Happy 25th Anniversary to Brand Nubian’s second studio album In God We Trust, originally released February 2, 1993.
The pressure of following up a critically acclaimed debut album is intimidating enough, so the added tension of losing a group’s vital voice could be devastating. This was presumably Lord Jamar and Sadat X’s vantage point around 1992, when they set out to record Brand Nubian’s anticipated follow-up to their acclaimed 1990 LP One for All.
Together with Grand Puba, the trio cemented a new lane in the ever-evolving art form of hip-hop with their inaugural effort. Their unique sound consisted of conscious lyrics that candidly sought accountability and provoked self-awareness in solving problems, such as drug addiction and irresponsible teenage promiscuity. The group adopted a much more direct lyrical approach, largely propelled by the ideology of the Nation of Gods and Earths, who in the late ‘80s into the ‘90s had as much street credibility as any organization aiming for youth enlightenment could have hoped for.
With the separation of the group’s anchor, Grand Puba, it was now time for the younger gods Lord Jamar and Sadat X to show and prove. The pressure of expectation for Brand Nubian’s follow-up effort was further elevated by Grand Puba releasing his well-received solo project Reel to Reel in late 1992.
Placing their confidence in the wider appeal of the Nation of Gods and Earths’ youthful attraction through scientific teaching and unique vocabulary, In God We Trust is even more deeply rooted in philosophy than its predecessor. With a current perspective and perhaps a deeper understanding of the Five-Percent Nation’s teachings, Jamar and Sadat used their unrivaled ability to extract the essence of the organization’s ideology and reflect them in well-crafted lyrics. The young duo picked up where they left off on One for All with hits like “Wake Up (Reprise in the Sunshine)” that took the relatively obscure teachings into the earphone and car speakers of the masses with rhymes like “Can a devil fool a Muslim? No, not nowadays bro / do you mean to say the devil fooled us four hundred years ago? / Why equal self, a trader made an interpretation / saying that we'd receive more gold for our labor in his nation / did we receive more gold? God, now cipher.”
While The Nation of Gods and Earths’ core messages had always found a home within hip-hop lyrics, never had its teachings been so eloquently and accurately articulated as they were by Brand Nubian. The lyrics from “Ain’t No Mystery” served as an updated example the group’s self-mastery of their beloved “120 Lessons” that had remarkably made their way from street corners to college dorms and military barracks since the late 60’s: “Now would you set up home, and wait for a Mystery God to bring Food, Clothing, and Shelter? / Emphatically no! / Mathematically that just don't go / see me and my people been lost for over 400 years / and done tried this mystery God / and all we got was hard times / hunger and nakedness, from the snake that hissed.”
As poignant as Jamar and Sadat’s expressions of the organizational teachings may have been, it was an audio excerpt of Nation of Islam Spokesman, Minister Louis Farrakhan, for the “Meaning of the 5%” interlude that solidified Brand Nubian as the official bearers of the Nation of Gods and Earths’ universal flag in hip-hop.
Lead single “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down” isn’t the album’s most teachable moment, although it is charged with themes associated with black militancy. The assist from fellow DJ Jazzy Jay studio alumni Diamond D helped “Punks” succeed in becoming an underground favorite, with commercial appeal for radio and television.
The album’s other notable single “Love Me or Leave Alone” mostly fell a bit flat for Brand Nubian’s hardcore young male audience, despite the smooth fusion of "San Francisco Lights" by Bobbi Humphrey and "Sing a Simple Song" by Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Moreover, the background vocals provided by the blossoming R&B queen Mary J. Blige failed to win over female listeners, largely due to the song’s nearly abrasive lyrics that demanded female submission to both religious and secular traditions.
Sonically, the soulful samples of Ramsey Lewis’ “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” for “Allah U Akbar” along with Wilson Pickett’s “Something You Got” for “Ain’t No Mystery” reinforced that Brand Nubian had sustained its signature loyalty to ’70 funk, offering textures that complemented the contrasting voices of Lord Jamar’s deeper tone with Sadat X’s high-pitched tenor.
Even with the album’s more hardcore tones that have come into question over the years, In God We Trust arguably remains the greatest testament to the Nation of Gods and Earths’ influence and compatibility with hip-hop culture. The “By Any Means Necessary” bravado that glares on “Pass the Gat,” “Black and Blue” and “Punks Jump Up” help set the tone for one of the most important years in hip-hop, undoubtedly paving the way for memorable gems that followed such as Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, and Leaders of the New School’s T.I.M.E.