feature: black punk history—punk pioneers bad brains

February 3, 2016

For the newbs, Bad Brains are one of the most influential hardcore punk bands, ever. Brains was formed in Washington, D.C circa 1977 by H.R. aka Human Rights aka Paul Hudson, Earl Hudson, Darryl Jenifer, Sid McCray, Gary Miller aka Dr. Know as the short-lived jazz fusion ensemble Mind Power, an experimental project that would ultimately lead to the bands shift away from metal and introduction to punk. From there, their sound continued to evolve, becoming a fusion of funk, hardcore punk, heavy metal, hip-hip, and reggae and playing gigs at white punk shows around D.C. By the end of 1979, they’d recorded their demo, but it was in 1982 when they released their legendary, self-titled cassette, which went on to sell upwards of 100,000 copies: a major feat for hardcore bands at the time. For the next few years, Bad Brains toured the country performing quality shows before facing a wave of backlash from venues and other punk bands because of H.R.’s homophobic preachments (via personal religious beliefs), which lead to an unofficial ban from certain venues. Despite help from The Car’s Ric Ocasek, who helped Brains record their first full-length album ‘Rock For Light’, H.R.’s self-sabotaging behavior and hyper-religious beliefs lead to the loss of a major record deal and a temporary band breakup.

For better or worse, this was the first of many periods of highs and lows, legendary recordings and release, hiatuses and breakups the band faced over the next three decades. In recent years, Bad Brains have been sporadically recording music, playing festivals (including AFROPUNK Fest 2014), and sold-out gigs in D.C.

This is just the tip of the Bad Brains iceberg. Curious about these punk rock pioneers? Watch Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., for free! And you can read more about the legends here.

By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor

*Erin White is AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at