Bad Brains Greatest Band in Punk Rock

Bad Brains Greatest Band in Punk Rock


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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R&B and Disco didn’t provide much of a platform for expressing

 the ideals of resistance and rebellion that many of us felt within.



                  Bad Brains CDs:

  I Against I (1986)   /   Quickness (1989)    /     Banned in DC: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs (2003)

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Bad Brains: Greatest Band in Punk Rock

By Vince Rogers


American Hardcore Punk Rock music is indisputably the original creation of White suburban teenagers from California. Simply stated, this music doesn’t borrow or steal from any other culture. Those kids created that music to express their dissatisfaction with the cultural contradictions and outright lies that were manifested by and expressed throughout the exclusionist rhetoric and hateful philosophies of Reagan era Americana.

While their parents were advocating an inequitable system of trickle down economics and defending the bail out of malfeasant savings and loans, many of their children were advocating anarchy and rejecting materialism. These kids had everything we wanted, or at least everything we were told we needed, so it was hard to understand why they were so angry.  

When I was a teenager, there was really no comparable way to express the angst that Black kids felt at being the children of the Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud “New Soul Rebels” of the 1960s and 70s, who were now being taught by their elders to reject their own culture in order to get by in the “real” world. We were being forced to wear Polo shirts, Duck Head khakis and LL Bean penny loafers and being taught that the keys to success were learning to speak proper English and mastering the rules of polite society better than kids being schooled at Choate and Exeter. 

We were encouraged to act like “fake” White people by seeking to mimic and replicate the behavior and institutions of “White” society better than White Americans had. In the early 1980s when our White contemporaries were rejecting materialism and all of the ideals of the military industrial complex, we were attending tuxedo-clad Ebony soirees and church sanctioned “Tom Thumb” weddings, in order to be accepted by society for who “We” were.

Even though we were being taught that we were as good as and we could do anything that anybody else could, the underlying message was that “their” culture was better that ours. Although most people went along with this ultimately failed experiment, some young Black people rebelled against this pastiche of assimilationist behavior. Before conscious Hip-Hop and the Afrocentric movement would ultimately give a voice to the angst and anger of Black American youths, many young African-Americans became “Punks,” also.

Young Black kids did not go down to the basement and start Punk bands in large numbers. The lure of the thrashing guitar was not as strong as the booming call of the drum for most of us. However, R&B and Disco didn’t provide much of a platform for expressing the ideals of resistance and rebellion that many of us felt within. The agenda in “Hardcore Nation” would continue to be set mostly by bands of young White kids and populated by their peers.

However there was an active minority of Black Punks. As with the American musical forms that Black people had created, it just so happens that the band that is considered the best, most talented and most influential band of the American Hardcore Punk Rock Music scene that started in California by skateboarding kids, is a band that originated in the “Chocolate City” of Washington, D.C. and featured an entirely Black lineup of accomplished musicians. The group was called Bad Brains.

The Bad Brains were formed in 1979, out of the remnants of a Jazz-fusion band named Mind Power. Their roots in Jazz provided them with skills that enabled them to explore territory that their peers {who typically were not skilled musicians) could not venture into. Despite the fact that they chose to play a style of music that was “alien” to their cultural roots, the Brains wore “dreadlocks” and they were practicing Rastafarians.  The band itself was all Punk though and regarded by their peers as the band you never wanted to follow behind in a concert lineup.

The BB’s influenced three young fans who would ultimately become the Hip-Hop group the Beastie Boys so much, that they refused to accept any name their manager gave them that didn’t have the initials BB. The Bad Brains were regarded by their peers, fans, and critics alike as the best instrumentalists in a genre that wasn’t known for its musicianship and the best songwriters of a genre not known for tight songwriting. They also had the best stage show and one of the largest followings and longest careers in Punk Rock music history.

I was in high school during this time and except for the emergence of Prince and Run DMC, Black popular music didn’t provide Black youths with many outlets for expressing resistance or rebellion. Along with a few of my friends, I would occasionally explore the Punk Rock scene. Many of the nationally known bands and a few local acts would perform at now defunct clubs with names like the 688, the Bistro, and the Metroplex. The crowd would be full of Southern “Skinheads” and I was usually only one of about three Black kids in attendance and we all came to the show together.

