Brand Nubian

The artists collectively known as the Native Tongues are noted as the primary purveyors of "conscious rap" during the '90s, but New Jersey's Brand Nubian was also on the frontlines. But Brand Nubian wasn't as well-received as groups such as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, largely because of its affiliation with the Five Percenter Nation. With the exception of "Slow Down" and "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down," it didn't catch on with a mainstream audience the way its carefree colleagues did. On Fire in the Hole, the band favors cautionary tales to black youths, whether it's aspiring rappers ("Who Wanna Be a Star?"), drug dealers ("Got a Knot") or someone who is neither ("Young Son"). There is even a moment of unabashed tenderness when they pay tribute to their origins ("Momma"). Refreshingly, Brand Nubian avoids the hip-hop convention of overloading albums with guest artists and producers, instead sticking with DJ Alamo's competent beats. But good music aside, it's unfortunate that the worst of its old habits remains in its message. Ninety seconds into the album, Grand Puba utters the expletive "faggot" on "Who Wanna Be a Star?" This is the same incendiary word that stands out like an ugly sore on the 1993 hit "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down" as well as a good part of the group's catalog. It might have been politely tolerated 15 years ago, but in this day and age, dissing the gay community is bad for business.

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