After a six-year hiatus, Brand Nubian is re-entering the game as a pack of hip-hop elders ready to share their street wisdom and lead the youth in the right direction. Their fifth album, Fire In The Hole, is far from their best work to date, but Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and off again/ on again members Grand Puba and DJ Alamo managed to regroup for a well-intentioned effort.
As Grand Puba says on one of the album’s strongest cuts, “Just Don’t Learn”, “We dedicate our whole career to save our dying nation ’cause what we facing is the process of elimination.” These are sons for survival. This album, almost entirely produced by Lord Jamar, reflects a much calmer sound in respect to both the vocal and instrumental tones than much of Brand Nubian’s previous work. The opening cut “Who Wanna Be A Star? (It’s Brand Nu Baby!)”, for example, utilizes a subtle acoustic guitar loop that is noticeably fainter than much of their previous production. While they’ve always broken out a few smooth, down-tempo joints like “Love Me or Leave Me Alone”, this album’s entire production is considerably lax. When Puba and company are kicking conscious raps like, “Now why they so worried ’bout going to Mars when there’s a million black seeds in Africa who starve?,” one can only imagine how much more potent lines like this could have been over harder-hitting beats.
Select songs like “Just Don’t Learn” and the looking-to-the-future joint “Coming Years” prove that Brand Nubian still has the potential to make quality hip-hop with substance. But then there are songs like the sloppily executed and uninspired “Got A Knot”, which make one wonder how these got on the album in the first place. Lyrically, Puba, Sadat and Jamar are usually on-point and their raps dedicated to those trapped in the streets should be well received. But the lack of gusto in both their voices and beats makes for only decent listening. Fire In The Hole simply does not compare to their last album, the highly slept on Foundation–much less their previous LPs. Sure, signs of aging are evident on their new album, but don’t count on Brand Nu dispersing just yet. As one of hip-hop’s most respected crews, they’re unlikely to hang up their mics with this album.
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