Hardcore Mettle: Bad Brains’ Strange Survival Tale
Thirty-five years into their unlikely career, the punk legends have just released a strong new album and are finally coming to terms with their influential, genre-busting legacy. More importantly, they’re also coming to terms with each other. It hasn't been easy.
In spite of all of the chaos and commotion that has marked Bad Brains’ history, their dedication to musical exploration has remained constant. On the Into the Future churning, sludge-metal track “Earnest Love,” the group challenged itself in a new way. “We always play fast,” Jenifer told his bandmates. “This time, let’s play slow.” The bassist is also proud of the shimmering, echoey etude “Jah Love,” which he calls “futuristic type reggae.”
“MCA Dub,” another Into the Future reggae tune, pays tribute to Yauch. “We go way back, man,” says Dr. Know. “We knew the Beasties when they were playing rock’n’roll. We must have been 20 and they were 14. They used to call Darryl ‘Dad.’ I remember when they first started doing hip-hop. It’s like, ‘What? What y’all know about fuckin’ hip-hop? Y’all better stick with that Pollywoggle stuff,'” he jokes playfully, adding, “I miss him, man.”
HR’s recollection of Yauch is, unsurprisingly, harder to parse. “I was heartbroken about it,” he says. “Overall I thought it was cool to have met him. Whether or not he was understood by people, I don’t know. I can say, though, at times, he shouldn’t have been going through what he went through.” Then he looses an eyebrow-raiser: “If he had taken it a little slower, and took his time, I think he’d still be around today.”
Over the course of our conversation, HR occasionally makes cryptic comments similar to the Yauch recollection. In 2008, HR told Baltimore’s City Paper that Madonna (founder of Maverick, the Brains’ label at the time), “asked me did I know reggae, and would I give her a copy of my records.” But when I bring this up, HR claims to have never met Madge.
“Everyone was like Madonna this, Madonna that, but she never showed up,” he says. And when I ask about the times he left the group, HR muddles the ’80s and the ’90s. He admits to leaving the band after 1989’s Quickness, but then insists that he did so a full decade later, in 1999.
Regardless, HR’s personal life at the moment is copasetic. Within the last year, he met a woman named Lori at a party, and they married on Halloween. He also recently welcomed a new granddaughter, his second grandchild. (Jenifer is also a grandfather.) Moreover, he’s established firm roots in Baltimore. Earl, who is press shy and declined to be interviewed, lives in Atlanta.
That stability extends to the band’s sense of its own ongoing legacy. “A lot of cats did shit,” Jenifer says emphatically. Then he clarifies: “We do this.”
“When people look at our career, I hope they recognize us for being true to our words,” Dr. Know says, matter-of-factly, “and for being honest with who we were. More people should try to be true to themselves and to their spirit.”
Back in Baltimore, when the notion of history arises with HR, he takes a long pause to mull an answer. Finally, he says, “I want to be remembered for having an open mind and being not just a spiritual and generous person, but for having a lot to offer kids and being musically inspiring.”
Then he smiles broadly and looks away, apparently happy to be lost in his PMA.