NEWS UPDATE: I just established contact with Sir Ibu and all the original members of Divine Force!! I'm interviewing the whole crew individually over the next couple weeks and will have the full story soon! Plus they have reunited to create new music together as well!! Stay tuned...
I regularly speak about a lot underdogs in Hip Hop who never became household names or didn’t have a chance to reach their perceived full potential. I wholly believe that there are a lot of talented MCs who were as good as some of the bigger known names of their same era and never reached the same amount of fame. However, I feel there are only a very select few who are among the elite that were able to compete with the best of their time and with those few, their limited fame completely shocks me*. Certainly on that list is the charismatic, influential, and poetic, Sir Ibu.
Sir Ibu represented Brooklyn and was part of the crew, Divine Force. They were managed my Melquan, who was a prominent force in the 80s Brooklyn scene and is also known for managing the early careers of The RZA & The GZA, more connections on that later. The MCs of the crew consisted of Ice T a.k.a Lady Nefertiti (a female MC), Supreme, and Sir Ibu. How the group operated wasn’t typical, much of their released material is actually solo songs.
I actually experienced the Divine Force releases in a fairly random manner. I first became aware of them via an interview in September ’88 Right On Magazine “Rap Special” issue, where Sir Ibu describes how he connected with Melquan after they admired each others sense of fashion on the subway…classic! In that interview they discuss the “T.V. Guide” 12”, but I never found it in stores or heard it at that time. I finally heard Sir Ibu a year later when I picked up the “I’m The Peace Maker” b/w “IBU Gets Lyrical” Cassingle**. However, Sir Ibu and Divine Force are most recognized in history for their track “Holy War (Live)”, which also released in ’87, but I wasn’t aware of its existence until ’91 on Gang Starr’s “Step In The Arena” album where DJ Premier cut up the line “Individual with intellect!” Such an ill statement! I recognized Sir Ibu’s very distinctive voice, but had no idea where it came from. That started a search to find out. Not long after, I ran across a person who had the “Holy War (Live)” 12” and I was able to hear it for the first time finally***! Then at some point I ran across their last 12” “My Uptown Beat” b/w “Aint’ We Funky Now” from ’88, which doesn’t have Sir Ibu involved as a vocalist. So basically, my means of discovering their music is as random and confusing as the history and the nature of the group itself. Case in point, all the Divine Force singles are on Yamak-ka Records, the indie label operated by the aforementioned Melquan. They all have the basic catalog number of “01” so I’m not exactly sure which of the records came first…so many mysteries.
If I had to guess, I would assume the “TV Guide” 12” was first. That seems logical based on the style/sound and the fact that it was the only referenced music in the Right on! Magazine interview. All 3 songs give production credit to Teddy (Swingbeat) Riley and are Mixed by Jazzy Jay. It makes for a great combination, as Teddy brings his signature sophisticated bouncy B-Boy style, but it has a more gritty essence to it than other tracks of his at the same time. I would suspect that the Jazzy Jay touch added that raw element to it.
“TV Guide” is just what you might expect. The three MCs each kick a loosely conceptual verse incorporating TV shows and characters. Their female MC, Ice T, kicks it off and Supreme closes it off. Sir Ibu is nestled in the middle with the best verse on the track. It’s not a true testament of his full range of skills, but it’s a well-executed, fun verse. All the same can be same for the other two tracks on the 12”. “The Jizer” is the theme song for their DJ and “We Came Here” is just a freestyle jam that interpolates Cat Stevens “If Dog Was A Donut”. It’s a good ’87 record, but nothing particularly indicates we should expect the greatness that would soon come…
On the next Divine Force single things are a bit different. This time, both tracks only feature Sir Ibu as a vocalist. The B-Side is called “Something Different” and from his opening dialog of, “I’m going to come Australian, then I’m going to come Reggae, and then I’m going to come Hip Hop”, he definitely confirms the chosen song title. It is most assuredly a bugged out song.
The crowning jewel of the 12” and of his career is the A-Side, “Holy War (Live)”. It is all out raw, with a musical merging of Rufus Thomas “Funky Penguin” and Melvin Bliss “Synthetic Substitution”, all enhanced by The Jizer cutting up different portions of the sampled beats to add flavor and, at times, urgency.
