Every Friday Logan will profile an artist you should give a listen.
Like punk? Hardcore? Any of the bands mixing styles like funk, reggae, and rock—bands like Sublime or the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Thank Bad Brains. They did it first, and if not best, they did it with the most heart. Musicians have been listening to them for decades, trying to unlock the chemistry H.R., Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer, and Earl Hudson shared on stage.
Unique in their deft blending of genres, they were also stood out because they were an all African-American punk band in an overwhelming white scene.
Bad Brains erupted in Washington D.C. in 1977, like the lightning bolt on their first album cover streaking down from the sky, blowing apart the Capitol’s dome in some serious elemental violence.
Here they are in 1982, playing “Banned in D.C.” at the legendary CBGB’s in New York City. When I want to reminisce about the churning pits I threw myself into as a daring and indestructible teen, I cue up this video. My goodness, the energy.
The power of Bad Brains self-titled carried through their sophomore “Rock for Light,” which featured several rerecorded tracks from their debut, such as “Sailin’ On” and “Banned in D.C.”
But Bad Brains’ power, freneticism, and diverse influences also made them an internally volatile band. Their 30-year career is spotted with both long- and short-term break-ups and vocalist H.R. quitting multiple times only to rejoin later.
In 1986, Bad Brains release “I Against I,” which took their genre-fusion to their musical and critical height. They traded the straight-ahead speed of their first two albums for more complex arrangements, guitar riffs, and the space for H.R. to explore his vocal range in their mid-tempo rockers. Listening to “I Against I” it’s impossible not to hear the seeds that album planted in some of the most beloved bands in the hardcore scene and beyond.
Bad Brains has been back recording new material with their original line-up since 2007’s “Build a Nation,” which was produced by the now deceased Beastie Boy, Adam “MCA” Yauch.
Their 2012 album “Into the Future” was hailed by critics at Alternative Press, Los Angeles Times, and Revolver, as something close to a return-to-form for Bad Brains. Though their recent material hasn’t reached the height of punk-holy books “Bad Brains” or “I Against I,” its still a testament to what the hardcore ethos can create or resurrect.
“I Against I”