Freedom or death, we shall all be moved.


Vanglorious! This is protected by the red, the black, and the green, with a key—sisssiiiieeeeees!

With that bold proclamation, the squeal of a pre-G-funk Parliament riff, and the swift, cool intellect of one Brother J, we were introduced to Brooklyn's own X-Clan, the embodiment of rap's pan-African consciousness of the early '90s. Clad in colorful dashikis, carrying "verb" staffs, with huge septum hoops and earrings a-dangling, the crew invaded inner-city tape decks and suburban TV rooms Afrocentrically garbed, riding in their signature pink Cadillac, proud signifiers of ages-old black style; their visual impact upon white suburban rap fans must have been that of a kente-clothed cluster bomb.

In keeping with their regal dress, the group's members held grandiose titles: Professor X the Overseer, Grand Verbalizer Funkin' Lesson Brother J, Grand Architect Paradise, and Rhythm Provider DJ Sugar Shaft. Their origins can be traced to the Blackwatch Movement, an educational/activist organization founded by Professor X (AKA Lumumba Carson), son of Sonny Carson, the legendary activist and Black Nationalist who was immortalized by the book and film The Education of Sonny Carson. Paradise was a talent scout and promoter who managed the storied Bronx hiphop club Latin Quarters. With help from Ced Gee from the Ultramagnetic MCs, X-Clan got themselves a deal with the 4th & Broadway label, distributed by Island Records. In 1990, they released the classic To the East, Blackwards to widespread critical acclaim and brisk sales. X-Clan's hooks and funky, danceable loops translated better to the dance floor than did those of contemporaries Public Enemy; it doubtless helped that Brother J's superconfident delivery was one of the smoothest on the scene.

After the success of 1992's sophomore album Xodus: The New Testament, it looked as if the Clan were here to stay. Internal pressures, however, soon disbanded the group, just as gangsta rap's bleak vision proved to be infinitely more profitable; Dr. Dre's 1992 album The Chronic had ended conscious rap's dominance. The era when Kool G Rap and Rakim Allah could peacefully coexist ceased, as gangsta rap's influence quickly lessened the relevance of some (Public Enemy) and swayed others to abandon their more conscious messages (Ice Cube).

You think your thief-based system is clever? It's a simplistic endeavor...

The years to follow would see X-Clan's members go solo or launch new groups—such as Brother J's Dark Sun Riders—but to little fanfare. Death and misfortune instead have dogged the Clan since the mid-'90s; Sugar Shaft died from AIDS-related complications in 1995, the same year as Eazy-E. Professor X, the crew's hypeman/leader, fell on such hard times that he infamously auctioned off a "Day with the Professor" to fans on eBay. Earlier this year, his mellifluous voice was forever silenced due to complications from spinal meningitis. I caught a brilliant performance by Brother J at Neumo's a couple of years ago. Everyone in attendance was stunned by the Brother's undiminished presence and powerful delivery; unfortunately, there were only about 12 of us there.

What's the higher level if your shit ain't real?

Rap fans from that bygone era are aware of X-Clan's huge impact. Superproducer Just Blaze has repeatedly stated that X-Clan is his favorite group of all time, and Eminem once told Rolling Stone that Brother J was a lyricist he feared; to listeners nowadays, however, some dudes in dashikis rapping black consciousness in '90 are hardly as relevant as, say, a Cam'ron or even an Atmosphere. The glut of oversimplified, one-sided rap (of both the commercial and underground varieties) provokes many of us to proclaim that Hiphop Is Dead.

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Amid this and a burgeoning revival of intelligent problack rap led by Dead Prez, the Coup, and Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar, a revitalized, revamped X-Clan return to the scene, led by sole founding member Brother J. With a new LP, Return from Mecca, the Clan return to the fold just when hiphop may need them most. One wonders if it's a little too late, but with X-Clan—to quote Dead Prez—it's bigger than hiphop.

Grand Verbalizer, what time is it?

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