Sir Ibu is projecting a stream of consciousness style and virtually 80% of the lyrics are worthy quotes. He comes in strong with, “Supreme wisdom is what I give em/Dressed to kill is how I’m living/I’m Sir I, the god on the microphone/Let me show why the stage is my throne/Intelligent, individual with intellect/Watch me pick up the microphone and wreck/You, You, and your homeboys too/Your ??? posse, group or the whole damn crew/I do it casual, I come classical/Let’s be rational, it’s all actual/The laws of nature allows me to do this/So do the knowledge and watch me just prove this/Jamakka Records is what I am making/Guinness Book Of Records is what I am breaking/My energy is flowing and it’s causing sparks & friction/I am called the scientist and you are science fiction/So just listen to the lights that I’m shining/The wisdom that I’m speaking are the words that I am rhyming…”
That leads right into what Ghostface fans will recognize as a vocal portion used in “Mighty Healthy”, with a little tweaking, lifted straight from here****. The Ghostface "Mighty Healthy" track also takes some direction from the “Holy War” beat by using the same “Synthetic Substitution” loop, making it essentially a tribute to this song.
That wasn’t the only time I had noted a linkage between Wu-tang and Sir Ibu. Besides the Melquan management connection and the ”Mighty Healthy” track, there were a couple other things. You may have heard Wu members use the phrase “Walk these dogs”. That is something I first heard from Sir Ibu on “Holy War (Live). Also, Sir Ibu’s obsession with fashion and being fly is something that carried on with the WU. Also, Sir Ibu often accents and flaunts his flow with this sort of “Daffy Duck” style and that is something that RZA heavily flirted with in countless verses. I wasn’t there in Brooklyn, so I obviously can’t say with all certainty that Sir Ibu is the originator of all these things, but it’s definitely where I witnessed them first. [EDIT: Someone noted in the comments that he is working Clarkes in the photo, another loose WU connection...]
Sir Ibu continues the second verse of "Holy War (Live)" in a similar scientific nature. Then at some point he seems to get masterfully lost in his own teachings and resorts to extreme actions to get desired results. Assumably that is the reasoning for titling the song “Holy War”, suggesting some sort of internal conflict. He eases into it and then gets more agitated with each bar and as his rage intensifies so does the precisely-frantic cuts of The Jizer, “Damn my man, come back, where are you going/This is the part where IBU starts showing/Skillful rap on wax that’s like magical/Never came wack or lack or act radical/As I grow, I flow with versatility/Stick to this beat and practice my agility/That’s why I didn’t pause on this beat at all/Notice…my style has changed y’all/That was expected, for years you have neglected/This is my style, so you might as well accept it/Now or never, not tomorrow or later/With mics or guns we can see who is greater/I’m a warrior, from Medina, that as Brooklyn/if you try to diss me, word is bond, you head is took-en/I’ve done killed devils, mutilated snakes/Shot my own brother cause he called me a fake!/They call me maniac, a murderer, crazy/If that’s the case then why do they praise me/My loved ones, my girlfriend, my family/This part of me, believe me, you’ll never see/Again, friend, enemy, cousin/You have to forgive me for this here sin/But Mom, I’m tired, and fed of their bulls**t/Let’s get the vest’s, the uzi’s, and Do S**t/That’s right Dad, I’m at the point I don’t give a fuck/bring my ????, some grenades and let’s blow em up!!” ....then after an extended explosion he exclaims the most aggressive and irrational sounding “Peace!!” ever…intense. This is the song that people most often speak about when they are generally referring to the greatness of Sir Ibu. However, I think his true lyrical pinnacle came a couple years later...
First though, Divine Force released a third 12”, but this time Sir Ibu is absent from contributing. It’s split into the “Brother Side” and “Sister Side”, because the other two MCs were actually siblings. Supreme handles “My Uptown Beat” over some Bobby Byrd “You Know I Got Soul”, James Brown “Funky Drummer” and Syl Johnson “Different Stokes”, with some stabs courtesy of Gaz “Sing Sing”. On this one, Supreme delivers his best vocal performance to date. On the flipside, “Ain’t We Funkin Now”, Ice T also sounds her best ever. The track is oddly a mixture of stripped back and a bit cluttered at the same time. Regardless, for the most part I enjoy the production on here. The biggest issue is they were using staple break beats, which definitely was common for the time and it’s evident that there’s a talented producer at work, but it doesn’t quite stand out enough to make a lasting impression, mostly due to the common sounds. The fact that there’s some recognizable growth here makes me curious what could have followed had the Divine Force continued their career, even without Sir Ibu on the mic.
