Bad Brains is an American hardcore punk band formed in Washington DC in 1977. They are widely regarded as among the pioneers of hardcore punk, though the band's members objected to this term to describe their music. They are also an adept reggae band, while later recordings featured elements of other genres like funk, heavy metal, hip hop and soul. Bad Brains are followers of the Rastafari movement.
Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power, Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound which came to be labeled "hardcore", and was often played faster and more emphatically than the music of many of their peers. The unique factor of the band's music was the fact that they played more complex rhythms than other hardcore punk bands, also adapting non-punk style guitar riffs and solos into their songs.
Bad Brains have released nine studio albums (one of which is entirely composed of instrumental versions of their past material). The band broke up and reformed several times over the years, sometimes with different singers or drummers. Since 1998, the lineup of singer H.R. (Human Rights), guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson (H.R.'s younger brother) has reunited, albeit performing sporadically.
From fusion to hardcore (1977–1985)
The band was first founded as a jazz fusion ensemble called Mind Power (1975) in the mold of bands such as Chick Corea's Return to Forever and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as progressive funk musician Stevie Wonder. In 1977, their friend Sid McCray introduced the band, who were already interested in bands such as Black Sabbath, to punk rock, including the Dickies, the Dead Boys, and the Sex Pistols. Mind Power became obsessed with punk rock and changed their name to "Bad Brains", after the Ramones song "Bad Brain", but with the word "bad" in the sense of "good". Despite their burgeoning punk sound, the early Bad Brains, after seeing Bob Marley in concert, also delved deep into reggae music and the Rastafari movement. Sid McCray became their first singer but left in the early days of the group's hardcore punk era, and guitarist H.R. became the band's new singer.
The band developed an early reputation in Washington D.C., due in part to the relative novelty of an entirely black band playing punk rock, but also due to their high-energy performances and undeniable talent.
In 1979, Bad Brains found themselves the subject of an unofficial ban among many Washington D.C. area clubs and performance venues (later addressed in their song, "Banned in D.C."). The band subsequently relocated to New York City.
Their self-titled debut album was released on Neil Cooper's ROIR Records on "cassette only" in January 1982, followed in 1983 by Rock for Light, produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars.
New sounds (1986–1989)
In 1986, Bad Brains signed with SST Records and released I Against I, which, in addition to their hardcore punk and reggae sounds, introduced a heavy metal/funk hybrid sound. H.R. provided the vocals for "Sacred Love" over the phone from the Lorton Reformatory while doing a bid for a cannabis charge. Also critically praised was H.R.'s performance: "he digs deep into his bag of voices and pulls them all out, one by one: the frightening nasal falsetto that was his signature in the band's hardcore days, an almost bel canto baritone, and a declamatory speed-rap chatter that spews lyrics with the mechanical precision of a machine gun". The title track's video was shown on MTV's then-new 120 Minutes program, for which the band appeared in promotional footage. Despite the success of I Against I, H.R. quit the band again, taking his brother Earl with him after spending most of 1987 touring. 1988 dates for the I Against I tour were done with Taj Singleton on vocals and Mackie Jayson on drums. In 1988 the Bad Brains signed with Caroline Records, who released their fourth album Quickness the following year. Since vocalist H.R. and his brother, drummer Earl Hudson were unavailable for the recording sessions, Quickness was originally recorded with Taj Singleton on vocals and Mackie Jayson on drums but before Quickness was ready for mastering, H.R. returned, rewrote the lyrics and overdubbed the vocals for Quickness replacing Taj Singleton's recorded lyrics and vocals.
More turmoil and more singers (1990–1994)
Bad Brains were plagued by internal tensions nearly from their beginning. Aside from the problems with H.R., who sometimes refused to perform at scheduled concerts and sessions, he and his younger brother, drummer Earl Hudson, also wanted to devote the band strictly to reggae, while Dr. Know and Darryl Jenifer were increasingly interested in heavy rock.
