How can a group heralded so great by so many still have such a dismal record for units sold? How can the group that backed Jay-Z so superbly for his much-celebrated Unplugged session still be operating this far below the radar? How can a group that contains the undoubted musical genius of Ahmir “?uestlove” Thomson and the lyrical swordsmanship of Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, still not be garnering the recognition they deserve?
Some say that it’s the fans fault. They say that our vision is too blinkered, that there aren’t enough of us that can really see what they are about, that we spend way too much time worrying about who 50 is gonna diss next. Some say that it’s the labels fault. That time after time, wherever they have landed (Geffen, MCA, Def Jam) they have never had the push to take them into the upper echelons of the hip-hop stratosphere. That being your favourite MC’s favourite group doesn’t count for anything in today’s fickle market.Some say that it’s there own fault, that they are a troublesome bunch of individuals who don’t have much regard for the power brokers of any of the major labels, and that when they do meet, too much tension is brought to the table. Some say that their best chance of the commercial greatness to match the critical acclamation has passed them by. That the changing face of top tier hip-hop means that the music they provide will never be able to live where the Lil Wayne’s, The Games, Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s currently reside. They say that even some of the lower leagues and divisions of success may well be beyond them.
The body of work issued to date would suggest that all of these obstacles, in theory, should already have been overcome. From the rough diamond genius of Organix and Do You Want More?!!!??!, through the all round greatness of Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart, to the brooding wizardry of Rising Down, all bases as they say, should have been loaded. Even the supposed weaker releases, never derided, never frowned upon, never shunned in any way, and suffering from what I call, The Quest Effect, were well above the standards of today’s top commercial exponents of the music. The collectives 2 biggest exports, the afore-mentioned, ?uestlove and Black Thought, are always one of the most sought after in their craft. The notion that Black Thought as long been hailed as one of the best to ever pick up a microphone without ever releasing a solo album, is a feat all by itself. But then you look at ?uestlove’s production credits, that are so long, so numerous, and so well regarded. It makes you wonder why he hasn’t completely broken out on his own a long time ago.
But that last statement could hold the key as to why, currently, they are where they are. These guys simply don’t hold mainstream success in as high regard as the music they make. They are obviously a close knit group and both Thought and ?uestlove could have moved on a long time ago for both status and financial reasons. They chose not to is tantamount to the relationships they have as individuals and with the group as a whole. Good, bad or indifferent, you can hear the session type vibe that reeks from every nook & cranny of every release. That is not measured and you cannot manufacture that. It is second nature for these guys to second-guess each other’s next vocal or aural move. Even some of the best known groups of any genre (U2, Coldplay, etc.) have outside help to fine tune their sound.
Not so with the Grand Neguz. That tight knittedness, that unflinching collective approach to do what they believe in, that assurance they obviously have in each others role in the group is probably why they will never get full blown commercial acceptance. But it is precisely why they will be welcomed into hip-hop’s hall of fame as one of the torchbearers of modern music.
Originally written in 2011 for The Find Magazine