Artist: Brand Nubian
Album: Fire In The Hole
Rating: 6 / 10
Reviewer: Matt Barone
Undeniably legends in this rap game, the rhyming trio of Lord Jamar, Sadat X, and Grand Puba, collectively known as Brand Nubian, has reunited after six years of separation. As they say, age is nothing but a number, so the group’s members should receive little rebuttal for their current teachings and social observations, themes that dominate their fifth and latest album “Fire In The Hole”. Completely self-produced and devoid of guest appearances, “Fire In The Hole” is all Brand Nu. The problem that comes with many albums of this type, though, is that the seasoned skills of veterans can sound out-of-date, especially when obvious efforts are made to appeal to fans who more familiar with J-Kwon than Raekwon. Fortunately for Brand Nubian’s longtime supporters, Jamar, Sadat, and Puba stick to what has worked strongest for them in the past: intelligent bars backed by swift production.
” Fire In The Hole” begins with ‘Who Wanna Be A Star (It’s Brand Nu Baby!),’ a fast-paced listen powered by steady guitar plucks and scattered horns. Serving as a successful opener for the album, the track also fittingly reintroduces the distinct vocal presences of each Brand Nu MC. Lord Jamar’s confident swagger, Grand Puba’s laidback flow, and Sadat X’s nasally-driven voice are all intact, instantly bringing listeners back to the days when Brand Nubian told sexually-misguided souls to ‘Slow Down’ and declared unity on ‘All For One.’
A handful of selections on “Fire In The Hole” stand up nicely to the group’s better songs of the past. Lord Jamar crafts an elegant and soulful instrumental on ‘Coming Years’, an inspirational ode to future prosperity, while ‘Just Don’t Learn’ addresses the negative forces that dominate urban societies. On ‘Just Don’t Learn’, Grand Puba shines as he opens minds up with these sadly true remarks:
” See the poison as it’s moving at a steady flow
It filters through your radio and your video
You ever once stop to think and wonder why it’s so?
We don’t know, cuz we blinded by the fog of dro
So, we let it go
We dedicate our whole careers to save our dying nation
Cuz what we facin’ is the process of elimination”
‘Still Livin’ In The Ghetto’ slows the pace down a bit with breezy harps and light percussion courtesy of Lord Jamar, who contributes several impressive instrumentals. Despite occasionally sounding as if Kanye West’s “College Dropout” played in his head while working the boards (case in point, ‘Young Son’), Jamar’s beats mostly get the job done. However, when Jamar allows Grand Puba to aid in the board duties, the results are messy misfires. ‘Ohh Child’ wastes positive verses by backing them with an extremely lazy blend of second-rate keyboard sounds, and ‘Got A Knot’ suffers from a laughable hook and a beat that does the word “wack” injustice. It’s possible that Puba was around Jamar when the Lord assembled the headache inducing ‘Whatever Happened.?’ as it wreaks of the same stink that ‘Got A Knot’does.
As far as subject matter, “Fire In The Hole” touches on the usual topics that every other rap album covers. Aside from the street-corner narratives practiced on the aforementioned cuts, Brand Nubian discusses relations with the opposite sex on two occasions. Unfortunately, neither attempt really works. ‘Always Mine’ keeps heads nodding with its chopped-up violins and organ keys, but all three Nubian members lyrically fumble the beat’s strong hand-off. This problem is flipped on ‘Where Are You Now?’ where the effective verses about disloyal females are turned forgettable due to a boring backdrop. Lord Jamar slightly manages to peak from behind the beat’s generic shadow, though, with:
“Got to the point where there was no respect at all
I was shocked, when you did not collect my call
Spend nights in my cell just beating my dick
Thinkin’ about how we used to fuck and shit
I took you out, bought your ass a bunch of shit
When I get out, I’m gonna fuckin’ punch this bitch
Right in her mouth, cuz she don’t understand the rules
You don’t bite the man that dipped your hand in jewels
You were there when I bought the rock that blind you
Now a nigga locked and I cant find you”
In the end, “Fire In The Hole” is a hit-or-miss affair that at best transports you back to Brand Nubian’s glory days, but at its worst may force you to wonder why their microphones aren’t hung up yet. Rather than deliver standard commercial fare (such as LL Cool J’s sonically tough but lyrically deficient current club staple ‘Headsprung’), Lord Jamar, Grand Puba, and Sadat X stay true to their proven formula, and they should be commended for it. During a time when young rappers are coming into the game with obvious ignorance and neglect for the culture they are reaping financial benefits from, Brand Nubian shows that they still have love for their treasured art form. You can’t help but love that, so even if “Fire In The Hole” fails to impress you, hopefully it will inspire attention towards the group’s past classics. They say legends never die, so Brand Nubian should be around for years to come.