When I would tell my friends I was going to see Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, or Fear in concert instead of going to Six Flags or the mall this weekend, few of them would understand. Most of my contemporaries shunned this scene because it was considered “White Boy Music.” I embraced it because somehow I could tell that the ideas of rebellion and resistance, which had always been a staple component of young Black peoples musical diet, was now sorely missing from our own school cafeteria menu.

I was drawn to the music of the Bad Brains, even though I had no idea that they were Black at the time and I never saw them perform in person. They simply were expressing ideas that I felt were important, the music was well done and they somehow seemed culturally relevant to me personally. It sounded like “Rebel Music” to my ears.

During this short season in which we observe and honor the accomplishments of Black people, I believe that the group Bad Brains expresses the ideals of Black History Month and Black progress as well as any other notable figures from history, if not better. Bad Brains entered an exclusively White field and shattered all barriers, using their talents, creativity and perseverance as their weapons.

In this era in which many people complain that some people regard the best rapper as a White kid named Eminem, it may be worth remembering that most White people consider the greatest band in Punk Rock to be the Bad Brains. Earning respect for our achievements and preserving our culture is our challenge and not the responsibility of anybody else. The Bad Brains clearly represent the idea that Black people can excel in any human endeavor without compromise, while still embracing our distinct culture and upholding our proud heritage without shame. This is a Black history lesson that many of us have forgotten and one that others have never clearly understood.

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 I Against I  (1986)

After the first of their countless breakups, the Bad Brains reconvened in 1986 to record this, their undeniable masterwork. Fusing dub reggae and funk rhythms into the mix, and slowing the tempo down enough to appeal to hardcore’s emergent metal crossover audience, the Bad Brains created one of the most powerful collections the ’80s produced in any genre. On “I Against I” and “House of Suffering,” the quartet suffuses traditional Jamaican spiritualism with modern urban concerns, while the soaring “Sacred Love” is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of anyone with any soul whatsoever. An essential release.—David Sprague

Quickness  (1989)

This album is essentially a companion piece to what some claim is their masterwork, the “I Against I” album. One doesn’t need to purchase “I Against I” to appreciate this album, but it would be recommended, as the album effectively functions as a sequel.—Oliver Sheppard

Banned in DC: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs (2003)

This collection spans the best of the career of these DC/NYC reggae/hardcore musicians. Later stuff is OK….but Bad Brains aren’t the same without HR’s “throat.”

If you have never heard the band before this makes a good primer, to get you into them (and they are counted as influences by lots of bands: Beastie Boys to Living Colour & No Doubt (the last two have covered Bad Brains songs both live and in the studio). So if you like what you hear on this disc….make the purchases to get yourself the rest of their library (especially the early stuff)!—Chris Stankis

Vince Rogers was raised in Atlanta’s Bowen Homes housing projects and went on to attend Morehouse College as an academic scholar. Although he is a widely published writer of essays, poetry, short fiction, and scholarly papers, he is most proud of being Editor of his high school newspaper, the Frederick Douglass North Star.

His works were among the Official Inaugural Selections of “I’ve Known Rivers” The Museum of the African Diaspora Story Project: Reproduction of the New Breed Leaders & Black Mecca for the Sold Brother. He was the TimBookTu Featured Writer for December of 2006. His scholarly paper The Evolution of Shawntae Harris was presented at the Hip Hop’s Defiant Divas Conference at Vanderbilt University. His monthly fiction column Pulp Fiction appears in Pulp Magazine and his film Reviews are featured in the Southern Screen Report.

He contributes to Clean Sheets Magazine; TimBookTu; Taj Mahal Review: An International Journal; Chicken Bones: A Journal; Thereby Hangs a Tale; Catalyst Magazine; Southern Screen Report; Pulp Magazine; Nghosi Books Anthology: Longing Lust and Love ; 3 Lights Gallery (UK) The Launch Exhibition; Black Arts Quarterly (Stanford University). You can read selected works at his Blogs:, and visit his Website: /  or

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 5 February 2007




Home   Thomas Long Table  Music  Musicians

Related files: Legends and Legacies    Bad Brains    Necromancers of Negritude    Griot  (for Rudy)    Kings of Crunk  An Angelic Trio   Talk To Me  For No Particular Reason

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