I suppose by the time of the release of “Holy War (Live)” it was clear, even internally within the crew, that Sir Ibu was the star lyricist. This resulted in him releasing a very impressive 12” on 4th & Broadway. Not only did he advanced as a lyricist, but refined his flow and mastered the use of his voice. The B-Side is “IBU gets Lyrical” and the premise is just as the title announces. Each verse is a continuous barrage of cunning lyrics, balancing out braggadocio, wisdom, pure B-boy flyness, and a touch of that “Daffy Duck” style I mentioned earlier, “The power of thought supports all of my energy/It will flow from here to eternity/Supreme Being Black Man from Brooklyn/Well dressed, handsome and good looking/Universal building the children/The sick, dumb, and blind, I can heal them/It’s a natural fact I can reach them/Word is bond I know I can teach em/So why try me? You can’t get with this/Cause I’m the master of lyrical fitnesses/And my wisdom? So Artisical/I’m the Sir Ibu, I get lyrical!”
When he comes back for the second verse he goes for the throat of the enemy of the struggling artist, the media, “I’m tired of this, that and the madness/Radio stations, just let them have this/Do not be careless, let’s just share this/YOU are the media’s power so let them hear this!” That last line always hit me! He tried to tell the public that we had the power to affect the radio and media if we acted as a unified front. Unfortunately, we didn’t immobilize and listen. I find it interesting that I got this single the same day I got the Hijack "Doomsday Of Rap" single and they both were two of the only artist really speaking so loudly about the corruption and commercialization of the Culture this early on, that was a day of awakening for me hearing these two groups. As he says later in the verse, “…It is reality flowing thru your transistor/Lyrics with meaning, substantial value…”
As great as that track is, the brightest shining moment is on the A-Side with “I’m The Peacemaker”. This is literally one of my all-time favorite Hip Hop songs and not just that, it’s also one my favorite Hip Hop lyrical performances of all-time also. I know that is a tall statement, but I truthfully feel that it deserves to be rated among the best. Even as I listen to it now with the most scrutinizing and analytical ear ever, I’ve only found more evidence to support that. It’s flawless in terms of style, flow, content, originality, wit, and pure intelligence. Plus he does the unthinkable, where each verse seems like there’s no way or, at the very least, unnecessary for the song to get any better and yet his performance continues to build to the final moment. The beat is simple, but perfect and also has one of my favorite uses of the Kool & The Gang “NT” drums. Lyrically, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. I don’t feel like any Hip Hop song before this covered and dealt with the issue of Race relations so well, only a little more than a handful have done better since. It’s also very commendable how he is seemingly jumping around from topic to topic, but if you listen intently, you’ll hear that he ties each theme to the next quite seamlessly. It’s so powerful I have to transcribe the lyrics in full, read along:
“Peace to my people in the audience/I’ll get straight to the point, I’m not enjoying this/Stage that you’re living in, rage you have driving in/up from the depths of hell, why are you sinning in/Life as A whole, maintain control/Let peace be the key, unlock your soul/To Black, To Red, Yellow, White Man/Polish, Irish, Jewish, Puerto Rican/Palestinian, Iranians, Cuban, Japanese, Illegal Aliens/Expand your horizons, open your eyes’n/Organize unity, start realizing/You’re illing, killing off one another/ You have the audacity to say you’re my brother!/Listen, don’t say that, Sir I don’t play that/Play me if you wanna son and I’ll lay that/Head to bed, I’m fed, peace is lethal/Instead you stray away misled people/I feel ashamed to know you, there’s nothing that I owe you/You let that phooey, fake, materialistic stuff control you….I’m the Peace…maker!”