H.R. experienced financial problems after an unsuccessful European tour with the group Human Rights and Bad Brains touring replacement singer Taj Singleton did not fit well with the band so H.R. and Earl both returned for the Quickness tour. After the Quickness tour, H.R. and Earl left once again and H.R. was replaced by former Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley. Soon afterwards, Bad Brains broke up yet again.
In 1990, Bad Brains backed longtime friend, fan, and protege Henry Rollins on a cover version of The MC5's "Kick Out the Jams". The recording appears on the soundtrack to the film Pump Up the Volume.
As bands influenced by Bad Brains (such as Living Colour and Fishbone) enjoyed commercial success, Dr. Know was approached by Mundane Records in 1992, offering the band a major-label record deal. The former Cro-Mags drummer Mackie Jayson (who had played as a session musician on Quickness), and vocalist Israel Joseph I joined at this time. Rise was released in 1993. The Rise tour began in 1993 with Mackie Jayson on drums and finished in 1994 with drummer Chuck Treece.
Reunion with the original lineup and name change (1995–2004)
With the original band back together for the first time in five years, Bad Brains signed to the Maverick Records label for the 1995 release God of Love.
Two years later, the band worked together to remaster some early studio recordings which were then released as the EP The Omega Sessions by Victory Records. In 1998-1999, the original lineup toured under the name Soul Brains. A live album, A Bad Brains Reunion Live from Maritime Hall, was released in 2001.
Soul Brains was the name used by the original Bad Brains from 1998 to 2001.
H.R. appeared on the track "Without Jah, Nothin' ", on P.O.D.'s Satellite (2001). In 2002, Bad Brains released I & I Survived. In 2004, Lil' Jon, recruited Dr. Know, Jenifer and Earl Hudson to back him on a version of his song "Real Nigga Roll Call", which interpolated the music of "Re-Ignition". The recording appeared on the limited-edition release of Lil' Jon's album Crunk Juice. The accompanying DVD featured footage of the session.
H.R. performed his song "Who's Got the Herb?" with the band 311 on June 22, 2004, in Long Beach, California. H.R. was also featured in a live song version of "Shame in Dem Game" with Sublime, who are also from Long Beach, California.
Build a Nation and Into the Future (2005–present)
In 2005, Darryl Jenifer told Billboard that the band was in the studio recording their first proper studio album in ten years, to be released later in the year. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch also gave interviews indicating that he was producing the sessions, for which basic tracks featuring the original lineup had been recorded.
While homeless and faced with severe poverty, H.R. reunited with Bad Brains for two dates at CBGB. While H.R. & Dubb Agents geared up to tour Global Rock Showcases '07 dates, in early January 2007, Bad Brains had Build a Nation released on June 26, 2007. The album debuted at No. 100 on the Billboard 200. Bad Brains played five dates including Sasquatch Fest (June 2007). These were followed by concerts in California and a European tour in October 2007. Upon return to the U.S. the band took stage in Chicago for the Riotfest rock concert. The internet has also contributed to the band's resurgence, as it is now possible to view old and new concert footage via YouTube, or read archived interviews.
Before the release of the new album, Dr. Know stated he was eager for the band to record more albums. H.R. was ripped off due to poor management through the remainder of 2007. The title of bassist Darryl Jenifer's solo effort is In Search of Black Judas.
In January 2008, the band announced they are working on a box set of 7" vinyl records. Bad Brains toured South America during April 2008 with former singer Israel Joseph I (who was in the Bad Brains from 1991–1994 and appeared on the album Rise), temporarily filling in for H.R. The band performed at the Smoke Out festival in San Bernardino, California on October 24, 2009.
As of 2009, two documentaries of the band were in production as well as a documentary focusing on H.R. Bad Brains were planning a three-date tour of Australia in June 2010, but were forced to cancel due to health reasons.
In March 2011, it was reported that Bad Brains had begun work on new material for their follow-up to Build a Nation. In April 2012, H.R. revealed the album would be called Let's Have Fun. However, the title was changed to Into the Future and the album was released on November 20, 2012.