them, I guess because of the heat from the industry if theyd a put that shit [on The Low End Theory] there woulda been a problem I didnt get on [Show Business] because I liked the first [version of the song] so much I was like a little upset [at the time] I was like, Fuck that, we renegades.

DX: When did that happen just out of curiousity, cause Masters of Ceremony, Ive only heard some of the music, but yall was on some like just have fun type shit, werent they? I mean, when did you make this transition into Im ready to do some serious shit?
Grand Puba:
Well see, believe it or not our first record [in 1985] was called Crime. We speaking on shit in the hood. What happened [was] the label (Strong City Records) came to us and said, Yo, yall cant be And then we had a record [in 1986] Cracked Out [click here]. [Starts singing the songs hook] "Why must I feel like that, why must I chase the crack." I was always conscious but like they said, Nah we need something thats gonna party Thats when I did the Sexy joint [click here]. And that opened it up. But they was like, Yo, yall too serious They kinda got us away from that like.

DX: And is that why you wanted to leave the group?
Grand Puba:
Nah, that wasnt it at all. The shit was just over. I dont know what happened, but it was just over.

DX: I just had some random things written down I loved In God We Trust , but I wasnt really diggin Everything Is Everything. I thought Word Is Bond was tight but other than that
Grand Puba:
Right.

DX: Is that kinda when you guys realized we need to get back together?
Grand Puba:
Nah. I was on Elektra at the time still, and I think they moved on [after Everything Is Everything]. And I just had a talk with Sylvia Rhone [about reuniting with the group]. She was like, Yeah that would be a good idea. Initially it was supposed to be done then [after 2000 in 95]. But it didnt go right. The meeting went [Laughs] it didnt work out too good [Laughs].

DX: So Im confused, cause I know there was a album before Foundation, right? Like you recorded a whole new Brand Nubian album before Foundation came out?
Grand Puba:
That was the album that got us the deal. We aint use none of them songs, man. And that was hotter yo, phew, oh my gosh.

DX: Yeah, Traffic Entertainment I think just reissued that.
Grand Puba:
Yeah, we sold it to Traffic. But yeah that was the album that got us the deal That was our demo that we took to Arista [Records] that got us the deal with Clive Davis. But [once we got the deal] we just like, Fuck it. We just started buggin out and just doing all new songs [for the album that became Foundation].

DX: And I guess my final question is justwere you even supposed to be rockin with The Roots recently [click here]? You tried to bounce after you did Slow Down, and I heard you say, I just came here to get a drink [Laughs].
Grand Puba:
Yeah, that shit was crazy! [Terrence J] [click to read] from BET was having a party that same night So thats where we was going. So we got off the exit to go crosstown and we just seen mad heads on line. And we was like, Yo, who the fuck is in there? And [somebody] was like, The Roots. [And we said], Oh, The Roots. [makes tires squealing to a stop noise]. So we went in there to get a drink and shit and listen to [them], cause I like The Roots [click to read] And then I said, Let me go say whassup But I knew that shit was gonna happen [when I did that, Laughs].

DX: And they just knew your shit off top like that? They just went straight into playing it?
Grand Puba:
Yeah they just That shit was not rehearsed.

DX: Wow.
Grand Puba:
But I mean, me and Black [Thought] was talking. After we did that he was like, Yo, if you wanna do some other shit, then come early [and] we can put some shit together

DX: Yeah that would be live, a whole Brand Nubian show with The Roots. That would be crazy.
Grand Puba:
Yeah. But that shit was just on-the-spot shit right there. I love em for that, man. Cause what impresses me even more is [Black Thought] was like hype man as well. He knew the lyrics So you can tell man, thats just another [act] like me that just love what they do.

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