“Peace, Divine Force in full gear again/It’s the Sir Ibu, it’s that time again/To renew, review, reveal the mystery/History, which caused us grief, some of us misery/Flat Feet walking the beat of the concrete/Grabbed his walkie-talkie, ‘Yo Chief, we got beef!/Send the troops, the army, air force and navy/There’s a lady with a knife and she’s crazy’/New York’s finest said they loved this/And Vic-ed her, killed her, said that it’s justice/If that is justice, I don’t want nothing of that/Howard Beach with their erratical racial attacks/Friday night is here and it’s a pay day/Who would have thought of getting killed on the Freeway/Man, it’s sick, it’s crazy, I call it homicide/This world is corrupt, screwed up, they said it’s suicide/That’s the devil’s game plan destroying us/When you confronting with this, they start avoiding us/By giving you welfare, which only means farewell/Where is my W.I.C check? He sent it by airmail/But the airplane it got hijacked/He won’t stop terrorism, but he’s stop Mac-garvey/Michael, Jimmy, from being hungry people/Sally, Maria, Jane from being just a sequel/Larry Davis, he knew what time it is/He didn’t let them kill him so he went fugitive/On the run with gun, now he’s locked up/But he’s alive and well and not BOXED UP!/Rumor has it that I’m a trouble maker/But the truth of the matter, I’m the Peacemaker!”
“To conclude the beginning of the peace era/The Peacemaker, IBU, is here forever/Spreading peace thru out the whole universe/Venus, Jupiter, Mars and even Planet Earth/I’m not Anti-White nor am I Pro-Black/Discrimination, Racism, I’m not with that/There’s only one race, that’s the Human Race/Don’t even diss yourself, cause that’s a disgrace/Walking thru the ghettos of hell I see the savagery/It doesn’t matter, cause me and my calvary/Melquan, Shabazz, Supreme, and the Ice T/The Dice Sound, Bilal, and Public Enemy/I’m the Peacemaker, peace is my creation/Peace in the 8th degree civilization/Building, adding on, it’s construction/The purpose of my main goal is the destruction/Of the wicked devil, malicious, vicious rebel/Give me a casket, tombstone, and shovel/If you’re offended or uncomfortable/That only shows you’re the devil that I’m talking to/I’m not bugged, disturbed or a looney tune/Just a Peacemaker and his plug tune/Armed with peace, blowing off ???/Southern, Northern, Western, East…I’m The PEACEMAKER!”
I’m not sure what happened to Sir Ibu after this. It mind boggles me that the strength of this powerful material didn’t parlay into a stable label situation for him, perhaps there is some unknown reasoning. Clearly he had the respect of some of the best in the business; as I already described above with the Wu-tang inferences, plus Big Daddy Kane dropped his name a couple times. Speaking of Big Daddy Kane, in all my years of searching online for more info on Sir Ibu, the only thing I've every really found was this freestyle on WBLS with Marley Marl & DJ Kev E Kev on turntables with Big Daddy Kane, Kings Of Swing, and Sir Ibu ripping the mic!!SIR IBU/DIVINE FORCE MUSICAL SAMPLER: "TV Guide", "Something Different", "IBU Gets Lyrical", "I'm The Peacemaker", WBLS Freewtyle w/Sir Ibu, Big Daddy Kane, & Kings Of Swing
I have fantasy of one day learning that Sir Ibu has an unreleased album in the vaults or at the very least a collection of unreleased material. If such material does exist and if it is anything along the lines of “Holy War (Live)”, “Ibu Gets Lyrical”, or “I’m The Peacemaker” then proclaim it mandatory for someone to hand over those master tapes, I NEED to hear that!
*Others among that elite list of artists that I’m baffled don’t have longer discographies are Funkytown Pros, Latee, Breeze (LA Posse), Ultimate Choice, Freshco, Black By Demand, 4Ever Fresh, Buzy Boys, Ice Cream Tee, Queen Mother Rage, UBC, W.I.S.E Guyz, Medusa, and probably a few more…
**This day was awesome and memorable one. It was at this Record Shop that I often reference. It was located in Waukegan, IL on Grand Avenue (a couple blocks down from Paragon Restaurant). It was only open for a very brief time. The owners were super cool and were from Jamaica I believe, the music selection was more Reggae then Hip Hop as I recall. That day I picked up the Sir Ibu tape, the Hijack “Badman Is Robbin” cassingle, and one more thing that is slipping my mind right now. Definitely some releases that were huge influences on me… I need to remember the name of this Record Store!
***DJ Madd Maxx from my group Wildstyle started working with this DJ/Producer from Shaumburg, IL named Dave (??) who was doing some work with Chicago group O.C.U as I recall.
****I just realized that those vocal parts on "Holy War (Live)" & "Mighty Healthy" take place nearly the exact same place in both songs give or take a few seconds…
Written By Kevin Beacham
RIGHT ON MAGAZINE: DIVINE FORCE INTERVIEW: